The “It is never the right time to have a baby (for a female academic who wants kids)” post

Yes, this is trite advice that you’ve probably read before, but hey, why not?


1.  Before college graduation.  This option is not usually a choice.  Women academics who do this are generally highly selected so it is difficult to say whether this is a good option as a policy recommendation or that the women who decide to go into academia after having a child young are made up of stern stuff.

2.  During graduate school.  Some people look down on this, some people strongly recommend it.  The effect also seems to vary by discipline.  Men do this all the time without consequence.   Pros:  Flexible schedule, kids are older and potentially easier to deal with once you’re in a tt position.  Body is still young.  Cons:  Advisers may take you less seriously and relegate you mentally to a mommy track.  Money is often tight so it is difficult to pay for a full time nanny or high quality daycare etc.

3.  Before tenure: Pros:  Your body is still relatively young.  Your biological clock may be ticking loudly at this or any time.  You have more money than you had before and can funnel it into baby-related things.  Depending on where you are, you may actually get maternity leave which will help you continue research when you have a newborn (because of the break from teaching and service).  Cons:  Your colleagues may take you less seriously and relegate you mentally to a mommy track.  If you take an additional year to your clock you may be expected to produce more stuff (but you may not).  In my discipline women are just starting to have one baby before tenure.

4.  After tenure:  Pros:  You’ve already made a mark in the field… you can slow down (working on bigger projects, perhaps) and people will still respect you (so long as you continue quality work).  You have more money than before.  You can take a semester without pay if you’ve been saving up and you don’t get paid leave.  Cons:  You may not be able to have a baby at this point, which may be heart-breaking.  If you can, you may have to space them close together (or have multiples if you need medical assistance).   This is the choice one of my advisers made (and recommended for me).

So none of the options are perfect.  I long ago decided I would time my fertility based on what I wanted, and academia be damned.  I wasn’t ready in graduate school.  I was ready after it (with the biological clock alarm screaming), but turns out my body didn’t want to cooperate, but right when we gave up I unexpectedly got pregnant.  My colleagues were delighted– after all, why shouldn’t they be?   There’s no maternity leave at my school.

#2 notes that we wholeheartedly support everyone’s reproductive decisions while at the same time not endorsing compulsory motherhood, and noting that some of us are extremely happy not having children and will go to great lengths to avoid having them!  If this is you, don’t let today’s post put you off our awesome blog.  We support people of all stripes being in control of their own decisions on when, whether, and how to raise kids.  (Unless you do something like blanket training with a switch… then we’re calling CPS.)

#1 agrees– this is conditional on you wanting kids, which says nothing about your character nor is it obligatory.  Obviously if you don’t want kids it doesn’t matter when is the best time to not have them because you’re always going to not have them whether that’s the best time or not!

What are your thoughts?


The experiences vs. stuff post

Lots of research from here and there suggests that people get longer lasting happiness from buying experiences than from buying stuff.

Obviously that means we should all become minimalists and travel the world, right?  Get 100% experiences and 0% stuff because experiences are always superior to stuff.

Obviously that’s silly.  (As is streaking through the world…you’re likely to get arrested.)

When we try to decide whether to do more of one thing than another, we’re interested in how much additional happiness an additional unit of each thing will give us.  This concept is termed, “marginal utility.”  We want to know how much happier one unit of something is going to make us.  We’re not interested in how happy all of the things we already have are making us, just how much adding or subtracting a unit of each thing will make us.

The canonical example of marginal utility (and diminishing marginal utility) is that of pizza.  Let’s say you’re stuck in Detroit on a weekend at 6pm at the conference center, starving, and the only place open is Sbarro at the attached mall.  The first slice of pizza gives a high marginal utility.  You’d be willing to pay a few dollars for it.  The second slice of pizza you don’t really need so much, so you’d only be willing to pay a couple of dollars for it– if it costs $3.50 you’ll only get one slice.  A third slice of pizza you might be willing to take free.  A fourth slice and you’re not really interested.  The happiness you get from pizza is determined by both the inherent value of the pizza and how much pizza you already have inside of you.  (And if you’re trying to decide between pizza and a beverage, the beverage gets more attractive compared to pizza the more pizza you eat.)

In this framework, experiences aren’t automatically better than stuff.  If you don’t have a lot of stuff, stuff becomes more valuable.  If you have a lot of stuff, travel becomes more attractive by comparison.

Basically what this happiness research is showing is that people in general have too much stuff and not enough experiences, so the marginal utility of an additional experience is greater than that of an additional unit of stuff. (Americans have too much stuff–did we really need a study to show that?  I thought the rubbermaid commercial made it pretty clear!)

Those of us who travel a lot don’t feel the need to travel anymore because we’ve long since hit diminishing marginal returns to happiness on travel.  Especially if we don’t have as much stuff as the average American.

So don’t take the research on happiness and experience as a mandate to get rid of all your stuff and spend all your time traveling!  There’s nothing wrong with you if you’d rather buy a china cabinet than spend a week in Tahiti.  Maybe for you the marginal utility of an additional unit of stuff is greater than the marginal utility of an additional unit of travel.  Maybe you have plenty of time to engage in your hobbies and not a ton of income, so adding to your wardrobe is more important than buying more time.  Maybe you don’t spend enough time at home doing nothing and would like to spend more.  We all have different values for these things in absolute terms and we all have different stores of these things.  Thus we all get different marginal utilities.

Just because the average American needs to declutter and travel more doesn’t mean you do too.  And that’s ok.

And maybe, just maybe, you want to buy thousands of books and nice shelves to put them in and a house big enough for a library and a comfy chair to read in.  In which case, we salute you.  (And secretly hope you invite us over to share.)

Stereotype threat

Men who are secure in their masculinity are both great lovers and don’t waste their time trying to make themselves feel like real men by putting down women on the internet.  It is well known, and has been scientifically shown*, that men who spend large amounts of times posting about women’s genetic and nature-born inferiority have tiny penises and are trying to compensate for being lousy in bed.

Now, whether that’s true or not, such a statement may cause these loser-“men” to subconsciously doubt their virility and indeed perform poorly in bed (even worse than they already are!).

Stereotype threat occurs when people are aware or are made aware of a stereotype regarding their group.  When presented with this stereotype, their measured performance moves closer to the perceived mean for their group.  This effect has been shown over and over, for minorities, for women, for lower-caste Indians in India, in testing situations and in real situations.  It is a real phenomenon.  You tell someone that their group is bad at something or worse at something than another group, and their performance will suffer.  These negative stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Stereotype threat is malicious and malignant.  When men post bogus studies about women and minorities’ supposed natural-born inferiority and complain about poor Larry Summers (who, incidentally, was pushed out of Harvard for problems with micromanagement, his abrasive administrative style, and his general disdain for any humanity/social science field that is not economics, and not for anything to do with his ignorant remarks at NBER), they are feeding stereotype threat.  On Chronicle forums, they are making academic women feel like they should and can achieve less.  On gifted forums, they’re implicitly encouraging housewives to stay home with their children, and to not expect as much from their daughters as from their sons.  Their unchecked general acceptance that people who aren’t white (or occasionally Asian) men are inferior can spread to other people who read their comments and “proofs” who then spread the contagion to people IRL.  And such comments push out those who would argue against them by creating and promoting an unwelcoming and hostile environment for women who aren’t willing to be bullied.

Why so Slow by Virginia Valian is a must read.  It’s a fantastic literature review and well-reasoned argument of exactly how many of these differences that some ascribe to genetics are actually the product of our culture.  If you are a nature-only person, this book provides convincing evidence of nurture.

by Virginia Valian

Even if there are strong genetic differences in ability or whatever by gender  (which there probably aren’t), that does not say much about individual people.  Imagine two normal curves overlapping normal curves, in which one is slightly shifted:

Now compare the area under the curve that is shared to the area that is not.  Individual differences will always outweigh differences between groups.   Or if you believe Pinker (and many experts do not agree with his conclusions or his methods), the two groups may have the same means, but one curve is fatter and the other taller.  Almost nobody is in the parts of the tail that aren’t shared.  Again, individual differences are always greater than differences between groups.

So, to summarize, if you have a tiny penis stop being an ass on the internet.  If you have to harm people by telling them that their entire group is inferior, you’re doing real harm and you’re a loser.  Real men don’t need to put women down in order to feel masculine, because they already are.

*using small-penis-man definitions of “scientifically,” not standard definitions from people who understand statistics, though no doubt there is actually a correlation.  Someone should study that.

Disclaimer:  Penis length is not a direct indicator of female satisfaction, nor does it actually have any bearing on a person’s value as a person. However, we choose this example because we believe it to be most insulting to men who constantly post negative “proof” of women’s innate inferiority (which is stupid of them).  Additionally, it is well known that ability in bed increases with one’s valuation of one’s partner ;).

link love

This week has talked a lot about the challenges of single parents, especially when one spouse isn’t doing his or her fair share to support the family.

The happiest mom starts her personal finance jag with a recollection of her single mother trying to make ends meet.

Mutant super model contemplates the fact that her ex-husband is not the perfect parent.  Both the post and the comments are very powerful.

Somehow I doubt Maria Shriver will be facing the economic issues, though perhaps the other challenges.

Undine asks, “What kind of of scientist are you, anyway?

Gratuitous fuzzy puppet with beautiful woman action!!!

It’s probably too late now, but we totally stole, from another blog, this FAQ for students on how the rapture will affect their final exams.

This tragedy, as illustrated by Sheldon comics, totally happened to #2 this week.

Also, this penny-arcade comic totally describes #2.

I kind of want one of these shirts but not enough to actually donate.

Also stole this hilarious website link from another blog.  Damn you auto correct.

I think that’s all the links we’ve shared with each other this week.  Maybe #2 will add more while I slumber.  Maybe not!

Sidenote:  Putting together my tenure packet I feel alternately like I’m totally awesome and totally a fraud.  I need more Georgette Heyer!

Care bear stare!

Ok, so if you were a care bear, what would come out of your belly during care-bear stare time?

We’ve already determined that CPP will squirt out rainbows of sweet Jameson.

#1 will send out showers of books.  Those hard corners will be perfect for defeating villains.

#2 will shoot out threads of gooey cheeses.  Goop the villains up so that #1 can bludgeon them senseless.

(around :58… it’s easier to handle with the sound off)

How about you?

Adventures in kindergarten choices

So, if you’ve been keeping up…

DC misses our state cut-off for kindergarten.  We’d been planning to stay at hir preschool through kindergarten and go straight to first in public school.  But, ze has been growing out of hir Montessori and all (but one or two) of hir friends are going to kindergarten next year.  (All but one of hir friends are about a year older.)  So we figured, why not look into starting early.

So I read up on tons of books about giftedness and early acceleration, because I’m a nerd and a wonk and I like to make informed choices.  Acceleration is a good thing for gifted kids, not ideal, but a good thing, especially little wunderkinds like ours.  It’s not a good thing for all kids, and you hear the occasional horror story because folks don’t understand counterfactuals– people tend to blame all their problems on the skip even if they would have been even more miserable without it.

We called up our local public kindergarten and then a bunch of other public schools to ask about acceleration.  They weren’t interested in talking with us.  Another parent says you have to be very vague over the phone and then spring these kinds of things on them in person after you’ve got your foot in the door.  We will keep that in mind for the future.

Then we called around to the private schools we’d heard good things about and talked to lots of parents about their schooling choices.  The Catholic school has no exceptions in their policy for skipping/early entrance, which is to say they don’t allow it.  At half the price of all the other private schools in town, they can do that.

After some searching we found the ideal situation.  A dream K teacher, experienced, loved by everybody, full of differentiation and stations at a school that allows acceleration and so on.  Whew.  DC spent a day there and loved it so much ze wanted to start K this year instead of waiting until next.

Then, the day after DC’s kindergarten readiness test, we found out that this dream teacher of 30 years up and quit.  She wanted to transition to part-time and because of some miscommunication with administration, she was moving to a half-day kindergarten at a different school (with a wait list a mile long and no acceleration).  Ack.

So we talked to more parents and checked out the super-expensive prep school that allows early entrance.  It was horrible.  So many wasted resources.  Tiny classes, but the kids were bored stiff and misbehaving.  Their science class, in a separate room with a specialized science teacher, was coloring in a worksheet of a stylized tree.  (At DC’s Montessori, they look at actual plants!)  The teachers didn’t understand the terminology I was using to ask about differentiation (“differentiation” “acceleration” “clustering” etc.) and the admissions director had to ask them my questions again using tiny words.  No wonder the best college the graduating students get into is the local state school.

The prep-school experience did change our framing… instead of comparing to the wonderful K teacher we’d lost, we were able to see that we had two good options, even if we’d lost the amazing one.  DC could stay at Montessori another year and we could try to enter 1st grade at one of these private schools the next year, or we could go with the original school we’d decided on and their new teacher.

We talked with Montessori and found out that one of hir friends who we thought would be going to K next year actually misses the cutoff by a couple of days.  So DC would have two friends staying back, not just one (and would be second oldest, not oldest).  Ze would still be learning a lot of geography and history and hands on science, even if not accelerating so much in math and language arts.  Montessori is also less expensive and tax-deductible as it would still count as preschool.  On the minus side, they told us that ze would be spending a lot more time as a teachers assistant for the younger kids, training them on stations and so on.

At the private school, they’re moving up the pre-K teacher to K.  Her teaching style is much more rote- repeat, but she knows that is not really appropriate for older children and is working on changing, shadowing the current K teacher a couple of times a week.  The kids in her class are well-behaved and not as bored as the ones at the prep school.  The language, music, etc. teachers will not be changing.  There’s less racial, ethnic, and religious diversity at this school than at Montessori, which is too bad, but more diversity in terms of disabilities.  DC will also not be the youngest in the class– there’s another wunderkind a month younger and one a month older.

What decided us was that after talking with the new K teacher, we got an email from admissions requesting DC to come in for more testing.  They tested DC at the reading level of an 8 year old (apparently ze couldn’t define the word, “quench”) and they weren’t able to finish the math testing but ze got a perfect on what they did test.  The recommendation is single subject acceleration to first grade for math and reading.  While there for testing, DH talked to some of the parents who were there for track and field day and they told amazing stories of how their children’s lives had been changed for the better by the school.

So not perfect like before, but not terrible either.  We think ze is going to be able to continue learning in a supportive environment, and that’s what’s important.  The kids around should also be nice and well-behaved.  Hopefully this is what we’re going to go with and there will be no more unpleasant changes!

So that’s our kindergarten adventures.  Hopefully our first-grade adventures will be less exciting for us.

Dear students: Final exam grumpies!

  • If the instructions say, “Do not do X,” please do not ask me, “Should I do X?”  Also:  don’t do X.
  • Related:  If you do X anyway, and it lowers your grade, shut yer piehole.
  • Related:  If the instructions say, “Do Z,” then you should do Z.
  • Also related:  I am currently fuming at the American Education System.  Specifically Whole Language.  When am I going to see readers again?
  • If your final project would make a crappy blog, then it is also going to make a crappy final project.
  • I don’t care that the restaurant needs all its waiters for some university banquet.  You still have to show up for your final exam.  Or not, but you make the decision between paycheck and zero on the final exam.  Choices = consequences.  Especially if you can’t make the make-up time either.
  • Also, you’re not skipping Dr. Hardass’s final, so they can’t be that desperate for workers.
  • That term you are using, it does not mean what you think it means.  Read chapter 1 and try asking that question again with different words.
  • Please stop emailing me.
  • Fine, snorkwranglers, take this.
  • Don’t turn your exam in way early if you’re just going to get things wrong.  Take the time to get things right.  Your grader will appreciate it.
  • Dear self, you have to finish your water before you can have another coke.
  • No, no, a group final is not a “great idea,” and yes, there was harm in asking because now I’m annoyed.  Especially since you all did such crappy jobs on your group projects.
  • Please stop emailing me.
  • Final exams were due an hour ago.  I have a zillion students, several of whom want to chat.  So no, I don’t have yours graded yet.
  • The day after the final exam is too late to protest your grade on Exam 1 from 3 months ago.
  • Stop emailing me, you weasel-brained motesnorters.