Earth Science, With Kids

Late last month the Chronicle ran a neat piece in its Careers section, titled Mothers in the Field. It's not behind a paywall - yay! Joan Ramage Macdonald, assistant professor of geology at Lehigh University, and Maura E. Sullivan, PhD candidate in ecology at the same university, write about their experiences taking their young children with them into the field.

And I do mean into the field! Joan took her infant with her into the Yukon Territory to do her research on the evolving snowpack. Maura does research in permanently saturated wetland environments, and first took her daughter with her when she was just 10 weeks old.

Ovaries of stone, those ladies have!

The main challenges in accomplishing fieldwork with an infant in tow are doing the work while keeping the child cared for and happy, dealing with the unexpected, and breast-feeding in inhospitable settings. You're putting yourself, your colleagues, and your infant in an atypical situation. So being inventive is extremely important. Being prepared is important. We both felt that breast-feeding offered a distinct advantage over bottles; we didn't have to worry about spoiled milk or a hungry baby if we ran into delays.

I think you'll enjoy reading their story, if you haven't run across it already. It was critical, of course, for these women to have the support of their departments and colleagues. Just as important, they had supportive spouses and, in Maura's case, a grandma available to help out with childcare.

I especially liked this observation by Joan and Maura

Fieldwork is good for babies: It teaches them adaptability and a love of the outdoors. Their exposure to students is mutually stimulating and fun, and they benefit from a strong relationship with their caregiver, whether that is a parent, a grandparent, or a nanny.

Fieldwork is good for babies! And it's good for mamas not to have to choose between career and family. Rock on, Joan and Maura!

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Woohoo, fun article! I brought my newborn into the field when he was one month old to finalize a protocol my team was putting together for some wetland work. The actual field work was a relative breeze (baby in sling next to his favorite comfort item and able to breastfeed). The car ride TO the field site, however, was tough and I am amazed by Joan's story of travel to the Yukon Territory!