study in contrasts at a conference

February 26, 2016

I am in DC, attending a conference focused on graduate medical education.  It’s really interesting so far, and exciting, because I feel like I’m about to delve into something big and new and that I will (hopefully!) really really love.

We are staying at a MASSIVE hotel and convention center.  I came with 4 other physician/admin/educators, and one program coordinator.  This group is comprised of really nice people, which is wonderful.

Of the 6 of us, I am the only one with young kids.  None of the 3 other women (in their 40s, primarily, I think) had kids at all, which seems statistically unusual.

I have to admit that upon learning this I panicked a little bit.

Conclusions I immediately started conjuring up:

1) Maybe this means you cannot become a leader in graduate medical education (or anything at all) if you are also a mother.

2) OR maybe you can, but choosing to do so means you are a bad mother who neglects your children.

3) You cannot possibly expect to leave work on time every day (or even most days) when you have a position with any administrative responsibility.

4) Now I get the “You Can’t Have it All” article.

5) Maybe this is just the culture of medicine.

BUT, then I became really annoyed at myself for thinking all of these things.  In part because we are training residents, and I cannot deal with the thought that the next generation of women will think/feel the same way about themselves.  I fervently want to believe that I can become a leader/mentor/teacher and still be there for A&C.

I really really hope all of the above conclusions are false.  I need to find a mentor/role model who is balancing similar challenges.  (I do sort of have one, but she is not directly involved in GME.)

At the ripe age of 35 I am becoming a dinosaur when it comes to listening to conference talks.  I sit there with my notebook and pen, and I take notes.  Pages of notes.  Not necessarily because I want to “save” the info, but because it helps me synthesize it and stay attentive (and not fall asleep).  I am much less apt to become distracted by a pop-up or new email on my Field Notes compared to an iPad.  On the back page of the notebook I have a list of potential things to look into/do.  This is really all I need.

My tech-savvy colleague was doing the same thing on his tablet.  In fact, he was actually writing with a stylus on a note-taking app and collecting tasks in ToDoist, I think.  I guess I could do that, but I just prefer paper.  I feel like people are starting to look at me strangely, like I must be ‘missing out’ on technology.  But there is nothing I feel that would enhance my experience by converting to iPad/laptop, and in fact I think it has (for me) more of a potential to detract.

Off to run before another day of talks (i.e. sitting!)!


  • Reply Lee Becknell March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    The only reason that I use a computer at conferences to take notes is because my handwriting is atrocious.

  • Reply Erica March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I prefer paper notes as well, and I take notes for the same reasons you listed. I almost never go through them again but I do tend to integrate what I’ve learned when I’ve written it down (in my own words, too!). So we are both dinosaurs … Or maybe Luddites! Enjoy the conference!

    I think that the people with whom you are attending the conference are the exception, not the norm. I know men and women in high level academic administrative positions who are very involved in their children’s lives. Also you and your kids are relatively quite young for this field! By the time your kids are teenagers and have their own lives you will be able to commit to this more

  • Reply Stephanie S. March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I’m overly sensitive to this topic since I struggle with infertility, but you don’t know if all of those women wanted to be childfree/less. Not that that changes the day-to-day realities of juggling career and family, but still might add some context (plus, infertility is time consuming!).

    Also, you don’t know what other responsibilities they might have. Anne Marie Slaughter’s newish book, Unfinished Business, notes that other kinds of caretaking (besides children) don’t get the same respect/credit– caring for an aging family member, etc.

  • Reply Omdg March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Probably not any better, but I tend to think think, "So sad they don’t have children. I wonder if they couldn’t have them, or if they thought they couldn’t or shouldn’t because of their job and they thought (erroneously) they’d be bad mothers if they were also doctors. I wonder if they think I will be less committed because I have a child. They better not."


  • Reply nicoleandmaggie March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I assume people with children spend less time socializing at conferences, especially if the have brought them with.

  • Reply beth March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Back when I was a postdoc I was the only person, male or female, the the lab with children. It was hard just because no one really understood the extra constraints on my time (no evening happy hours, no late night time points, etc). However, I always hope that I did show people it was possible. In my field of academic science there just aren’t that many female faculty memebers (maybe 10-15% of the faculty in the department).

    I’ve never really been able to find a female mentor who walked a similar road as me professionally and personally so I decided to stop looking. I’ll do this my way. (and hopefully the next generation of women will see that they can do it their way too. Whatever that means to them).

    Enjoy the conference!

  • Reply Holly March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I always hate hearing anyone talk about being a "bad mother" for reasons like working, and I especially hate it coming from you. Do you think Josh is a bad dad because he works a lot? No, obviously not. And he works more than you on the whole, right? The "bad mother" conversation is so gendered and problematic. I mean, obviously you get that, but in these posts you write, it seems like constant self-flagellation, and frankly, stuck in a sort of archaic conception of what a heterosexual marriage/home life should look like.

    Maybe your new way of coping should be: "would Josh feel bad about this?" And if the answer is no, then let yourself off the hook.

  • Reply Sydney Shop Girl March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I prefer paper notes as well, and for the same reasons.

    I am not an academic, more clinically orientated. Possibly because of the way medicine was an undergrad course when most of my peers and I trained (recent changes in some unis in Australia), it’s probably more the norm than the exception for female specialists to have children here.

    SSG xxx

  • Reply Morgan March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I’m a frequent reader and this post really struck a chord with me, as I think this is an issue that spans the professional world. I’m in law and hoping to "have it all" someday, but have noticed that although there are many amazing women in leadership roles in my organization, most of them either don’t have children or have a partner who is a full-time caregiver (which is not a possibility for my husband). This can be really intimidating, but luckily I’ve found a great mentor who seemingly was able to have the best of both worlds — she kind of broke the mold by just leaving the office at a certain time when her kids were young, even though that wasn’t "done" at the time. And despite whispers from some, she ended up having time with her children and rising through the ranks of leadership. But the only way she was able to it was to listen to her gut, do stellar work and not worry about what other people think.

    PS. I’m also a luddite when it comes to taking notes and planning – long live paper!!

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I understand the baseless insecurities, we all have periods where we go have these thoughts, even though we KNOW better, and we eventually can dismiss them, realize we are doing great & our kids are going fine, and move on! I do think its strange that in a group of 6 you are the only one with children; statistically, that seems unusual, regardless of why they are childless. I’m trying to think of women with small kids in higher positions, but it seems most are much older than you when they get there, so there kids are much older—you’re a prodigy!
    I absolutely take paper notes at conferences. It helps me stay focused, otherwise my mind wanders, especially if I’m sitting through talks ALL DAY for several days. Isn’t there something about writing things down that helps cement the knowledge in your brain? I can’t remember details but I’ve read about it. I used to copy my notes in college/med school, too, sometimes over and over (in pretty colors & with lots of highlighting) until I had it down.

  • Reply Ammne March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm


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