Blogging appearances to the contrary, I am still alive, clinging gamely to some semblance of work-life balance as a new mother in academia.
Not so new anymore, I realize, as Joshua hurtles, one milestone at a time, toward his first birthday. He sways on his feet, unsupported, for long periods of time, yet is still reluctant to let go as he steps along the furniture. He keeps remembering anew that he can clap his hands together, which causes no end of private amusement. He has taken to pointing portentously at all manner of random objects, and is now so curious and fast – a dangerous combination – that we cannot leave him alone for even a second. Still, at least he is sleeping well – most nights. But this long-awaited achievement somehow has not brought my perennial exhaustion to an end as I’d hoped it might.
I think I’m so tired because of changes in my job. As I rework a fellowship at the request of a major funding body, I’ve been helping out as a teaching fellow on a brand-new undergraduate course being launched by the university. It’s an ambitious and innovative program aimed to teach a fusion of medicine and science to researchers who want to work with clinicians or in an applied setting, and we’re doing it all from scratch using a flipped learning approach that hasn’t been employed much here. So all eyes are on us – my own faculty, and other departments thinking of taking the plunge into flipped learning with a significant online component – and the first cohort of students is due to arrive in exactly three weeks. Meanwhile, I’m still looking after the lab and keeping a team of basic scientists afloat.
But the teaching office is on a different campus, across town from the lab, and the nursery is not located anywhere near either my home or my two sites of employment, which makes life hectic. I love that feeling when I sneak up on all fours on my baby boy at the end of the day and he hurtles himself, cooing and delighted, into my lap. Yet I loathe the final leg, pushing the pram through the rush-hour crowds jostling down Borough High Street and then descending underground to cram the buggy into the sea of irritable commuters flowing eastward on packed Jubilee Line carriages. When Joshua goes down, there are only a few precious hours with which to write or do other creative endeavors, but more often than not I’m working on my last first-author paper from the previous lab (just about to be put to bed in a good home, I think), or dealing with lab stuff, or hiring BSc project students, or proofing papers and grants from the rest of the team and from various collaborators. Or lying on the sofa in a stupor, if I’m honest.
On the literary front, an older story of mine, The Pair-bond Imperative, was selected for the upcoming Nature Futures 2 anthology. I recently sat on a well-attended panel about LabLit fiction at the LONCON3 science fiction convention, and gave a talk at that same august gathering about antibiotic resistance, with a B-movie flavor. (You would think that a science fiction convention could provide adequate geeky tech. But no. Instead, I was given a laptap that couldn’t play movies, so I had to act out the key scene from Fantastic Voyage instead – when Raquel Welch is attacked by antibodies – and received a vigorous round of applause for my efforts. As an aside, can I just note that I found this large group of science fiction afficionados one of the most warmly responsive audiences to whom I’ve ever delivered a science talk?) Also, I was interviewed about LabLit for an American public radio program, To The Best of Our Knowledge, which must getting syndicated on NPR stations all over the country as I keep getting lovely pockets of fan mail and people suggesting books for my List of science novels every few weeks or so. I struggle to publish one article a week on LabLit, but somehow I manage it, and I’m proud to be approaching our tenth year of existence.
I haven’t been able to write fiction since Joshua was born, however, or work out a good publication plan for my third completed novel, which is the first of a comedy-thriller trilogy about a feminist virologist who is forced to combine forces with a sexist mathematician to solve a mystery cat plague that threatens the whole planet. I keep hoping that the time and energy and creative juices will one day come. For now, I’m happy just to be able to keep everything else afloat and pen the occasional blog or journal entry. One day soon I know the mojo will return.