Thursday, July 21, 2016

Doing Research Whilst Raising Tiny Human Spawn

When I applied for this REU I did so with optimistic hope that they would be accepting, if not accommodating, to the fact that I would need to bring along my tiny spawn. My hopes were far surpassed with the generosity and help I have received from everyone in this program! I am a 29 year old single mother of two children, the oldest is a male spawn by the name of Jackson, and the younger human is a female by the name of Cara. They are inquisitive, curious, loud, and crazy little humans. Bringing them along for this experience has wonderful benefits and some pretty obvious obstacles.  


Something that I want to heavily instill in my children is the love of knowledge and learning. I am fortunate enough to have been successful thus far in that mission. Jackson is an avid reader who is systematically logical and likes to know how things work, step by step, from the bottom up. Cara is also a devoted reader, best in her class in fact, a grade level and a half ahead of her peers, who likes to make sense of the world by making assumptions and then testing their validity. They are wonderfully curious kids who have very different learning styles, but both have sprinting curiosities that I have no interest in suppressing. 

Both of the kids were very excited to spend the summer in a new city and enthralled with getting to spend time at a real beach and getting to live in a dorm! They were even more excited when we found more fun near the city, including a trampoline park that also had a rock wall,


as well as a park trail that was littered with fairy houses!


They were nervous at first having to meet 7 new people, people that are apart of my REU group, and having to spend a great deal of time with these people. They have never shared a house with anyone but their parents, so the novelty of the situation was not lost them. There's been a learning curve of how to share space, but I think they are doing ok :) 


Our group has various weekly meetings; informational meetings about group outings and expectations, lectures having to do with STEM topics, weekly research presentations from lab directors, group dinners at various Rochester restaurants,


 as well as improv lunches structured to get our scientific minds out of the status quo of introverted interactions. The kids have not only had to learn how to operate among peers in the dorm, but they have had to learn to adapt in each of these group situations.


They have had to learn how to occupy themselves and sit still for short periods of time and give respect to lecturers, how to appropriately interact during group sessions when noise is totally appropriate, and how to go to group dinners and deal with not always getting their own way as far as food choices (something that anyone with children knows is no easy task to overcome). They have periodically paid attention to lectures, Jackson even chiming in with questions during the astrophysics lecture :)


They have even done well when I have to sit in meetings to discuss where my work is headed with my team at the LAMA lab. Something that is INCREDIBLY boring for these tiny humans. 


So far they seem to have made friends with most of the members of our group and have MOSTLY positively contributed to the fun of the summer. 


Down on the upside, of course there are some obstacles that the kids and I have had to face. I initially had a babysitter set up a few towns away where the kids could go to spend time with other kids and play while I worked. That did not prove to be an ideal situation and the program has graciously allowed me to keep the kids with me on campus while I work. The nature of my work is mostly computational, so barring wifi connection issues, I can work anywhere. Therefor, I have been working from the dorm while the tiny humans run amuck in the dorm and the communal space on our dorm floor. Usually the tiny monsters understand when I have to do computer work or when I have large amounts of reading to do, but in this foreign environment it has been tricky for them to grasp. Their minds think, "mommy is right there, she can play Sorry with us or watch this cartoon with us, no problem." It has been a bit of a struggle trying to help them be autonomous in their playing and occupation as kids while I'm directly next to them. Sometimes I throw the towel in, call an early day and take them to the beach, then get back to image analyzing when they have gone to bed. 


All in all I think this is going to be a good experience for them. My hope is that they see college as a place where they can meet interesting people, make brain tickling discoveries, and a place where they can feel relaxed and have fun. Being allowed the opportunity to further my education and professional experience while also introducing my children to the wonderful world of academia has been one of the best experiences our tiny family could have hoped for. 

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