Please Wait, Baby Loading: Pregnancy, Graduate School, and Computing

These are notes from the Grace Hopper 2009 Conference session titled “Please Wait, Baby Loading: Pregnancy, Graduate School, and Computing”.

There is an image divide between “being the smart one in your family, the one who will do great things!” and “being a good mommy”. So often mothers will have their children and drop out of schooling, academia, or their industry. You CAN balance your family and your career.

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Is there a best time to become pregnant?

It can depend on your program, but for the most part, no. There will always be an obstacle or excuse in your way, you will end up continuously telling yourself, “I’ll wait untill after my courses are finished”, “I’ll wait another year untill I get tenure.” 1 in 3 women in computer science never become a mother. Women in computer science are scarce, married ones are even scarcer, and ones with children/families are the rarest of all. Again, for your career, there will never be a best time to have a child. Instead, have one when it is most convenient for you personally, and your career will follow. Things rarely work out as you plan them to. Family and career are both very important and you can do them simultaneously and successfully.

My Last Advisor Said “Don’t Even Think About A Baby!”. How Do I Bring Up The Topic With My New One?

It is important to have the pregnancy discussion with your advisor. There is no set way to start the topic, but just start it, and sooner rather than later. If your family plans are important to you and your advisor is not supportive of you, it may be time to find another advisor. Another piece of advice is not to take your advisors with you on the journey with your pregnancy, every little detail and bump in the road, pregnant, maybe pregnant, not pregnant, possibly pregnant again… you don’t need to and shouldn’t inform your advisor you are pregnant untill it becomes noticable. Also be aware that having this conversation about a baby in theory can be much different from when it comes about in practice.

And What Kinds of Questions Should I Ask… ?

Do a tour and see what the space you might be designated will be like. Will it be feasible space-wise to bring your child to work, will you be able to focus and get your work done? Don’t be afraid to talk with other graduate students, they will tell you how it is straight up! Ask them if they knew any pregnant mothers, what happened to these mothers, did they go back to school?

What Should I Expect Regarding Any Possible Changes In Career Plans After I Have My Baby?

Surprisingly, graduate students, with their massive workloads and nonexistent social lives, spend inordinate amounts of time seeking relationships, looking for their possible spouse, thinking about whether the relationship will last, and fretting about such details. A child can help focus your time and be on task, that is, when you come in to work, you will know that you need to get X, Y, Z done and that you are at your workplace to do just that, and then you will go home and spend time with your lovely children(s).

How Do I Deal With The Guilt Of Not Spending All Of My Time With My Child?

It isnt easy to let go of the child related guilt, but you will get used to it. Spend some time finding out what doesn’t matter to you and stop doing it! That is, you need to optimize and prioritize your life. There will be times in your life when you will have to compromise time between your family and your work or academics, but remember that life is full of compromises. There isn’t any perfect formula that works for everyone on how much time to spend where, but you should find the one that works for you.

What About Being SuperMommy?

There is an incorrect idea that you have to be a supermommy. In reality, this just isn’t feasible. Instead, consider being a “good enough” mommy. You don’t need to worry about “What if I didn’t do X for my child”, “What if I am not paying enough attention to Y in my child”. Your child will come to you and seek out what they need from you. That is, your child will have its own individual personality, and you can smooth out the edges, but you cannot ever change that core personality. Your child will train [b]you[/b] on how to meet their needs.

If you are the sole child care giver, your work, thesis, etc will never get done. You need to have child care. You will have much more energy to “do stuff” with your children and do all of the special things you want to do with them when you are not around them all of the time. It is extremely hard to “switch” from being a mommy to being an industry professional or assistant professor. Being in school is the same as working!

When emergencies come up, you just have to do the best that you can. One of the things that CS students may not realize that as a CS student, you have control. That is, you tell the computer what to do, you make it do what you want it to. But in life, this is just not true.

How Do My Career Outlooks Change After Becoming A Mommy?

One of the core functions of a child regarding your career plans is to mess them all up! Again, you will be trained by your child on how to deal with their individual personality. Many people mothers work because they need the two-person income to get by – in America, unless you are extremely privileged, you will need that two person income. It requires a lot of energy to go back to work after staying home and weaning your newborn, it is a hard task to get that train moving again.

My Husband Is Not Supportive / I Am A Single Mother… ?

You just cannot do it all if you are all by yourself! Get your husband involved if you have one. A note to make is that when you have children your friends will tend to change and gravitate towards others that have children, just out of that common bond. Back on topic, you need support! Consider getting involved in baby support groups, it is not difficult, and is inexpensive. Sometimes the groups may have days when they trade off days doing events with children so the parents can have some alone time away from them. But again, think about what is important to you, what you really need, and be sure to join some support groups. Also, you should take a look at childcare and think about the system you are a part of, you pay a massive amount of money and the care-workers have tiny salaries and tiny pension plans, what is going on here… ?

My Friends/Family Are Unsupportive…?

It is sad, but sometimes people just don’t become supportive, and there is little that you can do about that. Instead, utilize the tools in your toolbox that you do have, take advantage of the support that you do have.

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Effective Verbal Communication

Pretty much, the answer to this is: common sense.

Speaking: Make sure that your voice is loud enough for everyone to hear you clearly. Speaking slowly is much better than speaking quickly, and take the time to articulate your words. It is better to cut material out from your talk than to rush through it. Don’t shake or fumble your words when you speak, try not to studder.

Speaking Without Words: Let your voice convey authority, expertise, and obedience. I have seen too many students try to give a talk that had a soft tone to it and then by the end, the listeners are not paying attention at all and have erupted to talk over the speaker and amongst themselves. Don’t be nervous, but be calm, collected. If a question is asked and you don’t know the answer, don’t panic! Tell the truth, you don’t know, or defer the question to a later time (“Can you come talk to me after this lecture and we can discuss it then, please?). Be passionate, avid, excited about your subject, and your listeners will be too!

Movement: Don’t be afraid to move around if it feels more natural to you, however remember that it is not a magic act, so you should try to remain up front, instead of wandering through the audience. Hand motions and body language can be a great help in conveying your idea. Don’t be afraid to point or move your hands towards relevant sections of your projected notes (if you have them).

Eye Contact: Look at your audience in the eyes, don’t skip any corner or area of the room or focus on any one particular section for too long. This should also help calm your nerves as you speak.

Take a humor break!
Good speakers use a guideline of three minutes of a (preferrably humerous) interesting side trail for every twenty minutes of speaking. That is, you should tell a joke, or a related story every twenty or so minutes. Listeners can get tired, distracted, or bored very easily, and this is bad.

Projector Slides: This is a whole topic all on it’s own, but there are several common sensical things you should know. Don’t cram too many words onto each slide, and try your best not to have your slides be pages of main points, sub points, and sub sub points. Using pictures and diagrams are excellent conveyers of information, after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Slides are not narrations of your talk, instead they are visual aides, helpers.

Preparation: Be prepared! In your mind, know and be aware you will be giving a talk. Try to think of some questions your listeners might ask and review their answers. Bring water if it will be a long talk. Show up early, have all of your materials (slideshow, handouts, etc) ready to go. Don’t be flustered, frustrated, nervous, or grumpy, your audience will pick up on it and imitate you. Practice, practice, practice! Practice your speech aloud, ask your friends if you can practice it to them, take advantages to practice public speaking, and practice in multiple settings.

Becomming a Person of Influence

I recently attended the Grace Hopper 2009 Conference, a conference that celebrates and tutors women in science and computing. I took away many things, but leadership was especially important.

When you feel that you are your organizations best kept secret, perhaps you have become too much of a secret. The awful truth about influence is that your behavior teaches others how to treat you. There are different sources of influence, some predisposed, some personal, some social that you should use to your benefit.

Positional

Your job title may come with influence already attached to it, for example, perhaps you are a director or a professor. Even if it doesn’t, you can make your position more visible and valuable to others. The last thing that you want is your superiors questioning what it is that you do and if you are of any value or use to their corporation or vision.

Advertise Yourself Don’t spend more than thirty seconds, but develop a short commercial that says who you are, what your title is, what you do, and what others should come to you for. Whenever you introduce yourself to a new aquantance, use this introduction to explain about yourself – it’s only pompous if you lie! Present in a format like “Hello, my name is _____, and I am a ____(your title)____, and I am responsible for ___(list a few most prominent things)___, and you should come directly to me for _____ ( a few things you handle)____.”

Expertise, Informational, Resources

When others see you as a useful source of information, you will start to gain influence. Instead of saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question.”, try “I know exactly what you are talking about, but I don’t have that data with me right now. Let me get back to you on that after this meeting.” Do spread your expertise to others, promote your accomplisments, hold talks and colloqueums about what your area, write papers or blog, speak at functions or meetings or conferences. Know what is going on in your corporation, about the internal affairs, keep tabs with ongoing projects. Never cease to stop learning new things and skills thoughout your time. Lastly, know how to use what you have, and how to get what you need, to do your job well.

Direct, Relational

Use your direct, fire or hire power only when absolutely nessissary. This kind of influence is used to correct bad, malicious behaviour when all else fails. When doing so, be clear, consise, direct, and convey a sense of positive vision – what good things can happen if the malbehaving party stops their inappropriate behavior? Relational influence is your frienships, aquantances, social networks within and outside your organization. Don’t be afraid to take initiative to meet new people, or to get to that place where you form new professional relationships – volunteer to work on a project, to speak at a lecture, to help at a conference.

Silently waiting in your current position and hoping someone important will notice you is not the way to advance your career. Instead, it lies in networking, having influence, and being visible as opposed to hidden.

Based off of a talk that was presented at the Grace Hopper Conference, 2009, by Jo Miller.