Friday, March 7, 2014

The challenges of being officeless

As someone who is still kind of drifting as an under-employed (but not unemployed!) PhD, I really, really miss having an office. There are two distinct but related problems to not having an office in my circumstances. Problem 1: working. Problem 2: pumping.

I am the kind of person who enjoys working away from home because it helps keep me focused on work. There are too many distractions at home-- even before Adele was born! I did write quite a bit of my dissertation in our guest bed in the final stretch last year, but even that was mostly on the evenings and weekends, or when I really needed to avoid people at the office. I still spent most weekdays at the office. In the fall I spent less time at my office because I was trying to work more at home because of Adele. It was easier to work with her around when she was less mobile. Even when Jon is watching her, it's hard for me to not be distracted by her if I work at home.

I've never been much of a coffee shop worker myself, but I have to say that I've started to appreciate the appeal now as a parent. Somewhere I can go for a time out of the house is great! But I need more than just a couple of hours here and there to focus on the big stuff.

So why don't I just hole up somewhere for the entire day? This brings me to the pumping. Last time I checked, Starbucks didn't have a lactation room. If I'm gone more than a few hours, I have to pump. I need an outlet somewhere private that isn't a bathroom. Ideally I need access to a sink, too. I have to bring the pump with me while I'm working, and without an office, I need to bring my computer with me while I pump. It's all very cumbersome and annoying.

In order to be out of the house all day and work, I have been researching the lactation rooms at local institutions (thank you for putting info about your lactation rooms online!) and strategizing where I can sit and work in that same building in between pumping. This hasn't been very easy. The places I've found to work aren't very quiet. Or I can't get online as a guest at the institution.

As a graduate student, I was really lucky and mostly had an office to myself. I technically shared it, but with people who never really used it. This meant that I could almost always pump there uninterrupted. It was wonderfully convenient! I just left my pump there and carried a little cooler back and forth with the milk.

Today I went to a seminar at a place I might as well call Hometown U. HU has designated lactation rooms which I've used before, but they are not in or near the seminar building. I decided I wouldn't bother trying to work there and leave the pump at home because of the hassle.

While at the seminar, I remembered that a postdoc had mentioned when I was there last week that she had a baby. Today, I asked how old her baby was (1 month younger than Adele!). I asked if she was pumping. (yes!). I asked where. She took me straight across the hall to an unused lab space of a new faculty member who was letting her pump there. She had her pump all set up. Then she took me to the kind and understanding faculty member whose lab space it was, and he promptly gave me a key to the room. All I had to do was ask the right person! Now I have a space where I can work and pump on days when I'm at HU.

A desk in a secure room and a private place to pump might just help bridge this gap and keep me in science.


penn said...

It's truly the little things. That's stuff no one thinks about either. This is what moms mean when they say they need a friendly working environment.

I'm going to keep working next year, and our apartment is just a 3-5 minute walk from my classroom. Therefore, I'll go home to pump. But I'm nervous about my schedule giving me time to pump. I don't know how much to push the registrar/administrators to give me a specific class schedule, because I don't know how often I'll need to pump.

Karina said...

Yeah there's so much about becoming a mother that is impossible to predict! When will you have to go back to school (i.e. about how old will you baby be?)? Are there other pumping teachers at your school? It seems like it's much easier to navigate if someone else there has recently done it. For example, I never would have asked a professor I hardly know at an institution I don't belong to if they had free lab space for me to pump, but since there was already another pumping mama, voila!

Hopefully your body's milk schedule and your teaching schedule will agree :-)

penn said...

If the baby isn't too late, it should be two months when I head back to school (due June 29thish, and school starts Labor Day weekend). We do have meetings, but I'm going to work out leave or something for the meetings. Or perhaps just attending mandatory ones.

Other moms at school have pumped before, but I'll be the only one right now. The only one I've talked with ran home to pump too, but she's an admin, so I think she had more control over her schedule.

I've got my apartment literally right here, so I'm not worried about space. It's the timing that concerns me. So, yes, I hope the schedules line up!

I'm glad you have found a workable solution :-) I hope work stuff keeps getting better for you! Getting a toehold in academia is so hard.

gigirose said...

These kinds of logistical challenges are part of what makes being a working mom so hard! Cheers to you for being creative and for being willing to ask for help/access. The more people talk about it the more normalized it becomes and the more institutions will be proactive about creating spaces for things like lactation rooms.