By PinkStock Photos, D. Sharon Pruitt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By PinkStock Photos, D. Sharon Pruitt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I am preparing to apply for a highly competitive research fellowship, and one of the sections of the application is entitled “Career Disruption”. So this week I have paused to scrutinise my CV critically and without fear, and to contemplate how becoming a mother is reflected in my application and how motherhood has affected my career. The feminist in me desperately wants to believe that a woman, a mother, can be completely equal to a man, or a childless person. The realist in me is quietly beginning to think this is not exactly the case. I write with more questions than answers and I hope you will all excuse my rambling. I would also love to hear from you about what you think, and how it’s worked, or not worked for you. Because I am truly passionate about being able to combine parenthood and a career, but roadblocks like this highlight the struggle this will entail.

You see, I have leaned towards leaning out since having my first baby. First of all, there are those glaring absences in my CV. Any lay person could tell me all the reasons why I’ve only been to one conference and published one paper over the past five years. Duh! Let’s start with maternity leave for 7 months, during which time sleep was non-existent, much of my time was spend breastfeeding and then pureeing vegetables. Then there is the part-time work, during which I juggled raising a toddler and running a clinical trial. Just seeing my 300+ participant trial through to its completion was enough of a challenge, without the added pressure of writing papers. Conferences? Long gone are the days when I could fly off at the drop of a hat, or a click of the mouse; any conference travel now is carefully debated for weeks – is it a child-friendly country? Will we have to cross time zones?

So I begin to address my career disruption by writing “Despite taking a total of fourteen months maternity leave and converting to a part-time PhD for three years, I have managed to…” But why the Despite? Do I have to excuse my shortcomings? Will they give me a sympathy vote? Or do my deficiencies clearly indicate that my life circumstances are not conducive to competitive research activities, that I am the lesser candidate because of the realities of my personal life? That if I am not publishing frequently and presenting at numerous conferences that I am of lesser calibre than my counterparts? And what of the parents who do manage to keep up this hectic academic life, with all its travel and late-night and weekend writing bouts, how do I compare to them? (Not very well, obviously). Does becoming a parent necessarily mean that you are less competitive, less worthy because of your other commitments, and ergo, are all successful academics childless?

Clearly this is not so, although my current role models, as much as I admire and respect them, do not juggle parenthood and academic life the way I do. One is childless. The other, bless his heart, told me that when he did his PhD, he locked himself in his study for 12 hours a day writing, while his wife brought him his meals and cared for their children.

I refuse to believe that one can only be successful if childless or lucky enough to have a stay-at-home spouse. I value my husband’s career aspirations along with mine, and we are trying very hard to “make it” simultaneously. But, if we have few examples to follow, few trail-blazing couples to show us the way, how will we make it? We do not want to compromise on quality time with our young children any more than we currently are (they go to daycare four days a week). We share childcare and domestic duties as equally as we can, and heaven knows there are SO many domestic duties. At the end of every day, I am tired. I feel as though I have two careers – being a mother and being an academic – ok, let’s make that three, because I am also still a practising GP. And yet I chose all of this – even parenthood. And I am so so lucky to be able to do all three, don’t get me wrong – I just wish it wasn’t quite so hard to be perfect at any one of them, let alone all three. I overheard myself say to a colleague that I wasn’t going to take on a new activity because it would be “another thing that I suck at”. Yes, those words came out of my mouth.

So, as I battle on, trying to pad out my CV (it’s actually much fuller than I ever thought… I do say yes to stuff that I can do from home, I mainly “lean out” of the stuff that needs me to be somewhere after hours or travel), I am also contemplating what my CV really should look like.

My skills include:

Dealing with toddler tantrums while planning the week’s meals on my iPad, responding to my four-year-old’s repeated requests for ice-cream with a firm “No” and NOT LOSING IT. Ie. I can multitask AND have enormous control over my emotions. (Sometimes).
Being able to re-arrange schedules, dropoffs, pickups, within 90 seconds after getting the phone call about a sick child. A complex algorithm of how long the expected recovery will be, who is working from home on which day, and the criteria for exclusion from daycare, is automatically computed in my neuronal networks, yes, within 90 seconds.

And a realistic, no bs description of career disruption:

I have had not one, but two children. One did not sleep for almost twelve months. The other did not sleep for six. I breastfed both, until 12 months and 8 1/2 months respectively. Both have food allergies. One has a heart condition. I have spent many a day “off” ferrying them to specialist appointments, caring for them while sick at home, and many nights comforting them. Yes I have not published many papers over the past five years. But for many months, getting through the day was my only priority. I have managed to balance raising my beautiful children with a decent amount of academic work. I just don’t work the hours I used to – I am a lot more efficient with my time. I have learned to appreciate the value of a good nights’ sleep. I am also more passionate about my career than ever before. I have a daughter and I want to be a role model for her. I want my son to learn that women can have careers and still be present in the home. I have learned a lot about work-life balance and this is still a work in progress. I have determination (I have sleep-trained two children…) and grit (I didn’t quit the PhD even when my eyeballs were hanging out of my head with fatigue. Things are better now). I am a mother. You should know what that means – I’ve survived the toughest test of all.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you experienced a major career disruption? Did you find your way back? Have you leaned out, or leaned in?

The mighty Thermie
Photo: http://throughmylookingglass.me/10-reasons-why-i-need-a-thermomix/
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I love cooking. I used to pore over Gourmet Travellers every weekend, planning elaborate meals from exotic cuisines. Thinking about cooking, planning our meals, and then spending hours in the kitchen creating my masterpiece used to bring me great pleasure.

Example of a meal I used to cook - Neil Perry's duck ragu with fresh papardelle (Photo: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/txt/s2638948.htm)
Example of a meal I used to cook – Neil Perry’s duck ragu with fresh papardelle (Photo: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/txt/s2638948.htm)

Fast forward three years, and my experience of cooking is somewhat different post children. Now I cook in the half hour between the time Play School starts and finishes. I run the risk of being interrupted at any time by a dirty nappy, sibling fight, a baby having separation anxiety or a three-year-old deciding to flood the bathroom with water. Not to mention my children viewing my osso bucco with a healthy degree of suspicion, and demanding plain pasta only. It’s not what it used to be.

Example of what I would cook now - teddy bear pasta (as if kids need to be enticed to eat carbs...)
Example of what I would cook now – teddy bear pasta (as if kids need to be enticed to eat carbs…)

Earlier this year, shortly after Owl was born, my darling husband gave me the gift of Thermomix. Being a Thermie owner is like being part of a cult. Everyone thinks you are slightly loony, keeps asking you how the bloody thing works and is somewhat bemused that you would part with over $1900 for a household appliance. In return you keep saying things like “It’s the best thing that ever happened to my kitchen!” or “I love making my own yoghurt!” and sounding like a never-ending advertisement for good old Thermie.

I get asked about it a lot, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on my Thermie :)

The mighty Thermie Photo: http://throughmylookingglass.me/10-reasons-why-i-need-a-thermomix/
The mighty Thermie
Photo: http://throughmylookingglass.me/10-reasons-why-i-need-a-thermomix/

1. It’s probably worth the money

Thermie is a versatile instrument. Basically a food processor that also cooks and stirs your food while you put your feet up (or change that nappy). It never ceases to amaze me how many appliances people have hidden away in their kitchens that they admit to hardly ever using. Thermie replaces the following appliances, and the total cost of the items below comes up to around $1800. Plus you save on a tonne of space.

Kitchen Aid stand mixer $650
Food processor $200
Breadmaker $180
Juicer $300
Blender $200
Ice cream maker $150
Kitchen scales $25
Slow cooker $100

2. It’s hands-free cooking

A real boon for mums, who have to respond to little emergencies all the time. How many times have you come close to burning the house down because you forgot something on the stove? Thermie happily cooks and stirs for you, and then stops cooking once the timer stops. I love making bolognaise sauce, as Thermie chops the onions and garlic, sautees them, browns the mince and then cooks the sauce into a beautiful sauce that my kids are happy to eat for days on end. I do vegetable stir-fries using Thermie with pleasing results.

3. It’s quick

Forget slow cooking, how about fast induction cooking for time-poor mums! Thermie cooks a mean stew in about 20-30 minutes with melt-in-your-mouth results. Kneading dough takes a tiny fraction of the time. As does beating butter and eggs for cakes.

4. It’s mess free

Because you prepare and cook in the one utensil, there is only one thing to wash at the end of the day, and it’s dead easy to clean. Thermie’s jug goes in the dishwasher, or is easily cleaned with a dishbrush and some detergent. Or 20 seconds of “self cleaning” on fast whizzing mode gets it pretty clean with only a rinse needed afterwards.

5. It’s somewhat healthier…in some ways

Thermie owners delight in making their own ingredients from scratch. You know, things like butter, yoghurt, grinding your own wholewheat grains into flour, etc. This may or may not improve your health! On the downside, there could be the temptation to create all these absolutely delicious and calorie-laden treats like your own brioche, pastry, ice-cream and desserts. On the up side, by doing things from scratch you can eke out a healthier life. Mince your own meat and you’re eating proper lean meat instead of random dodgy bits of fat and god knows what else that goes into regular mince. I make ice-cream and reduce the sugar content by 50%. You can control the amount of salt that goes into your bread, and avoid using unneccesary preservatives and additives in your jams or what have you. Just go easy on the brioche…

Gratuitous ice-cream shot Photo: http://www.123rf.com/photo_1296688_yogurt-and-chocolate-ice-cream-in-a-bowl-close-up.html
Gratuitous ice-cream shot
Photo: http://www.123rf.com/photo_1296688_yogurt-and-chocolate-ice-cream-in-a-bowl-close-up.html

6. It’s so. Much. Fun.

{Information |Description= Strawberry Daiquiri, yum. |Source=[http://www.flickr.com/photos/88903556@N00/75462673/ Start the Day...] |Date=December 11, 2005 at 03:12 |Author=[http://www.flickr.com/people/88903556@N00 Elektra Noelani Fisher] from London, E
{Information |Description= Strawberry Daiquiri, yum. |Source=[http://www.flickr.com/photos/88903556@N00/75462673/ Start the Day…] |Date=December 11, 2005 at 03:12 |Author=[http://www.flickr.com/people/88903556@N00 Elektra Noelani Fisher] from London, E
Frozen daiquiris. Need I say more?

7. Some people think you could save money.

I like making my own yoghurt. At $1 a kg, I save $5 per week, or $250 a year. Bread costs $2 less to make. Ice-cream is a fraction of the cost. Chicken liver pate? Snort! It costs me $2 for enough pate to feed an army. But while the actual work that goes into making bread or yoghurt is minimal, it does involve waiting around for dough to rise, and yoghurt to cool. I’m about to become a full time working and studying mama, and I am not sure I can justify that time, or rather the energy (I have been known to set my alarm so I can wake up and finish making the yoghurt at night!!)

Does Thermie do everything? No, it doesn’t bake, it doesn’t dice or slice (it chops and minces more than anything) and I find the jug is a tad too small – adequate for a four person meal, but without much left over that could be frozen.

However, for a busy mum, Thermie can be a life saver. I may not be creating any gourmet meals in the near future, but with Thermie I can get a meal on the table in thirty minutes, with time to clean up and bath the kids in between. And, when I feel like it, whip up some green tea ice cream and a cheeky strawberry daiquiri… 😉



I went surfing today. I can count on one hand the times I have been surfing since having Star. My dear husband decided we had been working too hard and needed to spend time together like we used to. So I cleared my schedule and we dropped Star off at daycare as usual, then headed to the beach.

A thunderstorm had broken the heat wave we had been suffering, and it was raining – a lot. The sky was grey and ominous. Basically, it wasn’t very inviting at all. The surf was relatively flat, but also choppy due to the onshore winds. But it was a Monday morning and we had a wide, flat stretch of beach all to ourselves, with only the seagulls as company.

Being out on the ocean is like meditation and pilates in one. Great for the core and for the soul. Being able to catch some waves is the icing on the cake. And I did get some good ones – with the coaching of my darling husband, who patiently stayed in the water and cheered as I paddled and popped up. It was like old times.

I emerged from the ocean at 1pm, showered and changed, and checked my phone. A message saying could I do a radio interview at 3:30pm. We rushed home and unfortunately they didn’t end up calling. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back in touch with them as it will be a great opportunity to sell the Acupause study to the whole of Australia.

At 4:30pm, as I was getting dinner ready, the phone rang again. Daycare. Star had been bitten, not once, but twice, by her classmates. She was fine but might have a bit of bruising later. She was unbelievably cheerful, as usual, when I picked her up, but later this evening the bite marks became more prominent – several tiny arcs on her arm.

Is it a coincidence that the other parts of my life manouver their way into a day off? Can we ever really have a “day off”? What does that mean? I’m getting the idea that life is a rich tapestry of interwoven threads, not a patchwork of discrete blocks. And like surfing, a balancing act is not a static thing. It’s something you have to work to achieve with each wave that threatens to wipe you out. But with practice and sticking to the basics, you can ride that wave and enjoy it. “Paddle paddle paddle, feet together, push up, aim to the right”. Or, as my surf instructor in Noosa said, “Don’t stop until  you know you’ve got it”. Wise words.


“Me-time” seems to have become a fairly popular phrase, especially for mums. When Star was a few weeks old, I was asked by a concerned health nurse if I was getting some “me-time”. I have friends who are into regular massages and manicures as “me-time” both pre and post baby. My me-time? It began when I realised I was spending longer and longer in the shower. I found it physically, mentally and emotionally cleansing, and the one place where nobody (read: no baby) would bother me for five minutes. Having a shower meant someone else was home to look after the baby if she started squawking. And so I lingered.

I read somewhere that everybody needs some alone time every day. I like to lie in bed and watch my thoughts drift by at the end of the day. I like to read a book, a real paper book, and rest eyes that are weary from staring at a blinking screen all day. I like to have a cup of tea on the couch. Exciting stuff, you say.

Running is also my me-time but it’s my active me-time, not my veg-out me-time. That’s a difference I’ve come to appreciate of late.

Me, go for a run? I think I'll veg out instead

Lululemon is not just a retail store, it’s a movement. This inspiring company aims to promote health and happiness through being fit and physically active, and they make it easy with their gorgeous activewear. Forget daggy trackpants, Lululemon will turn you into a fashionista in the yoga studio or running track and on the street as well.

Each store offers free classes – my local store has yoga, a running group and a stroller walking group. I used to love Sunday morning yoga at Lululemon – what a great way to start the day.

Check out the goal setting application on their website. It’s just one of the creative ways that Lululemon moves and motivates their customers to better their lives. Love it.