By Silviya Zustiak, PhD
Many of us have grasped, at some point in time, the importance of having a mentor. As postdocs, we have our scientific mentors, who are generally our PIs. Ideally, we also have additional career and life mentors. All of our mentors play an important—if not crucial—role in our growth as independent scientists. We learn to seek their advice as we encounter challenges during experiments, in defining our future goals, or in making that first step into a permanent position. Postdoctoral work is often challenging in unexpected ways, but I, and many others in my shoes, would argue that parenthood is just as challenging. Why then don't we look for mentors who can advise us on parenthood? And I don't mean the advice we get from other moms or our own parents on how we should raise our children. I am referring to an established professional who has gone through the same experiences and has found ways to be successful in both parenthood and career with a minimum sacrifice of sanity.
Aviva Ellenstein, a clinical fellow at NINDS, followed this line of thought. While at NIH, she decided to look for a mentor to help her balance work and family. She discovered that this was not an easy task, especially since there was a lack of any parent-scientist mentoring program at NIH. So, she decided to start an organization with the support of OIR and OITE, which was named Mentoring for Mom and Dad Clinicians and Scientists or MOMDOCs. The original idea was pretty simple: match mentees to mentors and go from there. She did a little investigation to see how many people would be interested, and she got a lot of feedback.
Here is an interesting bit: of all the people that responded (n=45), there was not a single dad! However, as the name suggests, the program is opened to all parents, irrespective of gender.
The March 1, 2011 kick-off event, organized by Dr. Lori Conlan, Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services, was well attended---mostly by women. The event included a keynote speaker and a panel of successful moms and dads: Kristina Rother, MD (NIDDK), Michelle Bennett, PhD (NHLBI), Andy Golden, PhD (NIDDK), and Christina Barr, VMD, PhD (NIAAA).
The panel speakers shared tips that helped them cope with the responsibility of career and family, such as "get help whenever you can even if it means hiring somebody to clean your house," or "take your family along on conferences rather than sacrificing the conference for the sake of family." Some of the simplest suggestions were to know your limits, learn to say no, or minimize commute time. Most of the panelists also agreed that having a helpful spouse, available grandparent(s), or a full-time nanny has to be part of the equation.
Dr. Bennett shared a favorite quote with the audience: "when both spouses feel that they are doing 90% of the work, it means that they are doing 50-50."
The session closed with questions from the audience. When asked "when does it get easier," all of the panelists answered as one, "Never!" When asked "did you ever feel the guilt-at-home and guilt-at-work syndrome," they again all answered as one, "Yes!"
The overall vibe of the meeting was both encouraging and inspiring, and the take-home message was that being a good parent and having a successful career is certainly possible.
If you are interested in mentoring, simply follow the link below where you can find more information and sign up to be a mentor or a mentee.
MOMDOCS Mentoring Registration: http://go.usa.gov/2et