Doing it all, and living to tell about it.

I’ve been reading and enjoying the posts by scientist mothers about work-life logistics, as organized by feMOMhist in honor of International Women’s Day. I have a sneaking suspicion that the schedules that have been posted are horrifying to those without kids. Me, I read them and was very cheered to see that my experience is NOT as uncommon as I thought. I personally know a grand total of TWO other bioscience graduate students who had babies well before they were thesis writing, so most people I know who ask about my schedule think I am bonkers. And sometimes I think I’m bonkers for not thinking that it isn’t all that complicated.

But it really isn’t. The common theme through all the work-life logistics posts is that as parents and partners, we just do what works for us, taking it day by day, and getting it done as best we can. That’s it. Bad days are just that… a bad day. It doesn’t mean the next day is screwed.

It IS possible to be a scientist and a parent. It’s not simple, but you learn, and your routine evolves. You do need a willing partner, communication skills, and to be able to compromise without resentment. It is for that reason that I tell as many women as I can to marry someone who supports you 100%. Hell, that’s true for men as well…but let’s face it, it’s a bit harder for women in science/engineering. I am heartened to see so many women post about how their husbands willingly pitch in at home.

So here is my description of our family’s work-life logistics.


A typical work day goes something like this:

5am – Robin gets up and books it out of here. Sometimes he goes to the gym before work, sometimes he showers and goes straight to work.

6:30am – my alarm goes off, and if I’m up to it (or have urgent deadlines coming up) I get up and try to do 30 minutes of computer work before…

7am – J gets up. Generally he’s up around 6, actually, but he knows he’s supposed to stay in his room till 7. He helps pick out his clothes, then gets dressed while I fix breakfast. As J eats, I pack up for the day; lunch (Robin makes sandwiches/quesadillas the night before, I add cut veggies/fruit/other treats), my own stuff, etc. I try to be fully dressed before he’s done eating. He helps me clean up from breakfast, retrieves and dons his socks, gets a kiddy vitamin, puts on his shoes and coat, and I aim to head out the door by 7:45am.

8-8:30am – Dropoff at preschool. I like to be closer to 8, so I can get to lab by 8:30, but sometimes we have bad mornings.

8:30-9am – arrive at lab. Work my tail off to get as much benchwork done as I can before I have to leave.

5pm – leave lab. Pick J up from afterschool daycare.

5:45-6pm – arrive home. Collapse on the couch while J buzzes around me. Robin generally arrives home at a similar time. At this point, he pretty much fully takes over. Maybe 20% of the time I’ll make dinner, but usually he does it.

6:30pm – Family dinner. This is very important to us; Robin grew up with 2 working parents, and I with a SAHM, but we both had family dinner every day, and instinctively built this into our own family schedule. Afterwards, I try to help with cleanup, and Robin goofs around with J until bath/bedtime.

7:30pm – J gets put to bed after bedtime ‘special book’ and kisses/hugs from both of us.

Evening – often, both of us are on the computers for at least an hour or so, working. Maybe half the time, Robin is able to turn his computer off and play maybe an hour or 2 of the video game of the moment (currently, Skyrim). Lately, I tend to be on my computer straight through till bedtime.

Robin tends to tuck in around 10pm. I’m more of a night owl, and so while I try to head to bed at the same time, I am often up 30-60 minutes longer, trying to wind down.


Today is anomalous, as J came home from school yesterday with a high fever. Exactly how Robin and I split up the day in these types of circumstances varies each time, and today it worked out to this:

5:30am – Robin gets up, showers, and remotely logs into his work computer so he can get some work done before J gets up

6:30am – I wake up, get dressed, and am out the door in 15 minutes.

7am – J gets up, feverish and oh so cranky. Robin wrangles him to take his temp, and get some children’s motrin into him. I’m not sorry I missed this.

7:15am – I arrive at work, and am on my feet at the bench nonstop till I leave at 9:30am. One experiment I start up, to be continued by my labmate with whom I closely collaborate. A second experiment I start, but abandon when I find that something went wrong midway. A third experiment I get into the PCR machine, and leave running, requesting another labmate pull it out around lunchtime when it finishes.

9:50am – I arrive back home, and Robin rushes out the door, probably aiming to at least make it late to a 10am meeting. J is feeling much better post-Motrin, so he helps me clean up the living room and his room before we go out for pearl tea. (We both deserve a treat)

12:30pm – a very small lunch. At least he ate something.

1pm – J gets tucked in for his ‘quiet time’. I finally eat my own lunch, and sit down to type this entry. I’ll do some data analysis afterwards.

3:30pm – Robin is scheduled to be back home, so I can get to a 4:15 doctor’s appointment which I am loathe to reschedule (dermatology is always booked up months in advance, it’s a minor miracle I got an appointment within the week of my referral). In all likelihood, J will be up right around then, ready for snack. Unless the Motrin wore off, and he’s back to cranky sick toddler.

6pm – Robin cooks dinner and we eat by 6:30pm

7:30pm – bedtime for J. I am 99% sure that one of us will head back to work/lab, but I don’t know which of us it will be. If Robin doesn’t have to, I will, to retry the experiment that failed.

10:30pm – I’ll crawl into bed.


Things that happen periodically:

I try to spend a couple hours at the Stanford Ceramics Studio once a week with one of my good friends. The exact night varies from quarter to quarter. Currently, I leave after dinner on Tuesday, and am home by 10pm.

Sometimes Robin is forced to stay at work late for one reason or another. This can happen as often as 2 or 3 nights a week. Or it doesn’t happen at all. I don’t generally expect it, but it doesn’t ever surprise me. It’s one of the hazards of working at a startup.

Sometimes, due to the nature of my labwork (biology can’t be sped up or slowed down), I need to head into school really early, stay past 5pm, or head back in after dinner. In the first 2 circumstances, Robin will do dropoff or pickup. The third circumstance doesn’t really change much of our routine, since bedtime is entirely under Robin’s purview. One of the three things tends to happen at least once a week.


Congratulations if you made it all the way through this monster post. I’d give you some cake if I could. 😉 Reading through this monster, I regret that what doesn’t come across is how generally happy our days are. J has his whiny moments, but he’s 3, so that comes along with many hilarious and sweet moments as well. Robin is great with J, very supportive of me when I have a grad school freakout (he did his ph.d. before I started mine, so he’s experienced in those), and we’re happy. A bit tired, probably more than a bit stressed out, but happy.

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13 Responses to Doing it all, and living to tell about it.

  1. I know for a lot of women M.D.s it actually worked better to had children while still in school! Sounds like you are making it work but I can imagine it must be lonely going at times. There was only 1 person with kids in my grad school cohort from start to finish and she had another career before grad school so was older.

    • I was the oldest woman in my starting class, at 26 (now in my 30’s), so I was definitely in a different place mentally and relationship-wise than my fellow women grad students. Once J came along, it became a bit isolating, since a lot of socializing happens at happy hours, or late nights at the local bars, both things that I just can’t go to anymore. Thankfully, my labmates have always been supportive and friendly, so I get my adult interaction there 🙂

  2. anandi says:

    I’ve definitely noticed in these schedules that one partner (at least) starts their day ridiculously early. I’m glad it’s not me 🙂

    I also think that the key to making it work is being able to trade off with your partner. In that sense, I feel like we have *more* flexibility than the SAHMs I know, when tend to believe (whether true or not) that they HAVE to do EVERYTHING.

    • Ha, I hadn’t made that connection! I am also glad that I’m not the one getting up obscenely early. I think the absolute hardest thing for me to adjust to when J arrived was trying to not be a night owl.

      Thankfully, Robin gets up with J on the weekends and lets me sleep till 8:30am. I think 21 year old Wedge would fall on her face if I told her that she’d eventually consider 8:30 sleeping in, but hot damn, it’s heavenly.

  3. zinc says:

    Random idiot: Wow, you must be SuperWoman doing grad school and babies at the same time!
    Me: I’m not a superhuman, I’m just doing what is humanly possible, there’s a difference.

    Random idiot: You know (some lady), she does (this) and uses (that) and decided to (make a life choice)! Jeez, I feel sorry for that kid.
    Me: Hey, we’re all doing the best we can (hint: STFU)

    Random Person: I decided to not have kids.
    Me: That’s perfectly OK, they’re not for everybody.

    Academic Science: Hey, can you work a 10+hr day, 7 days a week? That’d be great.
    Me: No.

    • I almost wish this were FB so I could hit ‘like’ on this comment.

      What I didn’t get into at all in this post was the second random idiot. Who, if I’m being honest with myself, is sometimes me. Ah, mommy wars. Only exactly what I do is the right thing, after all.

      It is worth reminding myself as often as I can that I only know myself, and am not actually in anyone else’s shoes, so most of the time I really can’t judge other mothers’ parenting choices. Unless, of course, they’re doing something horrifically egregious. Which is rare.

  4. Cloud says:

    One of the postdocs in my graduate lab had school age kids, cuz she’d had them when she was in grad school. And that was eons ago, because I am now old.

    And one of the postdocs in the lab my husband did his masters in had the same story, except she’d had one kid as an undergrad (a bit of a mistake, she said, but a happy one).

    But the fact that these stories stick in my head makes your point- doing this is rare.

    On the mommy war thing- I like to say that I don’t need the world to say that my way of being a mom is the “right” way. I just want people to stop saying it is impossible! That really pisses me off, more than it should.

    Anyway, nice post.

    • Thanks!

      I’m curious about why the word ‘impossible’ ticks you off. Because it implies that the world discourages it? Because it implies that the person doesn’t believe you are telling the truth?

  5. amyrobynne says:

    How many hours/week does Robin tend to work and how long are each of your commutes? Is he going into work super-early so that he can be home early sometimes or does he work 11+ hour days?

    • He goes to work early so he can be home in time to make dinner every day. It seems that most of his colleagues do at least 12 hrs/day on location, ending around 7pm, but Robin has his schedule shifted early so that he’s present after J and I get home.

      Robin’s at work at least 55 hours during the weekdays, but probably doing another 5-10 additional hours spread between evenings at home, or random hours over the weekend. so somewhere around 60-65hrs/week.

      His commute, when there’s no rushhour traffic, is 15 minutes, but can be 3x that amount in afternoon traffic. My commute, including dropoff/pickup, is a little less than an hour. If dropoff/pickup were not involved, it would be 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. J’s school is somewhat on the way to Stanford, so I am the default child transport.

      • amyrobynne says:

        Oh man. I figured that you two were both close to work/school at least, to make the trips back in the evening reasonable. I guess if you’re going back in at 7pm, rush hour’s done and you’re skipping the childcare portion, but knowing driving sucks up time too makes everything sound so much harder.

      • 20 minutes isn’t too bad. Maybe it’s a matter of what one is used to? Traffic around Stanford is RIDICULOUS, so, frankly, unless you’re living on campus (which was never a possibility for us because we came to CA with a cat, and all on campus housing is pet free), you’re always at least 10 minutes drive away. Palo Alto housing prices are just obscene, so we’re one town away.

        Robin’s work is in Milpitas, so it’s as close to the opposite direction as possible. We did manage to land in a good spot that compromises on commute time. His commute used to be consistently easier because of the Prius carpool sticker, but that expired last summer and now he’s doomed to non-carpool lane status.

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