Professor of medicine. PhD in human factors engineering. Living with type 1 diabetes. Infrequent blogger.

Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory

In keeping with my themed reading (all pleasure reading must at least have some practical applicability to my life) I took Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory with me to a conference combined with a stopover to visit my in-laws last week. The book was interesting, inspiring, and had some wonderful anecdotes, but I was underwhelmed by the narrative style.

Overall, the writing was clear. Sometimes it was very good. Yet, I had the sense as I was reading that each essay had been subjected to severe editing and/or each author had been given a set outline: (1) tell us how/why you chose a career in science, (2) describe your experience combining that career with motherhood, and (3) please share any words of wisdom for women coming up behind you. It felt like some strange adaptation of IMRAD, applied to themed biographies. I appreciate logical structure, but I’m looking for something a little less predictable and plodding in personal essays. Also, summing up a long career in just a few pages leaves very little space for the delicious contextual details that flesh out stories.

Perhaps I’m just disappointed. I liked Mama, PhD, but I wanted more stories from scientists. Here I had a feast of such stories, and my expectations may have been too high.

It’s also possible that I am just tired of reading about how difficult it is to raise a family while building an academic career. I am living some of the difficulties, especially right now. (It only took me a few years, but I am beginning to suspect that academic life never stops being frantically busy; you just learn to deal with the chaos more effectively as you ramp up the level of activity.) Maybe I should read things that take my mind off of this precarious balancing act.

Bottom line: I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

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