Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why I think Academics Have No Common Sense

_The Details_

Time: Yesterday morning and early afternoon.
Place: Busy highway road.
Temperature: 33 degrees Farenheit
Wind: 10-20 mph winds
Humidity: 60%

_The Players_

Employer—an academic professor (female) who has a 2 year old boy and therefore understands the concept of being pregnant.
Lady Susan
2 Middle-Aged County Officials


Mustang Suit: A bright, puffy orange suit made to keep out the wind and cold while on a boat.

_The Original Plan:_

A field day was planned to show the county officials how to properly take sediment and nutrient stream samples. Employer planned on getting to the site earlier than the arranged meeting time in order to install a piece of PVC piping to concrete piling on bridge. She was to bring all the equipment and most importantly the mustang suits (note the use of plural.) When asked directly about the exact plans of the day and the amount of time expected to be out and about, she replied that she anticipated being done with the sampling (our site and a few of the county sites) in two hours at which point we would head back to the county offices, see their filtration setup, make sure that it is acceptable, and then return home to our lab.

_What Really Happened:_

Lady Susan is driving to the field site. Looking at the clock, she realizes that she will get there right on time. Next to her is packed a small cooler full of snacks to get her through until she can grab a late lunch hopefully on the ride back to the lab.

*phone rings*

Lady Susan: Hello?
Employer: Hi [Lady Susan], I am running 5-10 minutes behind. I had to chip out ice out of my kayak. I will see you in a bit.

Lady Susan thinks to herself, “you are running more than 5-10 minutes behind if you are not already at the site attempting to install the pipe. You are more like 65-70 minutes behind.” Lady Susan gets a premonition that the day is not going to go like planned.

People convene at the field site. It turns out that instead of bringing mustang suits (plural), Employer has only brought 1 full-body mustang suit and a mustang jacket. Half of a mustang suit is pretty useless as one still has another half left exposed to the elements of wind and cold. Employer takes full suit and Lady Susan is left with the jacket. Lady Susan is thinking that if she had known this, she would have made sure to find some sort of tights/leggings to wear under her jeans. As it is, her legs are pretty cold. She comforts herself with the thought that it is only going to be a couple of hours outside.

The group determines that Employer will attempt to install PVC pipe while Lady Susan instructs County Officials on the correct methods for sediment and nutrient sampling. However, once finished with this task, Lady Susan sees that Employer is not even close to making headway on installation. Employer requests that Lady Susan 1) calls Employer’s husband to bring heftier drill and 2) to go with the County Officials to some of the other sites they are sampling to make sure they are taking grab samples correctly (read: babysit).

Lady Susan is smashed into the middle of a cab of a 2 ½ seater truck and taken to a couple of the more accessible sites. As she is hiking awkwardly around in the woods in the freezing cold, trying not to trip and impale herself on the fallen debris, Lady Susan feels the familiar bouncing pressure of the fetus on her bladder. Very, very soon, she is going to need a bathroom. She ponders how to bring up the topic of a much needed bathroom break and how this will be received by the two middle-aged men she is with. Luckily for her, one of them states a need for a pit stop before she needs to intervene. Lady Susan quickly agrees.

After above pit stop, the group heads back to the bridge site to check on Employer and progress. No progress has been made. It turns out that the piling is made of near indestructible concrete (not surprisingly) and that nothing short of a jack hammer is going to make much of a dent (and certainly not the puny masonry drill bits we had purchased.) Lady Susan hopes that this means the end of the field day and that she can A) go have lunch as it is now 12:30, and B) go back to the lab and out of the cold. This is not to be the case.

Employer, who is looking remarkably unfazed by the cold (most likely due to the FULL BODY MUSTANG SUIT) to Lady Susan: Why don’t you go with the County Officials to the rest of the sampling sites and then back to their offices to show them how to filter correctly. I will remain here doing something mysteriously important despite the fact that the pipe cannot be installed right now, or even today.

Lady Susan looks at Employer as if Employer has grown three heads and is now speaking in Swahili. She thinks about how it is already past lunch time, how she has already been outside for three hours, and how unlikely it is that the County Officials will stop for lunch prior to finishing the rest of the sites. She also calculates about how long it will take to go to the rest of the sites (2-3 more hours). She adds this up in her head: 2-3 more hours hiking and bushwhacking in the cold with no access to food or water and no readily accessible bathroom. All this to watch them collect grab samples—the most basic and fool-proof of field techniques. She is pretty confident that even if she wasn’t 7 MONTHS PREGNANT she would still find this unreasonable.

Lady Susan: Are you sure?

Lady Susan stares intently at Employer, hoping that by doing so she can perform some Jedi mind trick.

Employer: Yup.

Lady Susan timidly mentions lunch. Employer, caught up in the mental high of some unsolved, logistical problem seems to scoff at the need of nourishment. These mundane details are too petty for her to consider right now.

Luckily, the County Officials, see the absurdity of the scenario and intervene.

County Officials: Are you sure you want [Lady Susan] to come with us? The sampling is going to take 2-3 more hours, not to mention that the sites are a lot more difficult to get to, and there is really nothing for her to do besides watch us take samples.

Lady Susan silently blesses them.

Employer: all right. [Lady Susan] you can head back to the lab and filter the samples we took.


Even though this was a crazy scenario, even though I am 7 months pregnant and really can’t do the same things anymore (like go hours without a restroom and food break), I still feel like I let my employer down. I feel like I should have been able to tough it out (being 7 months pregnant is no excuse!). This seems a bit crazy to me, this feeling of mine. Why can’t I accept the fact that my abilities are a bit limited right now? Part of it is just an adjustment: I haven’t been pregnant before; each pregnancy is different, I am not used to any physical limitations, etc. But I also think that in the sciences there is an unspoken expectation among female scientists not to show any limit in their capabilities. Ecology/Marine Science is still a very male-dominated field. The few women who have “made it,” made it by persevering through and ignoring any sort of “feminine complaint or weakness.” Thus I feel an unspoken pressure to ignore my pregnant state and its limitations. It’s crazy and messed up, I know. But that doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t there.

In any case, I can still be glad that I avoided three more hours in the freezing cold yesterday. My body thanks me.

(Oh, was I sore last night and this morning! I can’t imagine how I would have felt if things played out differently!)

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