Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

on June 3, 2013

Women can – even at home.

(This was really the post I meant to write last time, but I guess the 2 a.m. hunger call and late-pregnancy insomnia inspired my last post to go a different direction.  This post is more about how I’m using my STEM inclinations at home now.)

I’ll be honest.  I thought staying at home might would probably be boring.  In the months between turning in my resignation and leaving my job, I thought frantically of how I could best remain connected to my profession in some way.  Could I continue to research and publish?  Could I consult companies in the geographic area I’m in?  Could I teach community college or online courses as an adjunct faculty member?  Surely, I must need something, I thought.

I don’t recall ever being exposed to feminist rhetoric directly, but I somehow got the message as I was growing up that domestic duties were, well, boring and unchallenging.  This baffles me now, not because I currently find delight in washing dishes, but because my grandmother was a professional house keeper for others and found joy in that and because my mother stayed home, never complaining, patiently and diligently taking care of our home, meals, clothes, and well-beings.  My other grandmother delighted in cooking (and was EXCELLENT at this).  With such family examples, how was I misled?  I’m not sure.  I even remember, as a child, taking great pride in my work to make the bathroom sink shine and to pull all the crab grass from around Grandma’s iris plants.  But, by the time I reached junior high, my mind was firmly set that home economics classes in cooking and sewing were a waste of my time.  Anyone could cook, right?  And, when someone could choose a class like advanced biology, really, was there any contest?  Did people really major in that (home ec.) in college?  (I mean no disrespect now!  These are my thoughts as a teenager – pretty immature.)  A semester of wood shop and a semester of home economics were required our eighth grade year, though.  My pathetic pair of sweat pants I attempted to construct and the bad taste of our team’s Spanish rice should have told me that there was more to these pursuits than simply following directions.  Perhaps my failures in these areas discouraged me, too.  Besides, I got more attention for excelling in math and science.

Anyway, so it was with very little training and likely less skill (and probably not the best attitude other than a deep love for my children) that I chose full-time domestic life about 18 months ago.  But, God provides.  Without me wearing myself out trying to find ways outside of the home to use my training and interests in the sciences, He’s giving me opportunities.  I want to share these with you.  I believe that, whatever your field or background, there are applications of your skills at home that can keep you interested and occupied.

Science

  • I recently sent an inquiry to a home-school group in my town to see if my background could be useful to homeschooling parents and students as a tutor in STEM fields.  I connected with a woman who teaches high school biology and chemistry to 10-15 students a year.   She needed some help with grading biology lab reports next year, and it even pays a little bit!  This will allow her to take on a few more students without sacrificing as much of her family time, and it gives me a way to help without worrying about the preparation and testing that I know I won’t be up for with the new baby coming this summer.  I get to study biology again!  This is a subject that I loved my two years of study in high school but haven’t been able to return to studying or reviewing it since then due to other priorities (and a very rigid chemical engineering curriculum).
  • I get to see nature in a new, slower way as my almost-three-year-old daughter asks questions and notices things I don’t.  We talk about them.  We talk about how we could find the answers to her questions.  We read books.  I’m learning with her while getting to teach!

Technology

  • This is, admittedly, the area I struggle with the most, I think.  I miss working on the computer.  I am on my computer some, writing, checking Facebook, and checking e-mail, so I don’t mean just opening up the laptop.  I miss analyzing data in Minitab or creating a complex spreadsheet template to solve a problem for someone.  I do have an interesting dataset from my dissertation that I could play around with some more, but I haven’t made time for that.   As statistical software (even MS Office) products go through revisions over time, this is one area I fear losing my “edge” in, but that was happening a bit with my teaching job, too (being out of industry and not getting to use/apply those tools frequently).  
  • This is also an area where I see the most potential for learning as new online resources and tools are developed.  Any time I can learn something new, I’m happy.  🙂   Hey, if I can program in FORTRAN and use SLAM to create a simulation, surely I can learn some of these new tools and use them, as applicable, for my work at home. 

Engineering

  • “Engineers make things.  Industrial Engineers make things better,” is a slogan that I think was chosen by the Institute of Industrial Engineers.  (Now, for any hard-core electrical engineers out there, this might seem a little simplistic.  As a chemical engineering student, I joined the crowd that called IEs “imaginary engineers.”  Give me a chance, though.)  Every day at home, I get to work on continuous improvement in quality of both goods and services.  I am faced with the challenges of optimizing production processes.  Lots of processes.  
  • Optimization goes beyond finding “what works for me” in these processes.  There are actually mathematical formulas that can be created to help determine how many sets of clothes you may need (really need) for each child, how often you should do a load of laundry, and more.  (I plan to write more about these as I explore them myself.)  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new formulas of my own.  (One of my favorite chemical engineering professors told us, “Never use a formula you can’t derive.”  That advice doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me now.)

Mathematics

  • Think beyond simple price comparisons at the grocery store.  At home, I get to consider the time value of money and think of how we can best try to optimize our savings and spending, balancing investments and debt.  This is an area I need to spend some time on, as it is available, because I think we can do better.
  • One of the greatest blessings of the last year was being able to tutor my friend, Staci, though the quantitative methods courses her Ph.D. in education requires.  These statistics discussions let me use my stats vocabulary (fun!), learn about different applications of various tools (hard sciences are different from behavioral or social sciences), and get some new research ideas.  
  • And, my dear mentor, Linda, suggested I could always practice my calculus during nap times.  🙂  (It’s been a while, so I could use the practice!)

Research

  • You may think being out of academia leaves a person without academic research possibilities.  I’m finding otherwise.  There are still a couple of papers from my dissertation I’m working on revising for submission to journals.  I get new ideas for research possibilities in applied statistics each time I attend the Fall Technical Conference.  
  • There are also classes in research methods being taught in the area, and I was able to help one of my husband’s friends through an accelerated class last fall.  This involvement was encouraging as it showed me some of the “holes” in what was being taught (at least at this particular college), helped me consider new teaching or tutoring possibilities, and affirmed that I know my stuff when it comes to researching and writing research papers.  I wonder if there will be opportunities to help other undergrads at my local university.
  • Also, being immersed in this new life at home, I’m developing other research interests, probably more qualitative in nature, that would explore the longitudinal effects of homeschooling, for example, so my research “pipeline” won’t be completely empty, should I decide to return to an academic position some day.    The only problem is funding.  I wonder if there are grants out there for independent researchers who need new software to explore their ideas…  

So, I encourage you, if you think staying at home with your family looks like career suicide or complete boredom, consider my story.  I was getting bored enough at my first engineering job within the first year or so,  that I applied to grad school to start taking classes again.  I haven’t felt that boredom at all yet.  Not even close.  I do wonder if my gap of outside-the-home work history, lack of continuous publications, or step away from computing software will impact my ability to get a job later in life, but I’m trusting God with that.  He’s building my resume in new ways, helping me develop skills that are oh-so-necessary, while being able to focus on the little lives He’s entrusted me with to care for and teach.

And I’ve never had work that is so rewarding!   

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2 responses to “What’s a STEM Woman (at Home) to Do? Part 2

  1. […] In my eighteen months at home, I haven’t missed being in the workforce.  I haven’t felt isolated.  I haven’t felt “unfulfilled” or unappreciated.  I have been full of the joy I hadn’t felt since before I started my Ph.D. studies!  I have treasured the moments with my young children.  I have savored the opportunities to pursue interests like cooking and writing that I didn’t have time for while working.  I have basked in the peace that comes from not having piles of papers to grade or the stress of hurrying between work and home, dropping a child off at day care, picking her up, and trying to fix a quick supper.  I have delighted in the pride my husband feels as I stay home to make our family a priority.  I’ve even enjoyed being on a smaller budget, being able to trust God in new ways again and seeing His faithfulness and provision.  I can’t imagine anything better than being right where I’m at, and I still get to engage in those STEM fields I love every day (see Part 2)! […]

  2. Susana A. says:

    Such a great post Dana! I am completing my masters in a year and taking a break and working in my field before pursuing a PhD but I thought a lot about what would I do once I married and had a family… How could I use my environmental management and water resources.quality skills in my own home in the future (there are a ton of ways, but yet I felt discouraged). Your testimony has been a great eye opener for me and now I can say with confidence that when the Lord places me in that season of my life, I will be able to transition into without fears, knowing that God will provide a way for me to use my academic skills into my home. Thank you.

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