One might say that the Langkilde Lab is extremely fecund. Over a four-year period we welcomed five babies to the lab! One could make several hypotheses to try to explain our reproductive success – something in the water, something in the air… personally, I think our fearless leader, Tracy Landkilde, has created a safe environment conducive to child rearing. But, whatever the reason, regardless of whether it is related to Langkilde Lab-ness, on April 30, 2014, I joined the parent circle.
After the visitors left, the Mylar balloons deflated, and the gifts stopped trickling in, I was hit with the reality about the remaining work I still needed to do in order to complete my dissertation. Decades ago, my grandmother had been a graduate student studying psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and had chosen to leave the program following the birth of her first child in order to support my grandfather, also a graduate student. This was during a time when work-life balance wasn’t a buzzword, and there was virtually no support for female scholars raising families. Determined to complete my PhD, and with many parent-scholar role models in my life (several from the Langkilde lab!), I devised a plan to find the time necessary to write my dissertation. Often the places and ways I worked were unusual at best. Below I have compiled a Top 6 list of sorts – that is, a list of the bizarre and peculiar places and ways a mother to an infant found the time to write her dissertation.
Jenny’s Top 6 List of Places & Ways I Wrote My Dissertation
- “Jenny’s Lair” – an affectionate term for the makeshift office I used during the three months we lived with my in-laws in Wisconsin: an attic bedroom accessed by a narrow closet that led to a Swedish-style step-ladder. Every time I had to go to the bathroom I had to carefully descend the steep ladder – one misstep would send me crashing into the wall (which happened).
- One-handed. I needed to hold my baby with at least one hand to support her while nursing. This meant I had one hand doing nothing. A dissertator mother can’t afford to have one hand doing nothing! So, I would grab my computer and hunt and peck away at the keyboard. And let me tell you, I got very speedy at one-handed typing!
- Coffee shops in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes the best way to guarantee I would get work done was to wake up before my baby or my husband. Fortunately, we have a coffee shop that opens at 4:30am in my town!**
- Kneeling in a completely dark bedroom, except for the glow of my laptop. I needed to keep the light off so my daughter would sleep. I couldn’t leave the room because she had fallen asleep on our bed and might roll off. I couldn’t put her in her own bed or she would wake up during the transfer. Solution? I grabbed the nearest cardboard box to use as a desk, and resumed my work in the dark.
- On my belly on the floor, laptop in front of me, with a sleeping baby sprawled lengthwise along the crook of the backside of my legs. She wanted to sleep so badly, but wouldn’t do it unless her body was touching mine.
- Jenny’s Mobile Office. My daughter’s naps were predictably unpredictable. They always occurred, but only when she finally surrendered to let sleep overtake her enthusiasm for having fun (I can’t imagine who she got that from…). Often she would fall asleep in the car on the way back from an outing, but would awake the moment I brought her inside. Since, as any parent knows, the spare moments gifted by nap time are as valuable as gold, especially for someone trying to write a dissertation, I was determined to find a way to keep my sleeping baby asleep! And so, I created Jenny’s Mobile Office. I put a lap desk in the back of my car, and anytime my daughter fell asleep while she was riding in the car, I would pull over, hop into the back luggage area, fold up my legs so that I just fit, open my laptop and work on my dissertation. The best part about this strategy? The views!
I am delighted to say all of these peculiar places and ways I wrote my dissertation paid off. On Sunday, May 10 – coincidentally, also Mother’s Day – I received the best Mother’s Day present one could imagine: I walked across the stage at Penn State University clutching my diploma, with Tracy escorting me, my own mother beaming in the audience.
**This blog post was written in the wee hours of the morning: see List item #4