Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thinkin' Ahead to Summer Redux

Doing research this summer with REU students requires a 10 week full time commitment. I could supervise up to 2 students in my lab. It's a rockin' way to get some good publishable data with undergraduate co-authors (highly valued at PUIs).

The last two years I applied for- and got- a summer stipend for scholarship worth $1500. Pull out your calculators. 10 weeks * 45-50 hours / week = 500 hours. $1500/ 500 hours is *$3.00 / hour* WITH THE SCHOLARSHIP FUNDS.

I have a Ph.D. from a top-tier institution, am postdoctorally trained at a prestigious research institution, and would make more money working at the daycare I take Boy to. I could wipe snotty noses all day for more money than I would using a technique that about 400 people in the world have the skills to do.

Clearly, I am not in science for the money. And I do love my job. Now, I don't want to be too dramatic: I have a livable monthly income year round even though it is a 9 month salary subdivided into 12 payments. Don't get the impression that I won't be making my mortgage this summer.

___BUT___ I was reminded today that for economic reasons there will be no summer research scholarship funds available for the next two summers. That means the miserable $1500 would will not be available. I would be making $0.00 / hour.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Now the question is, will I volunteer my time in my lab for the good of my career and the university? If you want to look at it another way, will I pay the daycare $1600 to do research this summer?

I am highly motivated do the research, even though my career would not be harmed irrevocably by taking the summer off. For one, I really want to get my students publications! I lure them into the lab and keep them motivated with this "carrot". Moreover (perhaps the real reason?) if I ever become disillusioned with Small Religious U, I need the credentials to go elsewhere worthy, and that includes publications.

Should I say "Forget it! I'm going to take Boy to the pool, go to museums, work out far more frequently, bike-trailer the Boy on the rail-trails, meet with friends, play on the swings, teach Boy to sing!"? Or should I continue to put the boy in the dark daycare with all the other snotty-nosed, sticky-fingered kids, and make as Isis says, "hot, hot science"?


  1. All of us have to find the right work/life balance and do what is right for us at the time, without regrets. If I were in your position, I would focus on the research now because you are trying to establish yourself in your field as an independent investigator, no matter where you work. But, that is coming from someone who has chosen a more research-intensive career path and I know that it means a trade-off on the family side. Hell, I am at work at 7:30 this morning when I could be home with my family on a university holiday. Once you decide what your ideal of "success" is and where you make your sacrifices (because it's not possible to do it all without exploding), then prioritize accordingly.

  2. As a postdoc w/o family so far I appreciate your blog. It lets me know what's ahead and that it's possible. I do tend to think that even though profs are paid for 9 months and teaching part of the job description is conducting research with undergrads. So, you are really getting paid for summer research - just consider you get paid less for your teaching (you probably deserve more, not less, but somehow this makes me feel better). That said I'd work four days a week or 9-3 or bring the Boy to work sometimes. Summer REUs should be okay without full time supervision so long as you have a phone or email for their emergencies. Enjoy your summer - it's too short!

  3. nope, not worth it - particularly as you've described it. At least in theory, should I manage to land a tenure track job in the future, and I am not getting a salary over the summer, I'm not going to work. Sure, I'll come in for meetings a few times a week, and keep on top of things via e-mail, but I will not be in the office 50 hrs a week. I'm tired of being a mom trying to fit into a dad-sized peg. But let's keep that between us, and not let any future search committees know that...

  4. I think it's important to recognize the context. If you are committed to staying at SRU, then working for the moths you are "paid" is reasonable. BUT, you mentioned that you want to keep your options open. In that case, you're not working for your present, you're working for your future. If you need the pubs and research to have some future flexibility and it will not cripple you financially, get the work done. If you don't need it, then do the family thing.

    I don't say that lightly and I know the burden of parenting, though being effectively single during the week is not something I do on a regular basis and certainly adds to the challenge. I'm only suggesting the work because of your stated desire to maintain the ability to move if you want.

    You've been a grad student and a postdoc, you should be used to being underpaid for the hours you work :)

  5. I'm assuming the scholarship of which you speak is University based? You have time to apply for outside funds, so don't despair yet! Contact the NSF directorate in your field & try to scare up some $.

    If you are like me, I couldn't really save money by taking our kid out of childcare - he has a spot & we pay for that whether we bring him or not (like if we go away for a week or two in the summer). That said, there's also no harm in taking off a little early to spend summer time with the kid! Nobody says you have to be in lab with the undergrads 50 hours/week. Or take off Fridays to spend with Hub in other place.