Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sabbatical; the ideal lab experience.

Hooray! I'm on sabbatical!

Our move did not go as well as expected, so it took three days longer than we thought it would. Despite this, I still had about 5 days to just "be" in our new environs before showing up to my host lab.

The first few days in the lab were shadowing a very senior grad student. It felt great for two reasons. The first is that it was all pretty familiar. Grad Student was extremely thorough and showed me every step, and I appreciated that. Everything that is done is done for a reason and all the reasons were familiar. It is much easier to remember details of a procedure if they make sense and fit into the bigger picture (hmm. pedagogical implications...). 

The second reason is because it is all new. I am so happy to learn something new, something for which I have a great background but still have never done. I am particularly looking forward to do something that they don't teach undergrads because it is too technically challenging. Hoo-hah.

I am also completely at ease in the lab. I understand my weaknesses, and am patient with them. I understand my strengths and will let them shine. I am a guest in the lab, so I make no demands about adapting to me (besides, I am quite adaptable), AND, most importantly, this is very low-stakes.

If it goes well, residual insecurities evaporate and I will have great success in the lab. I will feel good about my contribution, will contribute, and will publish. If things go OK, we make progress (and we publish). If things go very badly (and they won't as far as I can tell), I may have cost the lab some supplies. I am free labor for them. I have tenure doing something that requires some, but not daily, success in the lab. In addition, I would feel even better that I chose the teaching route (or it chose me, if you will).

In grad school, the question of success in the lab was extremely high stakes: can I even do this? How good am I? How smart am I? Am I going to be a failure? Am I going to have to go home? Am I going to lose this $60,000 per year scholarship? Failure was full of shame.

In post-doc the question of success in the lab was: what's my future? Will I find a job? Are the weaknesses I discovered in grad school situational or unmalleable characteristics? Will I hover on soft money for the rest of my life? My future rested on my success.
Now the question is simply: will I get a publication or two? Will I be able to use any of this in my permanent job?

Considerably different, wouldn't you say?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Which Au Pair (exchange babysitter) would you choose for sabbatical?

Hello, Friends.

Things are really moving (literally) for the sabbatical. I had very serious anxiety about this sabbatical, primarily because of money. We took out a home equity line of credit (excellent credit, btw), and now the problem is mostly solved. No one should have to take out a loan to go on sabbatical. But we make a lot of choices we don't like. Goes with the territory.

For day care, we have decided to go with an Au Pair, and are in the matching process now. Have any of you had Au Pairs, and if so, how did it go? Do you have advice?

I have never met anyone with a Nanny or Au Pair. I figured the terms were synonymous for expensive child care that only rich people could afford. In fact, I looked down a little on the parents who weren't "toughing it out" like I am. In the region we are moving to, Au Pairs are cheaper than regular institutional day care or even home day care. This is a budget friendly move. My eyes have been opened.

I've been explaining to friends that Au Pairs are basically an exchange student, but a babysitter instead. An exchange babysitter, if you will. That means the Au Pair lives with you as a part of your family and takes care of your kids full time. The whole thing is tightly regulated by the state department. For example, you can ask her or him to work whenever you want, but there are regs about how many hours they can work, how much time off they get in a row,  and what tasks they can do. You pay an agency (there are about 12) that takes care of things like screening potential Au Pairs in their home country, screening potential host parents (including inspecting the Au Pair's room), taking care of visas, insurance, training, travel arrangements, support for solving conflicts, etc.  

And then there's matching. As you can imagine, this is a pretty serious deal. Not only are you trusting them with your beloved children, but they are going to live in your house, too. There are lots of good stories online, but some scary ones, too. Read here for more. You don't get to meet them in flesh before they show up. It's a lot like online dating, but all by Skype. I'm having some fun with it, and learning that Hub an I are extremely tolerant.

"I liked her. I could live with her quirks"
"She seemed great. That lack of experience probably won't be too important"
"How sweet. Nevermind the anger issues"

I'm exaggerating, of course.  It seems like we keep coming down to whether we want a conscientious, steady, excellent communicator, who may be less patient with the children's chaos or whether we want a warm, loving, creative, patient somewhat forgetful type. For your info, all else is equivalent... driving experience, age, country of origin. And we are the warm chaotic types, so we are looking for either a complementary person or a person who would understand and perhaps tolerate us better.

Which would you choose?