Posting fliers in the microwave

It seems it’s a good thing for academic scientists to have a shtick, something that gets them out of the lab and allows them to interact with a larger community. I myself enjoy mentoring younger scientists, especially females. I got where I am because of a fabulous female scientist who was also my PhD mentor, and it seems only fair that I should find a way to pay it forward. This interest has led me to take part in our campus’s postdoc association for the past year and a half, opening up numerous opportunities to participate on committees with faculty, other postdocs, and students from around the university. While the commitment can be a little overwhelming at times, interactions with others on campus has made the time, for the most part, very worthwhile. And I’ve learned a lot about how to balance lab life with extracurricular science activities.

The most recent of the committees on which I’ve become active is charged with developing career development opportunities for postdocs on campus, particularly helpful and interesting to me. Curiously, this committee is composed almost entirely of women, and it became clear to all that I was pregnant at our first meeting. So, from time to time, the pre- and post-meeting conversations have drifted into the mommy-academia realm. Today, post-meeting, I heard a hilarious description from a junior faculty member about motherhood:

“Having a child is like having a stroke.”

She really didn’t mean this in the negative sense…more just about the physiological effects of motherhood/pregnancy on the brain, much of which are due to hormonal changes. The junior faculty’s motherhood experience included forgetting several things that were once second nature; with time, she relearned those things, but with a different understanding of them than before having children. My only experience with this so far has been a general sense of scattering in my brain…I can’t seem to keep the files in any good order. Example: at a meeting last week, I was explaining that we needed fliers for an upcoming event to be posted in the elevators around campus. I couldn’t come up with the word “elevator” to save my life, and suddenly blurted the word “microwave” out in its place:

“We need fliers to post in the, um, um, um…[long pause]…microwave”.

This type of occurrence, which only seems to perpetuate the absent-minded scientist myth, has become quite common over the past couple of months. Luckily, I have a pretty good sense of humor, and I’m learning to take these moments in stride.

Cloud from the Wandering Scientist recently mentioned The Mommy Brain, a book by Katherine Ellison about this topic, in the comments section of one of my earlier posts. I haven’t read this book yet (planning to purchase this weekend), and I have no good scientific understanding of the brain (I tend to concentrate on the “minds” of our little microbe friends). But I’m completely enthralled by the topic. The subtitle of the book is “How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter”, and I’m dying for some good news right now.  I’ll be back in a future post, hopefully before the rest of my brain becomes too disheveled to write, to share what I learn!

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