Here are some observations I’ve made this year as someone who is new to both.
It Takes a Village
Even after 2 years of pediatric surgery fellowship, I must admit I was a novice when it came to normal newborn care. When my parents came to visit, I had to concede that their experience of raising 3 kids in real life trumped my own experience of caring for many kids perioperatively. As a surgeon, I also know that I am not as well-versed in the latest techniques as a full-time scientist. As our collective scientific knowledge grows, it becomes impossible to be expert in everything, especially as clinically busy surgeons. Team science brings together different expertise and experience and helps us achieve more than we can individually.
Appreciate Your Partner(s)
Rather than resent my husband for his non-lactating nipples, I appreciate the other ways he keeps our ship on course. Likewise, not everyone can or wants to run Westerns, but clinical support from my partners in the division allows me to make time for research. Embracing our individual strengths gives us together the power to reach our full potential.
The Best-Laid Plans Often Go Awry
When I was pregnant, I read the baby books and had a vision of how our life would be. But babies don’t read books, and reality quickly overtook my expectations of motherhood. I am still learning to listen to my baby and follow his cues, but I think that letting go of my preconceived notions makes me a better mom. (If he’s not ready to sleep through the night, I can’t make him.) Similarly, it’s rare that experiments work exactly the way I plan them. As a former mentor once told me, “It wouldn’t be called research if everything worked perfectly the first time.” I remind myself to interpret the data with an open mind rather than shaping it to fit my preconception and I think this makes me a better scientist too.
Not every minute is enjoyable
Some of the best advice I got as a new parent is that you don’t have to enjoy every moment. This certainly helped assuage my guilt when I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about my crying baby at 3 am. Similarly, you can’t get every grant you apply to and it’s OK to feel frustrated when Reviewer 2 gives harsh feedback. I let myself wallow in the negative feelings for a moment, then keep going.
Don’t forget that you’re living the dream
Conversely, though I may not enjoy every moment of being a parent or a surgeon-scientist, I remember in the difficult moments that I have been looking forward to this for a long time. If the person I was 5 years ago could see me today, she would be ecstatic, and I hope the same is true of the next 5 years.