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I am Misty Paig-Tran, and This is How I Work as an Academic Parent

Today, I am starting a new subseries within the “How I Work” series – a series for academic parents. My first contributor is Dr. Misty Paig-Tran. Misty Paig-Tran, PhD. is an Assistant Professor of Biology and runs the Functional Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Biomaterials lab at California State University Fullerton. She earned a B.S. in Marine Biology and a PhD in Biology with an emphasis in Animal performance.

Current Job: Assistant Professor California State University Fullerton
Current Location: Fullerton, CA
Current mobile device: IPhone
Current computer: Both Mac and PC

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences. My lab is called the FABBLab or Functional Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Biomaterials Lab. Most of my work explores how organisms perform in their environments. Sometimes this leads to new technologies for human use.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
We use the basic adobe suite of products often. We also use 3D cad programs and AMIRA visualization software. As for tools we use our material tester a ton. We also make use of microscopes (compound and Scanning electron microscopes, laser cutters, 3D printers, and high speed videography. Sometimes we need basic tools like drill and R software for data analysis.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I do have my own office, a labspace, and I make use of a home office as well.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
For me, I use lists. Every morning I make a list of tasks to be completed. I keep longer term lists on my whiteboard where I see it daily until I complete the task.
Also rewards. If I am writing a grant, I write a solid paragraph then get a bit of social media time (5 min) or chocolate.

What is your best advice for academic parents?
Treat the day as if you are at a normal 9-5 job. I try to make realistic goals for what fits into the time I have here. Once I go home, my time has to be devoted to my kids (they are 1 & 3). By the time I get them both to sleep, I am too pooped to do more academic work.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I am super conventional in that I have a running list of projects taped on my desk and a list of where each project is in terms of completion on my white board in my office. I’m really good at ignoring reminders on my phone or on a google calendar, so this is my best organization method.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Ipad when I go to meetings for sure.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Oh geez, this is totally a loaded question. Probably my experimental approaches, but honestly the thing I get asked most is how do I balance work and home life with two kids while still publishing.

What do you listen to when you work?
Ok so full disclosure I cannot listen to anything and write. I am one of those people who know the lyrics to everything, so my brain will focus on music or the podcast while I am trying to think. If I am grading, I try to listen to something light like post-modern jukebox.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Currently I am reading a book called The checklist manifest because I realized that paperwork is not my strength and I am trying to learn to cross my T’s and dot my I’s so that I do not annoy the wonderful folks in the bio office. Usually I read some sort of fantasy novel because it is light and I don’t have to think to hard about the characters while I am at work.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
100% introvert. If I could just sit in my office and work I would. That said, people stop by my office all the time to chat and catch up. Sometimes this gets a bit overwhelming, kind of like going to a scientific conference and having to interact with people (with whom I really do want to socialize with) for days. By the end of the conference I feel like I need a week in solitary confinement. Interacting with people via social media is great fun because it also lets me experience a conversation without being forced to input my opinion unless I choose to.

What’s your sleep routine like? Has it changed significantly since becoming a parent?
By 10pm I am done. By 4:30am or 5am I am up because my 1 year old refuses to sleep past that time. Naturally I like to stay up late and wake up late. So yeah, my schedule has totally changed since becoming a parent. My best work pre-kids happened at around 9 or 10pm. Now I am lights out at this time.

What’s your work routine like?
8:00 am teach human cadaver based anatomy or ichthyology
mid morning = office hours/emails/prep for lecture/coordinate lab
late morning = meetings with colleagues or students about research projects
early afternoon = paper/grant writing
late afternoon = either more of the same or instruct students/experimental design/seminar/ other tasks
4:30 – off to get the kids.

How is it like to be a parent where you work? Are your colleagues supportive and understanding?
My colleagues are luckily 100% supportive. We are a family friendly university and no one bats an eye if I have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment or if I come to an after hours event with kiddos in hand.

How much maternity or paternity leave (if any) did you get and was it paid leave?
I got almost a semester of paid leave and yes, this was leave coupled with sick leave and disability. I got two extra weeks because I had c-sections.

Which childcare services are you using? Does university provide support in finding and funding childcare?
I use a Montessori school around the block from campus. I do not get extra support from the university. I found it myself and have not seen something through the university to help with this, though it may exist and I just don’t know about it. Childcare is ridiculously expensive especially when you have two kids. Basically this is where my paycheck goes and my partner pays the mortgage.

How is your parenting style?
Hmmm…I guess I don’t know the buzz words for types of parenting styles. I am somewhere between strict (somehow I will instill manners into a three year old – mostly there now) and somewhat hands off meaning I do try to let my kids make mistakes and learn from them.
When it is family time, I guess I am sort of all in and not getting work done – which is probably good for tenure but not good for my sanity. Toddlers are a special kind of challenge.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
I guess I could say about what? About academia? I once was told that the tenure process is awesome because it is a guaranteed job for two years at a time and then if you get tenure it is a job for life. Having worked in restaurants, etc where I know people got fired all the time (no I have never been fired), that seemed like a great gig.

For my sanity: Never be the smartest person in the room. I tell my students on the regular that I feel dumb every day. If I don’t feel dumb, then I am not learning something new.

For parenting: Try to go with it and not react immediately. I tend to get frustrated when I have to say something over and over, which is pretty much a daily occurrence with a 3 year old. Stopping and taking a breath has been magical for my sanity and for my kids seeing a balanced and not-so-stressed-out mom. Does it always happen? No. Are there days when I question my life choices trying to balance the academy and small kiddos? Absolutely. But really, it is my dream job and my dream family, so I don’t have too much to complain about.

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