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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Two different approaches
October 21, 2011 - 6:30am

One of the things I like most about math and teaching math is that there are often several different ways to get to an answer. For example, if one wanted to differentiate the square of a binomial function, one could multiply (FOIL) it out and then take the derivative, or one could use the product rule or even the chain rule. I often show students how the same answer can be arrived at in multiple ways, filling the board with several different calculations that miraculously all give the same value in the end. It is then that I am tempted to write the letters “Q.E.D.” on the board, which, as we used to joke in graduate school, is Latin for “ta da!”

I thought of this past week I was once again faced with the realities of the choices we make in our attempts to be both academics and mothers. There was an event at midday at my daughter’s school, and she wanted me to attend it, along with some of the PTU mothers of her friends. I had to explain to her that I could not, and she was less than understanding. I suspect that as the years go by and she gets used to the fact that I will not be able to attend events held in the middle of the day, the disappointment will wear off. However, for now, this is a source of sadness for her, and something that I realize is the cost of choosing the approach to motherhood that I have chosen. The various options and the guilt that often accompanies each of them are also discussed in yesterday’s Mama, Ph.D. blog. It seems as if there is no way to avoid the guilt, just to make the best choices we can at the moment and plod on. All the while hoping our children will be just fine. I am sure they will.

As in finding different ways to solve a math problem, there are different ways to choose to mix one’s academic career with being a parent. Only one of them is the option I chose, to continue teaching at a school that is more family-friendly. For me, despite the challenges of mixing an academic career with motherhood, this is the best approach for me at this point in my life. However, I fully recognize that there are other mixes out there. Like the chain rule and the product rule, will each get us to the same goal, that of being an effective mother to the precious little people in our care.

I thought of these issues when I recently learned that the daughter of one of my colleagues is writing a blog of her own. She is a biologist, and has chosen to stay home with her two very young children. Adding the letters “SaHM.”  to her “Ph.D.”, she proclaims her blog to be about “Leaving the scientific research world for the most challenging pursuit ever. Raising kids!” I wanted to pass along the link to anyone who is interested; her blog can be found at I hope you enjoy it!

P.S. Update on my sister: She began chemotherapy, and, while it will not be fun, at least she is moving in a positive direction. Thank you for your prayers and words of support as she runs what will be, in the words of one reader from last week, a marathon.







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