SoapBox Science Lisbon 2022 – Article by Malgorzata Zakrzewska
Article by Malgorzata Zakrzewska
You Got this!
If there is one thing I’ve learned is all the management skills that we boost during the maternity leave, such as multitasking, scheduling, risk assessment, negotiating, problem(drama)-solving, stress/crisis control, communication (including non-verbal), or innovative thinking, and all that under tiredness and sleep deprivation! So why is it overlooked in so many cases?
Let’s look closer at a “typical” mothers’ day, with a grain of salt of course. It is a very generalised and simplified picture, I know, but the message is there 😉
You wake up and try to drag your kids out of beds (good luck, may the force be with you!). Fast shower, comfortable clothes, quick make-up, and you are ready to rock the world without scaring anybody with your appearance on the way. Do you remember the times when you could calmly make yourself look fabulous while sipping a hot (!) morning coffee? Yeah, me neither…
Breakfast is no longer the Instagram-type, healthy and full of nutrients meal… No, it is simply cereals (with a pinch of hope that maybe, m-a-y-b-e, during the weekend you will have more time (and patience) to prepare something more nutritious and worthy of “The Best Mother of The Year” title).
Driving kids to school (hopefully the same one) and rushing to work to face the 100 tasks that have already piled up with time. Taking academic career as an example, you will probably have some meetings, classes, computer work (reports, presentations, articles), or maybe some lab assignments. You will try to score as many things as possible, with lunch (full, proper meal, or instant food – life is all about choices) in between.
Off you go to pick up your kids and drive them to/and get from gymnastics/football/English or art classes, or whatever classes your “miniatures of you” choose to attend. Coming back home hungry, you rush to prepare some meal (UberEats sounds tempting, doesn’t it?), explaining at the same time (again!) that yes, vegetables are good for health and yes, we do need to eat greens. May the force be with you!
Following are: household chores, homework, parent-child activities (if your kids are not teenagers yet and still want to have something to do with you). And here we come to the struggle of making a choice and feeling of guilt (either way). Should I finish the paper/presentation/preparations for the meeting, or play with my kid(s) with cards/dolls/lego/books, you name it? What is more important? Work or family? Unfortunately, nowadays, it is too often that parents must make that difficult decision, but one thing is certain: kids do not wait, they grow up, and before you notice, there is another birthday coming right behind the corner…
And all of that to compare with life BEFORE having kids, when you can always opt to work in the evening/weekend (the power of procrastination), to party till late night and still be able to get up in the morning like nothing happened and with 100% Duracell bunny energy, or simply to organise your time having fewer human beings to include in the agenda.
And why am I writing about it? Because here we are, in 2022, and I still find people who wonder what is all that fuss with inequality about (gender, maternity, age)? Even though men also participate in the “everyday battle” (I am the lucky one!), in many cases, the burden related with raising the kids concentrates (not to be mistaken with “lies only”) on women’s shoulders. It is of course a controversial issue that depends on many factors and will differ significantly between, for example, regions, cultures, or beliefs. But as nature planned it, we normally take the first heat and deal with the consequences of falling out from the market for a few months (if so!) due to maternity leave.
Anyways, do I want to be all negative and moaning, and discourage you from having children in favour of a job? HELL NO, on the contrary! I want to tell you that with a proper organisation, self-control, and all the love that kids will give you, you can have it both, and that IT IS DOABLE and certainly worth fighting for. You can find online a lot of texts on the magic of being a parent, to my surprise, because I thought that there are no words that could ever explain how magnificent and giving it is to be a parent. Here, I just want to highlight that working will simply help you to get out of a home bubble, keep your social life active and challenge your brain to exercise (to not to mention to drink a hot coffee accompanied with some sweet snack without a need to hide in the toilet just for your kids not to hear the rustling of a chocolate wrapping). By no means, you should never ever be discouraged to get back to professional activity just because you had a baby! So, go girl! You got this! We will be here to catch you if you fall!
And considering working in science, why did I choose such a path for me? Because I always liked to learn new things. Research gives me the opportunity to constantly develop and improve, to discover new ideas, concepts, and point of views. Every day is different, and there is no place for boredom. You get to travel, meet new people, and make new collaborations. Working at the university gives you also that degree of flexibility which is invaluable when you think about having a 2+ family. Last and maybe the most important aspect of working in academia, is that you get to deal with motivated and curious people, and I refer here both colleagues and students, that will push your limits and encourage you to investigate even more. And then, whatever you learn, you can share with others and keep the ball rolling. How cool is it to have the possibility to shape the next/new generation (and as parents we can do it in both places: at work and home!!!), and at the same time maybe solve some urgent issue for the benefit of all? Science is for everybody and should not be contained within the walls of a university building! That is why I like science communication and will always support such initiatives as Soapbox!
Malgorzata Zakrzewska has a career developed in Poland, England and Portugal. She started her path through an integrated master’s degree in Biotechnology and another master’s degree in Environmental Protection and Management, both from the Politechnika Gdańska, Poland. After a short internship in England at Durham University, she moved to Portugal and obtained her PhD degree in Sustainable Chemistry at the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. She was granted two postdoctoral fellowships, to be subsequently contracted at the Centro de Química Estrutural, Instituto Superior Técnico, and then, at the Laboratório Associado para a Química Verde, at NOVA. Currently, she is the researcher responsible for the exploratory project funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, FCT I. P.). Her research focuses on the development of sustainable processes using green solvents.
On October 15th, from 3-6pm (GMT+1), our Soapbox Arena will be at FICA and we will host 9 local female scientists selected from a competitive pool of researchers. There will be three 1hr sessions, with three speakers per session, where they will be sharing their work in technology, science, medicine and engineering. The public audience, of all ages and backgrounds will not only have the opportunity to listen and learn from the speaker about their topic and perspectives, but also, will be able to directly interact with them, and ask questions to each scientist individually in a fun and sharing environment.