#WFH and the important stuff (Amy Baxter)

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Anyone working as a research scientist with young kids is familiar with the constant pull between wanting to give both your work and parenting 100%, yet never feeling like you are anywhere close to succeeding.

So, what happens when you force scientists away from their lab work and into a ‘kids 24/7’ situation without warning?

For me, the truth is that in many ways it has actually been pretty great.

BUT, before I go into all the gushy reasons why not being able to escape my darling children for five weeks straight has actually been somewhat of a blessing, I’m also not going to pretend it hasn’t been stressful.

In fact, if I think too hard about it, I find myself getting very anxious about what this COVID-19 lockdown period may have cost me, career-wise.

The critical months of data collection that were to contribute to my next big fellowship application, the invaluable networking experience and potential international collaborations I could have gained from attending two major overseas conference that have now been moved online or cancelled. The list goes on.

So, I try not to think about it too much. We all have our own versions of how this time has disadvantaged us and I know some have it a lot worse off than me.

As I sit trying to concentrate on my work at home in my makeshift office, I can’t block out the sounds of the children laughing/screaming/thumping in the background. I can’t stop them crashing in every few minutes (despite being told by their dad not to disturb me) to show me their latest drawing or Lego creation.

On a good day, I get about three broken hours of work done during the day then another few hours at night after the kids are asleep.

But, in reality, any truly decent stretches of time to really think and focus are scarce. Throw in the endless zooming for lab meetings, committee meetings, student meetings, project meetings and journal clubs, and there goes the day.

Occasionally, even achieving the bare minimum is such a futile battle that I give up altogether. And on those days, rather than lose my shit (and I have most certainly lost it at times), I try my best to just embrace this rare situation.

It’s actually pretty nice being able to have lunch (and endless snacks, let’s be honest) with my kids every day, go to the park every day, get messy doing craft, teach them spelling, art and maths, and how to google ‘world’s tiniest dogs’ videos without needing help. The important stuff.

The house may be trashed and my ethics application may be chronically in an ‘early draft’ stage, but I know I will look back on this time of unlimited cuddles fondly, and that I will miss my girls when everything goes back to normal. For a little while, anyway.

Postscript: Since this post was first published, Amy’s younger daughter has returned to childcare. Amy does indeed miss her, and now only contends with work interruptions every 30 minutes…

(The first version of this post was published in the La Trobe Biochemistry and Genetics Department’s newsletter on 24 April 2020)


Dr Amy Baxter is an NHMRC Peter Doherty Early Career Fellow in the lab of Dr Ivan Poon at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), La Trobe University.

Her research examines the roles of apoptotic cell disassembly and clearance in the context of vascular inflammation.

Amy has two children: Maggie and Rosie (aged 7 and 4, respectively). She tweets from @dancnwthmycellf.