Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Career and Life Development

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

This is a question we have all heard since elementary school. Most younger kids say "Fireman, police officer, teacher, pet doctor, superhero, musician, artist, singer." As average kids reach their teens, their early views usually lead them towards medical doctor, teacher, lawyer, business person, perhaps scientist. I do not even think some undergraduates know all the departments available such as 1) Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (HPME,) 2) all the different types of engineering, 3) Curriculum, Teaching and Learning.

Then as students survive undergraduate education, the ones who opt for graduate school are swimming through yet another maze. Yes, they have chosen a field, but now the answer to "what do you want to be?" is not as clear. Perhaps you are the stellar, academia-prepared PhD candidate; and you already know which university you will hold a tenure-track position. However, the "average" PhD student, I think, is still trying to answer the age-old question.

Even after the acquisition of the great job opportunity, the scientist professional is always growing and changing "hats." A mentor of mine informed me to try something new every 5-6 years. Since by the 5-6 year mark, the brain needs to mix it up a bit. It might be the sabbatical, taking a new course, learning a new technology, learning a new field through your network. As academically inclined creatures, we are always reaching to expand our horizons. In what job occupation, with which partner and which lifestyle is all up to you.

I think as we grow older, the old question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" undergoes a metamorphosis to "What kind of life would you like to have? What kind of job and family integration would you like to have?" The answers to these questions are very personalized and actually change as you and your family grow older together.

What do I want to be when I grow up? At this particular time in my life, I would hope to maintain the interweaving of my children, husband, extended family, career and music in my life. Perhaps as the kids grow older, I will focus on more work-related endeavors. Those endeavors will definitely be different from my past accomplishments. I feel as if I am swimming through a new maze; but I know that now, I have acquired the tools and mentors to guide me there.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Other Secrets to Life: Feedback & Follow Up

During my training with the Dale Carnegie Sales and Marketing Course, my instructor gave me one piece of advice that stayed with me and helped me with everything. "You need to have feedback and followup."

He told me a story about his first marriage and relationship with his daughter.

"I just did not listen. I heard her words, but I did not ask for feedback on how I was doing as a husband. I think if I knew at that time what I know now, we would not have divorced. Now, I ask for feedback from my teenager. Every month we sit together with a piece of paper that has two columns - what I appreciated from your actions and what I did not like so much. She had written in the first column 'Dad, I love that you attend my soccer games.' In the second column, she wrote 'But would you please not shout out my name?' I had not known she felt uncomfortable with this. Now I knew, and I stopped. My relationship with her has been great since I started these feedback forms. It is one thing to say it; but when it is on paper, it is taken a bit more seriously."

As a parent, I think I will also be applying to my children soon, as they have become more skilled at communicating. As a graduate student and postdoc, it is essential to have this exchange with your advisor. Perhaps a form with "Great job with......" and "I would like you to help me with..." for both sides. This could be done every quarter so that progress and development is made on paper and kept as a record. Graduate students are usually afraid to write comments for their supervisor for fear of the recommendation letter; so as Bioch Grad Student Union Member, I handed out a form for everyone to write what they appreciated and needed more from a supervisor. I then compiled all the comments and sent it out to faculty, so they at least had a general, anonymous feedback. Publications alone do not make a postdoctoral and graduate experience. I also started this type of feedback form during my fellowship for the postdocs coming in after me.

When I worked in Biotech Sales and Marketing, follow-up was essential in making the deals, and feedback was essential in maintaining the relationship with clients. In a career transition, follow-up is critical in making the contacts, and feedback is essential in finding that transition a reality. As a scientist, follow-up is critical when you find a potential collaborator or industry lead. Feedback maintains the strong collaboration. These concepts all apply to any relationship that want you want to maintain, as a parent, spouse, friend, colleague.

Communications. I heard the other day that inventions are made tinkering in the lab, but innovations that affect the world are born by the coffee machine.

This is a great segue into the next entry of the importance of networking.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Life is short...no fear

For some reason, I have discovered that "fear" plays a role in the decision-making processes of our life decisions, more or less so for different people.

"I better do well on my report card." Fear of parental disapproval.
"I have to receive good marks from university." Fear of academic rejection.
"I have to get a good paying job to pay back my student loans." Fear of the bank.
"I have to pay the mortgage, so I have to keep my job." Fear of the bank.
"I have to listen and do what my supervisor is asking me too." Fear of the bad recommendation letter.
"If I pursue my true passion, I fear losing my current job." Fear of the unknown.

I hope that people reading this are beyond these fears. To some extent, we all possess these fears. It is alright to have these feelings. However, sometimes, that fear may stifle your ability to grow as an intellectual and as a person. You may be too scared to face your dreams and end up just thinking about that potential life.

When I had just finished my Master's defense, my advisor told me some wise words. "You have to think outside the box. Try to think on your own. Form your own hypothesis and defend your own thoughts. Try not to think a certain way because your professors tell you that is so." Those words stayed with me, which helped me pursue a successful PhD. I thought out of the box. I approached my scientific problem with state-of-the-art solutions. I defended myself in committee meetings, even if one of my members did not agree with me. It was during my PhD that I realized that a PhD was not just a piece of paper someone gave you because you had finished training in a field. It was not a declaration to say you were smarter than the next student. It was the part of my life when I realized I was my own thinker, and I can defend myself, my research approach and data. I had no more "fear."

The world was at my fingertips and I could basically pursue any intellectual idea that I wanted. We should not be afraid of disapproval or judgements from society. Having said this, you also need to have tact and negotiating skills, or you may alienate everyone who comes in contact with you. For example, you need to know how to "agree to disagree" and this is very tricky if it is your own supervisor. However, if you show respect and the ability to defend your research ideas, you should still have an outstanding recommendation letter. Also, I am not promoting quitting your job with no back-up plan. We all still have to pay the bills. (See Career Transitions.)

Perhaps we replace "fear" with "responsibility."
I know it sounds cliche, but you are responsible for being the best you can be, to make this world a better place, (do I hear MJ?) to pursue your passion. In short, dream your dream with no fear of disapproval, integrate it into your current life, and eventually, your dreams will become reality.

Because life, is short.

Sleeping Babies, Healthy Babies Part II...Nursing

In my last entry about this topic, I outlined a rough nursing/sleeping schedule that worked for me. Some moms prefer the nursing-on-demand; which I did with my first baby, for the first few months. Then it was not working for me. I had no idea when she would start to suckle, when I would be free to even take a shower; it was stressful. Some moms do not feel like that and happily feed on demand - it's amazing how some moms continue that all throughout the babyhood. For me, I was exhausted. I then realized that she was only feeding every hour because she was not getting full from the feeding. If you decide to set up a 2.5/3 hour nursing schedule, make sure she is receiving milk from both sides. Make sure both sides are feel empty after the feeding. Do not encourage "snacking" as then she will want to feed again after an hour. This is key.

Having said all this, if your baby is underweight or underdeveloped, please feed whenever she wants some. However, for most healthy babies, implementing a meal schedule for them should be fine. If your baby is sick or needs an extra feeding, there is no need to be so strict on the schedule. Flexibility, common sense, and your knowledge of your baby should be applied as well.

A recent discussion with a friend of mine revealed that her baby was crying so much because she was not receiving enough of the hindmilk as the mother was producing too much foremilk, giving the baby gas and not filling her up. I had never thought of that! So, the mom had to pump 4 ounces of foremilk every time and then nurse the baby. She and her GI tract then became much happier.

Sleep, play, and eating are all linked together.
The less sleep the child has.
The more tired she will be.
The less likely she will eat.
The less likely she will be engaging in play.
This continues throughout her whole life.

The hungrier your child is.
The more she will cry.
The less she will sleep.

It's all so linked together.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Job...after the Baby Came

After my transition to a new start-up biotech company in the States, I worked as Senior Researcher (a bit of work on the bench) and then as a Principal Investigator. My SBIR grant was awarded! I then transitioned to Product Management and Client Relations. The great thing about a start-up was that I gained experience wearing many different hats. My forte was in interpersonal communications and helping other scientists. I was fortunate enough to build working relationships with many researchers from various biotech companies, academics, government, and hospitals. It was a thrill to help their science with our company's technology and my personality.

As my pregnancy progressed, I spoke to the CEO about my maternity leave options. I told him I would help train someone to fill in for my 3 month mat leave, and if possible, the new employee could help me as I thought I would want a part-time work-from-home position at least for the first year. We worked out a deal so during my pregnancy, I trained a lovely newly graduate MSc student who had contacted our company about an internship position. None was advertised, but she had taken the initiative. Nice.

My delivery was an extremely difficult one, I could not step on stairs for 6 weeks nor sit down without a special cushion for 5 months. Sorry, did not mean to scare anyone, but I made it through strong enough to deliver a second one :) Anyhow, my boss actually came to visit me a few times and I received an extra month for mat leave. Along with two postpartum doulas during the first few months, I also hired a part-time nanny (M) to help take care of my nursing baby. M was a also an MSc sociology student interested in child development so it was part of her studies to be placed in a home like ours. She was fabulous and smart; and after her, I had high expectations with everyone else that came along. I still keep in touch with her and send her pictures of the girls. She told me that being in our home made her realize she herself would try to have children when she could have the option to have an assistant. It's hard with just one parent during the day!

Our nanny would play and take care of Baby while I would work in my home office, eat lunch with her and nurse her. I remember having a conference call and them immediately after, tend to a nursing. My baby did not take milk from a bottle, so it was all Mama! :) I would visit the office at least twice a week, sometimes with her, to catch up on meetings and the latest updates.

Since the new intern had taken over the product management duties, my title became Director of Application Science. I managed collaborations with pharma and other bio industries, helped the software team with bio applications and testing, and started a new area for me of sales and marketing. The CEO even hired a Dale Carnegie Sales and Marketing Instructor to come to our home to train me.

My first conference with baby was when she was a year old. Before we flew out to the west coast, I hired a nanny from a reputable agency recommended by the conference organizers, and she stayed in the hotel suite/louge area with baby. I would tend to my booth duties and attend talks, but come back to nurse every 4-5 hours. Since my husband was also there representing the same company, it was great having him there to help at night.

My integration of baby, marriage and job was very satisfying for me. I was happy at work and at home. What was the secret? I knew what I wanted. I knew I wanted to keep my job at least part-time or variation there of, so I made proposals about what I wanted to do that could meet the demands of the company. I had already proven myself to be successful for the company so they worked with me. I knew I wanted to stay at home with Baby and so I created the job to "work" for me and my personal happiness.

I kept right on going for a few years and then baby number 2 was on her way. What happened after that? That will be for another entry.

You can check out the stories of returning to full-time work with 3 month baby at http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2010_03_19/caredit.a1000029


Shaping Your Child's Personality & Eating Habits

"My child does not like vegetables. She just does not like them."
"My child has a short attention span. He will not sit still."
"My son only eats green foods."
"My older one is more cautious than my younger one."
"Why can't you be more like you sister?"

As parents, we observe behaviours, make generalizations, and comparisons all the time. To maintain these observations in our minds and discuss with our spouse is one thing. However, please refrain from speaking like this in front of your child. However independent or rebellious your child is, he or she still listens to you speak about them, particularly if you are speaking about them to other adults. They hear these generalizations and categorize themselves as "I am the kid that doesn't eat broccoli."

Kids love to be in a category. I am in JK. I am seven. I am a girl. I like princesses. Given any other categories, they will take it the way the parents label them. I agree, some kids probably do not like vegetables as much as cupcakes. However, research has shown that it might take up to 20 presentations of the same food for the child to try it. I think it took that many times for one of my daughters to try cucumber. I just presented it with the rest of the foods, did not push as mealtimes should not be stressful, did not say "she does not eat cucumber" to anyone. One day, she picked it up and ate it. Nobody watched. Nobody stared at her. We just ate dinner and asked "How did you like it?" "Yummy," she said.

We have had many children over to our home and I have heard "Oh, don't bother giving her turkey, she won't eat it." "Let her make the decision." I said in the kitchen and offered some to her at the table. She agrees to try some and eats a bunch. Dad says "Why did you not eat it the other day at home?" She replies, "I didn't feel like it that day."

Give the kids a chance to explore on their own and take different foods on their own. I tell my kids now they are older that they should try one new thing a day. And apart from days they are not feeling well, they try their best. Sometimes they like what they try, sometimes they do not. However, I repeat the presentation after a few weeks.

As for personality, I found that if kids hear the parents are expecting them to be a certain way, they will be what they hear. Even if your child does seem to be "antsy," try not to say that in front of him. And if you remember as a child, the last thing you wanted your parents to say was 'Why can't you be more like .....?"

Kids are shaped by genetics, environment, mother, father, teachers and what we say about them, in front of them, makes a huge impact on their personality.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Great Parent Resources

Here is a resource I used many times as a new parent.
It has references and first-hand accounts about everything.


 "You are Your Child's First Teacher" by Dancy and Baldwin discusses how parents can be the child's best teacher, from birth to 6 yrs old. I would read it with a grain of salt, but much of the material is about how to promote imagination, creativity and figuring things out on their own.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Career Transitions

You are working on the Master's or PhD, and you are certain you are not continuing on with academia. You already have a job (postdoc or otherwise) and you want to switch careers. How do you do that? Here are some examples.

Roger wants to go into patent law, but is working on his molecular genetics PhD. Law firms only intern law students. He finds law firms that deal with patent issues, contacts a lawyer with a PhD. He tells them about his situation and asks them if he can volunteer or job shadow them to see what it's like. Roger interns for free once a week, and makes up for labtime on the weekend. He may or may not like it, but now he knows. If he likes it, he can stay and chances are, he will be hired as a scientific consultant while he studies for the patent officer exam. The lawyers have all been students too. Most, if not all, of them will want to help you out. A friend of mine finished his postdoc, worked as a Technical Consultant for a law firm for a year or two, then the firm paid for his law school. He is now a patent attorney.

Shelley is working on her Master's in protein biochemistry and knows she wants to be in bioinformatics. She find courses and takes relevant courses in the computer science department while still maintaining full lab work working later at night and on weekends. She graduates with an MSc in Biochemistry, but has the computer programming to look for a job in bioinformatics. She attends a job conference, talks to some company booths, receives an interview and lands the job. Many years later, she is the Director.

Jane wants to be a science writer/editor. During her graduate years, she writes articles for the campus paper, mainly about science issues, and becomes experienced in publishing the news for the general public. She calls other science editors and interns for free one afternoon a week. She makes up for labtime at night. After her defense, the science magazine hires her.

Lauren has been a Principal Consultant for Management Consulting for many years, but wants to serve non-profit organization. She donates her skills once a week and sits on advisory board for a non-profit sector. The next year, she is hired by the organization and is now the Director.

The common theme here is that the transition year or years will mean you may have to intern for free, volunteer as you learn what the new occupation is all about. What is driving you to be there? Not fear, a PI, the educational requirements of a university, parent's expectations, a boss, or money. It is your own passion and desire to be who you want to be. That, is a powerful force. And only you can drive it there.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Date Your Spouse

It is very important to stay in touch with your spouse or partner. With kids, jobs, housework, bills, home projects, it is very easy to establish a family partnership. You must, to keep everything running smoothly. Sometimes, through all that bustle, you lose each other. To prevent that, try to make time for each other with date night.

No need to hire a sitter and go out, as both of you are probably exhausted anyway by the time the kids are tucked in bed. All that is needed is at least one evening a week where all electronic devices are turned off. No TV, no phones, no texts, no emails, no surfing the web, just the two of you with 2 cups of tea, a long time of conversation and reconnection.

Even throughout the day, as you pass each other in the hallway or help each other with dishes, kiss lightly or hug, in front of the kids. They like to see how Mommy and Daddy are close and loving. They giggle, but inside, they are reassured that everything is ok.

Enjoy your own interests on your own, once a week. My husband plays hockey one night a week, sometimes he goes to the golf range. I have an evening of piano lessons, figure skating, or an art class. We see our guys/girlfriends on our own once in a while.

Send each other love emails once in while.
Read each other's old love emails while you were dating.
And yes, I still feel the "butterflies" when I see my husband in a crowded room. :)

Nurture Innate Curiosity...DNA for Kids

Ever since my children were able to speak, I told them to ask Mama any question and I will try my best to answer it. Children have an innate desire to learn, a natural drive to be curious about their world. These questions would happen at various times during the day.

One summer afternoon we were walking to the park after it had rained. My older one noticed that the puddles on the street were smaller on our way home. "Why are the puddles smaller, Mama?" This simple question turned into a step-by-step story complete with illustration about the water cycle, about precipitation and evaporation.

During the summers usually, we have "Mommy school," where they open their blank notebooks, ask me any question, and I answer with pictures and words. They draw and write their own renditions. These conversations have led to discussions about cellular organelles, H1N1 viral replication, DNA packaging, chromosomes, other languages, our solar system, gravity, words. My older one has brought some of these illustrations and explained them to her class for show-and-tell. They have curious minds and I try to nurture that by explaining everything at their comprehension level. I also ask them "Why do you think that happens?" and I let them try new things.

Sometimes, it is at the dining table. My older one likes to mix tastes together to see how they blend. Even though an adult would not think to put some of these concoctions together, she experiments. I do not discourage, I let her try, to be as creative she can be.

Here is an exerpt about our discussion about DNA:

The smallest part of your body is a cell. Your skin is made up of skin cells, Your eyes are made up of eye cells. Your hair is made from hair cells. Each cell is like a tiny, tiny ball. A cell is so tiny, you can not even see it. Inside each cell, there is a smaller ball. The smaller ball is called a nucleus.

Inside the nucleus, there is something called DNA. DNA contains the instructions for your cells so they know how to grow. If you could see the DNA, it would look like a long strand of spaghetti. Since it is so long, we need to package it up so that it can fit in the nucleus. What else do you eat with spaghetti? Meatballs! The spaghetti is packaged up and wrapped around things like meatballs. These are called histones.

Each cell has 23 strands of spaghetti-like DNAs. Twenty-three! That is a lot. That is more than our fingers and toes together! Each of these strands has a matching pair, just like socks. So, there are two of strand 1, two of strand 2, two of strand 3… and so on all the way to strand 22. Number 23 is magical. For number 23, if you have a matching pair called XX, you are a girl! If your number 23 is not matching, called XY, then you are a boy!

Each of these stands of DNA all come from your Mommy and Daddy. Half of your DNA comes from Mommy and the other half come from Daddy. What kind of things do you think you receive from your parents through their DNA? Your eye colour? Your hair colour? Do people tell you that you look like your Mommy or Daddy? That’s because you have some of their DNA. Magical!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Longer Newborn Sleep

White noise with a fan or humidifier.

My first daughter completely opened her eyes when she was not swaddled or even if one finger became unswaddled. Baby stores have velcro swaddlers now. Purchase at least two. Baby will tell you when it's no longer working. If an arm falls out of the swaddle and she is still sleeping, she is ready to graduate from the swaddling.

Landing the Job

It's about people, relationships. You are not applying to a company, or website or an institution. You are applying to help a person, a group of people or a community. Remember that when writing your cover letter. Write how your skills and experience can help them.

Here is my job finding experience. Two years into my postdoc, I was ready to obtain a "real" job with "real" pay. I had been in school or training for so long. I had bills to pay. People to take care of.  I knew I wanted to return to Toronto to be with my family, so I narrowed down the job search to geography. If you are not limited to any city, you have more options; however, you still need to do step 2.

The next step is to find what you want to do, find an institution that will support the project, and submit a proposal with CV and cover letter. I knew I had either wanted to teach, work for a start-up or work as a research associate in the area of bioinformatics and genomics. I checked a local college's website, found out their bioinformatics curriculum, and wrote to the director about how I could help their program. He called me for an interview and hired me to teach. At the same time, I had contacted my genomics friend who was a PI and he mentioned a new genomics start-up company starting in Toronto. I contacted the CEO, interviewed for them and I also landed the job. Third, I searched for a Toronto hospital bioinformatics lab through pubmed based on research interest, wrote to the PI with a cover letter and CV, gave a talk about my postdoctoral research on molecular profiling and also was given the job. Decide on what you want to do. That is the key, for the passion and desire will show in your contact email and cover letter. Mind you, there have been other jobs I did not receive an interview call for. I was not upset by those, for that meant the "fit" was not there, through the employer's eyes. And that is ok.

Out of the three, I decided on the start-up as it sounded like a great place for me to learn many different aspects of science and business. After many projects later, I wed my husband. We had to live in the same city, but my husband was in a biotech company in Michigan. (He found his company at a conference and just chatted with the CEO.) Our companies both interviewed each of us. My company offered my husband a position and his company offered me a position. We decided to go with the company in Michigan for a few years. Yes, my husband and I worked in the same company, but we made it a policy to not discuss work at home. We were both in bioinformatics, and we did not even want a computer in the house. :)

That's the job story.
Just to reiterate:
It's about people, relationships. You are not applying to a company, or website or an institution. You are applying to help a person, a group of people or a community. Remember that when writing your cover letter. Write how your skills and experience can help them.

Also, there are many more resources on the web now, including job opportunities from LinkedIn, internships from Mitacs and other bioscience career recruiting organizations. Some are: http://pathwaystobiotech.learn.utoronto.ca/

Thanks to a colleague of mine in bringing this article to my attention:

Good luck!

What happened to my job when the babies came along? That will be another entry.

The Secret to Life: Really Listen

Everybody seems to want to know the secret to life...how do I decide on a major? Career? Date? Spouse? How do I raise my children? What path should I take now? It seems to be the same answer...for everything. One word. Listen.

Listen to your heart, your loved ones, your children, your spouse... just listen. Really listen. Many people can hear the words, but I have not met many people who can really listen. Listen to the words, the way they were said, the facial expression, the body language, the hesitations.

I have had many conversation, scientific and otherwise, where the other person is already nodding and asking the next question before I have finished speaking. To really listen and acknowledge that you've heard it, try the fast food rule (taken from "Getting Your Toddler from No to Yes.")
The first thing the counter person does when you order food is to repeat your order.

I will use a very simple example.
Toddler is crying "I don't want to wear my boots!"
Parents usually say "Put on your boots!"
Toddler cries harder. Parent is more frustrated.

Alternative method
Parent just repeats calmly "I see, You do not want to wear boots right now."
Toddler will stop crying because you have acknowledged you listened. You heard them. You hear THEIR wishes.
Then you say "Sweetie, I know you don't want to wear the boots. Why?"
Toddler will usually say something not logical to an adult.
Acknowledge that and add "But it is raining. Your feet will get wet. Do you want to sit in wet feet all day?"
Toddler will then usually say "Ok, I will wear them."
If not, have them try to sit in wet feet that day. Then they will learn, but do not get upset. Stay calm and they will never have that issue again.

Here is an industry science example.

"I do not have the budget for that product." If you were the field scientist, you may want to stop the conversation there.

Alternative method:
"I see. You do not have the budget for our product."
"You see that you can save time, resources and money by using our products."
"So, how we can find a financial plan that will work with your budget? Do you have an upper limit? We can give you a special package. Shall I speak to you supervisor?"

If you really listen, acknowledge that you understand the question or request, and then address their concerns, issues become non issues.

As for life choices such as career, you listen to your heart. What do I want to do to contribute to society? Then you plan the steps by listening to those around you who have experienced it. If you are a paving a new career path, then you may need to talk a variety of people. For me, I listened to my heart, my loved ones, other scientists and my own music teachers to achieve my career goals. Listening is a simple concept, but to so do effectively is sometimes not as easy to accomplish.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How do I help my baby sleep?

This seems to be getting lots of attention, so here are my views. Let me start by saying, each baby is different and the first year is the most difficult. For our first daughter, we were novice parents. So, we just held her. We rocked her. I nursed her. Whatever it took to get her to close her eyes and sleep, we did. I mean, come on, all the story books and lullabies you see the Mom or Dad rocking the baby to sleep. Isn't that why the rocking chair was invented? This worked...for a while.

Then at around 6 weeks, she started to wake up during the day and could not fall back asleep unless she was carried, in a carseat, or a swing. What had happened to our sleepy baby? Whenever I tried putting her down during the day after she had fallen asleep, she would wake up in 5-10 minutes, crying yet again. What was going on?

With our trip to the pediatrician, she recommended Weissbluth's book and then I realized what we were doing wrong. We were not teaching our baby how to fall asleep on her own. What a concept. I never thought that would be such a challenge, to fall asleep! So, little by little, we let her cry before naptime or g'night time. Sometimes, she cried a lot. Sometimes, it was heartbreaking. But after we started the new 7-7 schedule and appropriate nap time (see Sleeping Babies, Healthy Babies), she was more content. less tired, and better at falling asleep on her own.

With our second child, we started the schedule and learning to sleep on her own from day one. I would sing her "Somewhere over the rainbow," dance with her a bit and put her in her pack-n-play bassinet. She would be drowsy, but awake and she would look at her Piggy and close her eyes. It was lovely. However, she did go through a month (at about 3 months) where she cried for about 45 minutes before she settled down and fell sleep for the night. It was during those nights, I would close her door and go out for an hour to buy groceries while Papa stayed and watched sports in the other room. However, after the 3-4 weeks, she fell asleep with no problem.

She is our child that can sleep anywhere, anytime. I once had to pick up M from school and it was snowing. I had H on the sled, and I looked back to see she had fallen asleep...sledding. All the way to school and all the way back. She has fallen asleep on the floor in the living room. She can sleep through when I take her to pee-pee at night before I turn in. She is my sleeping champ.

That's our baby sleep story. Hope this helps somebody. I have consulted many Moms about this topic - it has individual hiccups along the way, but it almost inevitably ends up Mom or Dad adopting these sleep strategies.

Why the pack-n-play and not a crib? That can be for another entry.

Deciding on the PostDoc

You are almost finished with the PhD! You are writing up the chapters, editing, adding the tables, figures and writing the lighthearted notes for the acknowledgements. Perhaps you have already found the postdoc or are still looking.

With all the combined experiences of my friends and colleagues, here would be my advice. Mind you, it is only my view. It you are pursuing a career in academia, find a postdoc that is related to your state-of-the-art PhD project, but perhaps with slight variation. You may be learning a new technique or model, but it moves forward the work you laid out for your PhD. If you had a stellar PhD thesis, finding a lab elsewhere (a collaborator or trusted colleague) to host you for a few years should be no problem. Just make sure you work out any details with your PhD advisor so you either remain collaborators or you delve into something that is not in direct competition with their research. You could also go find something totally unrelated. However, if you do, be prepared to spend many years becoming an expert in that new field, possibly 4-5, to be expert enough to write your own grants. Having said this, I have also known industry directors look for postdocs with publications without the name of the PhD supervisor and more collaborative work in the new field.

My friends who are successful academics and mothers are those that had successful PhDs and remained with their research. One stayed as a postdoc in the same lab, research associate and then a PI as her work was very compelling. Another carried her work through her postdoc in another university out of country, and then was given an academic position back home. On a side note, it is not easy maintaining a research lab while nursing that first year - there is much help from nannies and pumping in the office :) But is can be done.

If you are aiming for an industry position, you can even try right after the PhD, if you have some connections. However, these are rare, and industry postdocs are available as well, like those through programs like mitacs. Whichever postdoc you choose, plan a path. What do you hope to get out of it? What type of mentor will you have? Are they going to help you with your career goals? They may be able to, if you ask the right questions. Ask for their alumni contact list and talk to them to get a feel for their experience. You can "learn" science forever; but at the end of it all, you need to find the best pathway to achieve your career goals.

Find out how to transition from postdoc to academic or industry position. What are the requirements for the position you are aiming for? What grants can your write? Attend grant workshops. Talk to other close faculty members who will mentor you through the grant maze.

Even though the late nights and publications are a huge part of the postdoc experience, it is just as important to find career guidance to where you want to be a few years down the road. There is no boxed solution for that...it is up to you to find those mentors.

(Other factors that you should consider are location, family issues and spouse's career, which you can read about in a future post.)

As for me, my postdoc was not in the field of my PhD. Even though my graduate work was extremely promising (it has been continued on by other PIs now), I felt like I needed to leave the familiarity of my 5 years of research. I did not carry any aspect of my PhD with me, not knowing that it would have been beneficial if I had wanted to pursue academia. Two years into my postdoc and with family issues, I wanted to step into the "real" world of science.

I did learn quite a bit as a postdoc, but I was ready to go for my industry job hunt. The details of which are in my next entry. Stay tuned! :)

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sincere Appreciation for Motherhood

The everyday of parenthood can be stressful and sometimes, just physically and mentally tiring. However, people have told me I am calmer than the usual mom of two. Perhaps it is because I am so sentimental. Perhaps it is because I lost my mother to cancer when I was in my 20s and realized that anything, anybody can be just gone at any time.

I think it is mostly because of this, I cherish the times I have with my family. Don't get me wrong. I have my moments too. However, I miss M if she doesn't come home for lunch or has an after school activity. I am always wondering what they are doing. I love trying to think like them and trying to figure out how they are processing this world.

One of my best friends has a nephew who has terminal cancer. He is only six. How horrible is that. He is only a child. I cannot imagine it. I was thinking of composing a song for him, and I have the words of his favorite things. However, when I sat down at the piano, just music came out. And the tears. I could not think of any lyrics other than "What do you say?" He is the bravest boy. Every time I talk to my friend, I am saddened. With all the science and medical advances out there, we cannot cure him. It's frustrating. Words cannot express the sorrow.

When I think of him and the many other children out there who have these illnesses, I am very grateful for our health. We have no problems. With the loss of my mother, I see her through my children's laughter and I give them extra hugs. With the news of this brave boy, I give them even more hugs and kisses. I am more patient. I want to spend more time with them. I want to see them grow. I want to see the sparkles in their eyes when they give me a picture they drew and are explaining it to me. I am deeply thankful and sincerely appreciative.

Give the Gift of Independence

Our children are more capable than some parents give them credit for. Given the proper instructions, respect and guidance, children are extremely independent.

For example, I make sure their cutlery, plates and cups are at a place they can reach so they can set their own settings, if they like. I have stored the snacks and cereals in a lower cupboard so they can help themselves. Granted, they are at ages (7 and 4) at which they know not to eat chocolate and candy all day. Since they have been eating solids, healthy eating has been a priority so the kids know what they should and should not eat too much of.

In the morning, they are responsible for dressing themselves (we try to lay out clothes the night before, according to school activity.) Clothes are stored in accessible places. They know that they need to be at breakfast by 8:00 or they might be late. By 8:20, they know we have to put on our coats. After meals, they try to remember to take their plates to the sink.

My older one is responsible for practicing her own instruments.  I taught them how to use the microwave safely so they can make their own, warm milk. "Only in these mugs, and for 30 seconds, close the door, press start, and do not stand in front of the microwave. Two hands when you retrieve your mug."

They have helped me dust, vacuum, shovel, rake, wash dishes, wash vegetables, wash rice, wash fruit, cut green beans (with butter knives), mix batter for baking, fold laundry. Mind you, the tasks take longer, and they will make mistakes. But I love how they learn these things and become more confident. One day, I came home from teaching piano (Papa was working at home) and they had set the table for dinner, along with all the food from the fridge which were in tupperwares. "Surprise, Mama!" I took a picture and gave them hugs.

From when they were young, I gave them personal play time, times throughout the day where I told them Mama was going to work on the computer, sew, housework or read a book and they were off on independent play. This, I think, is extremely important. No TV, no video games, not passive playing. Independent active play. I have "stations" throughout the house where they can paint, play dough, read books, crafts, a performing "stage," a piano, a playroom with their favorite princess dolls. They end up playing princess dolls or producing a "show"  most of the time.

I know there is much to teach them, and I am having a good time along the way. I am trying to give them all the tools they need to feel independent and confident about themselves to face the world.

Friday, January 20, 2012


What drives you? Wakes you up in the morning with full force and gives you the passion to start the day? I have had a few of these in my lifetime, and I have to admit my current one is for my children.

I can work my long hours during the day and be awake for 7 am to give hugs and kisses to my daughters because I truly feel a passion for parenthood. They are amazing little creatures that grow and develop everyday and I don't want to miss a thing!

I spoke to a colleague of mine who is almost retirement age. She mentioned that after she had her daughter, she felt like she had to return to science right away and she did. However, she also felt she never really got to know her daughter during those precious first formative years. Her colleagues also with children started jobs 5 years later and the difference now is that they are at 25 years and she is at 30 years employed.They do the same thing and are paid the same, but they got to know their children...

I do admit that if you choose to and can stay at home, it is best to have one foot in the door as a consultant with part-time work, just to keep in touch with the advances in the field. I had a few years gap between professional conferences and yes, the amount of science that had progressed was amazing, Having said that, I felt right back in place after catching up with the latest. I also visited a career advice professional and showed him my CV.

"Do I need to add that I took time off for children?"
"Your CV stands on its own just fine. You can add one line in your cover letter if you like."

So if I ever find the dream job that takes me out of my home, it will have to be something that I really feel for, something that I am passionate about - enough to give up some of my mother-daughter time with my two other little passions.

Parenthood is hard...really.

I have to say that motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done, even through the 12 years of post secondary education, the postdoc cancer research, the biotech jobs. Going through pregnancies, deliveries, nursing every 2-3 hours, sleepless nights, crying babies, sleep issues, late night illnesses, having to nurse while trying to tend to toddler at the same time while getting the basics of groceries, laundry, meals, cleaning, some self time is HARD.

This is quite the big social experiment in our civilization. I don't think that humans ever had these small nuclear families. Historically, we had larger tribes and villages to help with all the basic necessities with children and family needs. Now, it is up to one Mom or one Dad. How crazy is that? 

For the primary care giver, here is no PhD of parenthood awarded after, no monetary rewards, no feedback of any kind (well, in the early years), nothing.  For those who used to be out in the workforce and took the option to stay at home for the babies, you question your "net worth." I have had many conversations with Moms about this topic. But you know, it is normal to feel like this. It is fine to feel uncertain. But I think we all need to remember that whatever parenting strategy you take, you are doing the best you can, under the circumstances and what you believe in. You are trying your best to help mold some character and morals into your child. And that, makes it all worth it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Green Living for Everyday

 Here is my list as a mom living in North America:

1. Try to walk, wagon or sled to school.
2. Compost, Recycle, Re-use.
3. Purchase locally.
4. Keep a foldable shopping bag in your purse or backpack to use at a moment's notice.
5. Keep a filled stainless steel water bottle in backpack.
6. Keep snack backups in backpack.
7. Unplug chargers when not in use.
8. Purge through the house every 6-12 months and donate everything you haven't used.
9. Eat more vegetables.
10. Tell the kids about global warming through the story of "Save the PolarBears!" Thank-you to our kindergarten staff for that.
11." Judy Moody saves the World" is good book about green living for primary grade kids.
12. If the clothes are not dirty, kids can wear shirts and pants another day.
13. Drink fair trade coffee/tea
14. Pack a litterless lunch. Stores such as Galleria Supermarket and Just Ducky have stainless steel lunch containers that fit sandwiches and snacks.
15. Enjoy a "giftless" birthday party. In lieu of gifts, ask guests to donate to a local charity or have a book exchange. Children bring gently used books and at the end of the party, then they take one from the pile. No lootbags necessary! Our kids love Bring Back the Wild to save endangered species as their charity.
16. Ask friends and relatives to minimize presents for Christmas. Aunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents can pick one name from a hat and just buy for that person, with an upper limit on spending.
17. Plant a tree in a pot, keep it home all year round and use it for a Christmas tree (inspired by my mother-in-law's idea.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finding Someone to Mentor

I attended the American Society of Human Genetic meeting and I was very impressed by a speaker, a female soon-to-graduate PhD student. She reminded a bit of myself at that age, so I took the initiative to sit next to her at the luncheon. We chatted about science mostly, but I told her if she ever needed to talk about deciding career paths, balancing family and life, she could contact me. She looked like having babies was the farthest thing from her mind, but I hope when she does, she will still have my email address.

I also discovered online that my alma mater had a Life Sciences Graduate Student Union that hosts career seminars and receptions. I contacted them and offered my services. I am looking forward to the career and networking reception I was invited to. I am also a mentor for Youth-in-Motion, a non-profit mentoring organization.

I remember when I was grad student, I loved attending and listening to what my "seniors" had to say. I also contacted my former department and gave a career/life discussion. I am happy to have received great feedback and been invited back. If I could shed some light on career options for any of these newly graduated scientists of the next generation, I'll be happy.

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Music for Life

I had an eight year-old piano student who sat down in the beginning of his lesson, looking defeated. "What's wrong?" I ask him. The child tells me "I need a vacation, I want to be on a beach." I ask him if he wants a snack first with his friends (my daughters) while I have tea with his mother. "Yes, please!" He perks up.

After a snack, we sit back down on the bench and I ask him to imagine his place on the beach. Then I ask him to use the notes on the C scale to improvise and create a melody which he sees as his beach. As he plays, I write down the notes. After his creation, I ask him to take the letter notes and create on them on the staff. He is exercising his note recognition in a creative, fulfilling way. After all the notes go on the staff, I add a base line and we play the duet. "I didn't know it would be so beautiful!"

We proceed on to practice the rest of his lesson, and by the end, he is a happier child. I tell him the next time he is stressed like that, take a deep breath, sit on the bench, imagine and then create. Thank-you, he says.

Teaching music to me is not just about the notes and rhythms, but it is about the expression of the spirit, the soul. It is about teaching students how to keep that music in their lives. It is a wordless form of communication that can move a whole audience to feel what the musician does. That, is just priceless.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Importance of a Mentor

During the PhD days, it is highly recommended to find a good mentor. If you are a woman and planning to have a family, finding someone with a family and career to bounce ideas around with is very important. If your own PhD supervisor is not that person, find someone else in your own department or at another university or industry.

Some friends of mine had PhD supervisors who were very helpful in finding postdoc opportunities that would chart the way for a successful academic appointment. Academic mentors are usually great for mentoring an academic career because that is their specialty, but they are not as apt to answer the questions about other options. Medical school, law school, management consulting, industry science positions, medical writing, technical specialists in law firms, research administration, science policy, college instructing, forensic science are a few of the other options out there for graduating PhDs.

Looking in hindsight, I feel that if I had searched for one, I may have charted a different career path. Perhaps not. Find someone in the career you would like and ask questions how they got there, their typical day, the pros and cons. Ask them any question about grants, career objectives, where to train as a postdoc, how to establish tenure, non-academic career paths, how they balanced the demands on motherhood and a science career.

People are very willing to answer these questions - you just need to ask.

"Finding a mentor" will be a topic for a future post...

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sleeping Babies, Healthy Babies

I have had many discussion with many moms who had crying babies at the age of 6 weeks. This is what worked for both of my children, mostly based on Dr. Weissbluth's book, "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child."

6:30/7 pm: Bedtime
10 pm: Nurse
1 am: Nurse
4 am: Nurse
6:30/7 am: Awake and nurse
When baby shows drowsy signs, it is naptime - never more than 2 hours of wakefulness.
10 am: Nurse, play (could be less than a few minutes for a newborn,) nap
1 pm: Nurse. play, nap
4 pm: Nurse, play, nap
6:30/7 Nurse

This schedule worked for us, and I made sure Baby got a full feeding (until both sides emptied.) And of course, if Baby is underweight or hungrier with growth spurts, you should feed more often. Please see my entry on nursing in Sleeping Babies, Healthy Babies Part II. Also, if baby is sleeping through, do not wake her up. Let sleeping babies sleep.

As baby grows older, the third nap disappears, then the first one, followed by the second one. As baby starts solid food at 6 months, there is nursing, play, eating and then nap. The nursing disappears after 1-2 yrs. (I did 18 months and 1 yr.) Granted, you have to take these hours with a grain of salt since babies are not clocks, but it is within a 30-45 minutes window. I let my second baby cry a bit before naps and she quickly learned to fall asleep on her own. I gave her a small piggy washable stuffed toy every night earlier on in her pack-n-play, and that was her security for a while.

This schedule allows the child to maintain this sleep pattern throughout their toddler years as the nursings are dropped and solid food is served at regular meal times of 7:30/8 am, 11/12 noon and 5/5:30 pm. With an earlier dinner, children can sleep by 7/7:30 for a full 12 hour night. Early years of JK, SK, primary grades are transitional and emotional. A full night's sleep and healthy eating on times are crucial.

I highly recommend this book! It saved our sleep and thus, every every other part of our lives. If any of you have babies or are pregnant, please read if you haven't already!


I wanted to write a story to share with other parents, graduate students, postdocs and bioscience professionals. To those who are pursuing higher education, an academic or science industry position while maintaining a happy life, this is my story.

I completed a PhD in Biochemistry/Genomics at U of Toronto, a visiting year at MIT, a 2 year postdoc training at U of Michigan and have been in the biotech industry since. During this time, I married my sweetheart after my postdoc and am lucky enough to have 2 lovely daughters. I have tried to maintain as much science as I can while taking care of the well-being of my children. I was the one who would question how a woman would take a leave from a science career to take care of children...and after seeing my first born, I totally understood. I could not leave my baby with anyone else. I brought this life into this world and I wanted to take her and help mold the physical, intellectual and emotional growth of this child. That to me, was a full-time job. Different moms feel differently, but I felt that was right for me.

So, after a few years of a Senior Research Scientist/Product Manager position and after four months of maternity leave, I transformed my working description to what I wanted to pursue with the flexibility to work from home with 1-2 visits/week to the office as Director of Application Science. My proposal went well with the CEO and my balance of motherhood and industry blossomed. After the birth of my second baby while my first one was two, I have worked as an occasional Consultant from home (or away at a conference) as my days and nights were pretty busy!

I have always been active in music, piano, songwriting, vocals. My first vocal performance was at a church when I as three and I always loved the piano. I missed that aspect of my life so I started to teach my daughters (ages 6 and 3). Pretty soon, their friends wanted to learn, and now I have nine other students. I had always wanted to teach piano and music ever since my grad school days, and my "dream" is now a reality.

This is a story of how I integrate the PhD, science, family and my artistic passion for music. There will be passages about grad school, mentoring, marriage, landing the job, having babies, school issues and pursuing the artistic side. Much to cover, but I hope that some of these stories may help other students and parents balance everything in this short adventure called life.

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