Day 019 – Chickahominy River Side Park, VA to Suffolk, VA

I woke up today to the sound of falling rain and the damp air that accompanies it. Bad weather always makes a tent feel much smaller than when it’s nice out. I tried starting a fire, but the wood was too damp from the night before and I didn’t have enough kindling to dry it out or the motivation to find more.

My neighbor Ulrike got up soon after me and she said two of the most beautiful words possible, “Want coffee?”

My stove is still with Raji (Day 2) and this is really the only time that I’ve missed it so far and it turns out I really didn’t need it. Of course my mug was also with the stove so I had to use my collapsable camping bowl. While it may seem less than ideal, it holds a lot and cooled the coffee down quickly so I got a fast, hard caffeine hit.

We spent the next couple of hours talking about her work, US politics and family planning. Ulrike got her PhD last year and is working at the Research Department of Cell and Gene Therapy at the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany. She explained to me how it is possible to target a specific gene in DNA and cut it out with “molecular scissors” and replace it with a new gene or genes to fix problems or give new genetic traits to a cell. The scissors themselves are delivered to cell by way of a virus that has been reprogrammed to work for the scientists instead of the harmful action it previously did. If you have ever heard of gene therapy than you know a little about Ulrike area of research.

I was curious to know what it’s like being a woman in a scientific field and it got us onto the topic of family planning and the decision between having a career in science vs raising a child. Germany has much longer maternity leave, paid by the government, for mothers than in the US. Even thought that’s the case Ulrike said that if she wanted to stay competitive in her field that she didn’t feel like she would be able to take all the time that she is entitled to. A Primary Investigator (PI) is someone that leads a research team, like the one that Ulrike is a part of. She said female PIs take less than a week of maternity leave. I’m assuming so that they can demonstrate that they are dedicated to their research and maintain the forward trajectory of their careers. It’s got a to be really tough to balance career ambitions with having kids and actually spending time with them. I thought working for a female PI could make the kid thing easier, but was surprised to learn it’s harder because a female PI knows it’s possible to do the work and have a kid so there’s less accommodation.It’s interesting to me to see how women / couples navigate raising kids with having careers. Men have it easier historically because we don’t bear children and have had the societal expectation to be the primary source of income. I’m know there are some women that are fine not having kids or maybe having kids, but not feeing overly compelled to spend a lot of time with them. Which makes the career thing easier. Or being in a relationship where partners trade off career focus for child focus over time. It’s ironic that Ulrike had the opportunity to come to the US and give her presentation because the woman that was supposed to do it was out on maternity leave.

I do feel that in the US we are overly focused on work at the expense of family and that success is overly determined on the amount of money one makes and the number of hours worked making it. It’s a deeply imbedded social/cultural norm that everyone either struggles against or pays tribute to. I think it would be fabulous if all the efficiencies we have gained through human ingenuity and technology could be paid back to us in the form of more freedom to define success through other than material means. It would probably make the career kid decision easier.

Anyone have thoughts on this post or anything else on this blog please comment. I’d love to hear what you think.

Also, Ulrike if you feel like it send me an iPhone clip of you saying your name the proper way ( I’ll add it to the video of the day.  Two of the many things I really struggle with – learning foreign languages and hearing and retaining the pronunciation of names (lots of other words too).