I went to a meeting today for women grad student scientists at my university, and I came away feeling a bit down. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head that I might actually meet people there who were also concerned about work-life balance and were maybe thinking about having children. Jangor (a fictitious lobster god my friends and I all pray to) only knows why. For some reason, I thought: Hey, I’ll be meeting grad students from other science departments, even departments that are part of the larger university but not part of my particular school. Surely in this larger, more encompassing community, someone there will also be thinking and wondering when she might have a baby soon, and how that might work out, and what the school/program/adviser’s response will be.
Well, silly me. A whole new group of scientists, but why would they be any different than the ones I’d already met in my own school? Of course none of them have children, or even know any others who have children (I asked the group’s leaders if they knew anyone who had a baby or child at home, and they thought and thought and all they could come up with was a pregnant post-doc.)
I’m at a top research institution, and most of the women here are completely career-oriented. And anyone who’s not (like me!) probably hides it when they are on campus, so realistically speaking I shouldn’t have thought I might even find someone there with whom I might have this baby fever in common. Just because the group was unknown to most students of my own school, to them they were still with colleagues and coworkers amongst whom the professional appearance is important, and the decision to have a baby is a private matter. Even if any of them there were thinking about such things, it wouldn’t necessarily come out at the meeting. And if there are any female grad students at my school with a baby, they certainly wouldn’t have been at the meeting, since they would have rushed home after the day’s work to see their child!
So in retrospect it was silly of me to feel sad about not having found a new instant friend at the meeting, but the clear career interests (workshops, job panels, etc.) over enthusiasm about the work-life balance programming was enough to sadden me. I know I’m not the only person who cares about work-life balance in the women in science community at my school, but no one wants to talk about it much, and in the end I just felt so completely alone. Late this evening, I found myself staring up at the building I work in, thinking about what the university was for and whether I belonged there. I felt like in this large research institution, there was little old me, stuck in the wrong place, perhaps fooling myself into thinking I might be able to have a family with multiple children and a career in science.
I do feel better now, that I’ve had time to think about it, and I have not given up on the idea that I can have a family and a science career. I just don’t know how to go about finding a community of people with whom I can talk about my concerns and we can help each other through the decisions and the work involved. I mean, aside from the lovely blog community, which is great. But it would be nice to know some real-life women at the university too, the kind that I could see in person and smile at and even get a hug from on a tough day. How do I find these people? Any suggestions?