Exciting News!!

So, today I have some very exciting news. I’m moving!! That is, my blog is moving. I have my very own website now and it’s all open-source, which my tech sources advise me is all the rage. I’ll still update this blog for a few more posts, but then I’ll shut this site down and focus on my own site. So this is what you will need to do if you’d like to keep getting the new posts in your mailbox:

  1. Head on to my new website: https://galpod.com
  2. Have a look around–I’m particularly excited about the side menu which opens on command!
  3. Enter your email address into the “subscribe” box at the very bottom of the page.
  4. Have a read of my latest post, talking about whether sitting up makes babies smarter: https://galpod.com/sitting-makes-you-smarter/
  5. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. You can do that through this page (look to your right), or via twitter @galpod. I’m working on adding an “email me” button on the new website.

Finally, a big thank you to all of you who are reading this blog. I hope you find reading it as interesting as I find writing it. Hope to see you on the other side!! 🙂

New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year

The Dilemma of New Year Resolutions

I’m taking stock and trying out a new approach to the science-public connection.

New Year Resolutions are ranked rather high on my cliché scale. Everyone is writing about how the resolutions never work, so there’s no point in making them. Lifehack’s Steve Errey even said that resolutions reduce self-esteem (this sent me through a self-esteem rabbit hole in Google Scholars which I will share at some point; I did not find any empirical evidence for this hypothesis).

I actually like the reflection that a new year brings. Because my birthday is also in January, I generally take stock around this time of year. I think about what I like about my life, and what I’d like to change. I like writing this blog, for instance. I like that I was able to take the last semester off and “not work” (which, in my world, includes writing a journal paper, maintaining the blog, and keeping my two kids alive and on time for school). I don’t like how little veggies we eat as a household, so I’m in the market for veggie recipes that kids are willing to eat 🙂

But the Errey piece got me thinking about whether this practice of new year resolutions is beneficial. This is worrying me is because my 6-year-old son came home from school yesterday and said they talked about new year’s resolutions. I didn’t quite get the blow-by-blow of the discussion (something about someone who decided to carry around a sack of eggs? Must be a British thing), but I did get this: my son’s new year resolution is that he’d like to try all the foods on the table every time. On one hand, this makes me very happy, as we’ve been having issues with getting him to eat things that are not pasta (mostly we had issues with the veggies. Obviously). It makes me happy that he’s at least willing to try out new things–this is something we discuss a lot in our home. It’s also a practice we really encourage and a value of our family more generally. As my kids put it, we are a family of explorers. We value trying new things, going to new places, and being curious about everything.

On the other hand, reading the Errey piece, I was a little perturbed about how well-conforming my son is. This goal of trying new foods did not come from him, but from our persistence on trying new foods: we only talk about it EVERY MEAL. Our dinner-table rules include no standing on the table, no talking with your mouth full, and trying everything that’s on the table. So I worry that my son had internalized our insistence on this issue at the expense of being true to his own desires (which, I assume, are to eat only pasta, ever). This is also a value for us: we’d like our kids to be able to listen to their own bodies, to be able to tell what makes them happy, and to be true to themselves. What do you do when two of your values conflict?

I have no good answer for this dilemma. I’ve never posted on a topic before figuring out what I think about it. But, I think exposing the process is an important thing to do in a science blog (ok, semi-science blog). Science reports typically do not include the process, only the results. Yes, science reports include a “methods” section, which looks like a process; but it isn’t really. The methods section includes the tools the researchers used to measure the variables they are talking about in the report. It doesn’t talk about the thought process that led the researchers to use these particular tools, or to investigate the variables they chose to investigate. I think it creates the illusion that scientists have all the answers. We really don’t. Science is not about answers at all, it’s about questions. The more science you do, the more questions you have.

Which brought me back to the purpose of this blog, to why I started this blog. ‘Tis the season for reflection and taking stock, right?

I started this blog in order to bring together two aspects of my life: my research (about children), and my parenting (of children). Being away from academia for a bit made me realize how entrenched I am in the academic narrative of writing a tidy little story to publish in a well-respected journal. I’ve been having issues with how little connection there seems to be between science and the supposed beneficiaries of science, namely, people. It started when I became a mom and realized how little of the parenting advice–the stuff that are geared towards actual parents–is based on research and science. Sure, a lot of it is based on really great psychologists’ vast experience with children. But most psychologists see children only when there’s a problem, and experience–or rather, our memory of our experiences–is rather inaccurate. Since then I’ve discovered that science generally is not well-communicated to “the public”. I think one of the problems is that in the traditional model, scientists only share the end results, not the process. As a reader, you can’t follow every thought-process of every scientist in the world. But, as a reader who has access to the internet, you hardly ever get to see a single thought-process of a single scientist. And this is exactly what blogs were invented for, right?

So, to summarize: I’m not sure how I feel about my son’s new year resolution; I want to connect my readers (all three of them) to science: not only the results, but also the process. Oh, and Happy New Year! :smile:

PS My son really got the hang of new year resolutions: as soon as there was a salad on the table he decided to change his resolution from tasting everything to tasting most of the things. Excluding the salad.

A Letter To My Son On His Sixth Birthday

Photo Credit: Sweet-Tooth Cakes and Cupcakes This is what your cake would have looked like if you mummy had any talent.
Photo Credit: Sweet-Tooth Cakes and Cupcakes
This is what your cake would have looked like if your mummy had any talent.

My love,

My, how you’ve grown this year. This year was all about science, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be the last year, either. You are so curious and you ask so many questions. You want to know how everything works. And you figured out Google, so it has become our standard answer to pretty much all of your questions: I’m not sure, honey, let’s google it. Because, really, how am I supposed to know whether a yew is evergreen or deciduous? But I like that you keep asking me these questions; that you haven’t given up on me yet.

You are also an enthusiastic ice-skater. You love going to the ice-rink so much, that I have accepted the 40-minute trek in each direction with a resigned sigh. Seeing your face when you go on the ice is so worth it. And what you lack in grace you more than make up for in confidence. I love how confident you are.

The chess club is another one of your newly blossoming interests. I was convinced that once we went there and you played against the older kids (most of them two years your senior) and lost marvelously, you would want nothing to do with it anymore. But you looked at me and said, mommy, I came to learn. And so we came back, and you like it so much that you don’t even mind losing. You have certainly come a long way.

This year, I wish for you to keep asking lots and lots of questions. You are well on your way to be a scientist, and you make me so very proud, seeing as I consider myself one. And that adult tooth you found in the back? It’s not going to be the last.

Lots of love,

Mummy.

A Letter To My Daughter on Her Fourth Birthday

I actually baked a princess cake this year.
I actually baked a princess cake this year.

On your last birthday I was outrageously late with this letter, because we moved to a different country. I am determined not to be so late on this one even though it makes my blog looks like a mommy blog instead of the professional developmentalist blog I’d like it to be. Because none of these reasons are your doing, nor should you care about them, I have decided to post this regardless.

My Gorgeous Girl,

I love how independent you are becoming. You always wanted to do things your own way, and this year has been no different. You take out your own dishes to set the table, you pour your own milk or juice, and would cook the food yourself if I let you. You are still delegating some of the tasks you are less fond of, such as choosing clothes in the morning, but you forever find ways to get what you want: “Mommy, can you pick my clothes for me? But pick the white long-sleeved dress with pink polka-dots and the pink tights please.”

We focused this year on being assertive despite your small stature. Last weekend we went to the playground and some older children did not allow you the space you needed. You were upset, but then I explained that while they may be larger than you, you have an equally strong voice. You took my advice, as you always do, with attentive quiet and went to implement it immediately. The next time an older child cut in front of you, you calmly said “excuse me, I’d like to have a turn please.” I think the shock alone provided you with the space you needed to complete the trail at your own pace.

And speaking of advice, we started to talk about what girls can do. Or, more accurately, what some people think girls can’t do, but in fact they can. I learned an important lesson from you this year. You surprised me with constructing a princess castle from pink and purple Legos, and made me realize that I shouldn’t resist your adoration of all things pink, because your favourite colour has no implication on your skills. Also, and entirely unrelated, I love that you are left-handed.

I particularly like your take on the world around you, which is now really starting to shine through. My favourite tale is about the time you told me you wanted to be a mommy when you grow up, just like me. After I was done melting, I told you “that’s great, but you know you could be a mommy and something else, like I am your mommy and a scientist”. You thought long and hard about this one, and finally said “ok. When I grow up I want to be a mommy and a princess”. I think that was the time I realized that I can’t fight this princess thing.

For next year, I wish you a year of growth. You are starting school soon, and you’ll frequently encounter older and bigger children who won’t notice you. I hope you won’t lose your voice or heart, and learn how to cope with these older children and to take the space and time you need for you. I hope you don’t get tired from fighting to be recognized as a “big girl” even though you are a head shorter than the 2-year-olds in your nursery, and you will probably be the smallest child in your class. I hope that in spite all that, you would still enjoy school and learning new things.

Yours forever,

Mommy.

An Oxford Talk

Oxford
Random College in Oxford

In the last little while (ok, long while) I have been busy writing my PhD dissertation. To the outside onlooker, it looks fairly straight-forward: you’ve done all the work, now you just have to put it in a document. How hard can it be, right? Well… it’s not the most complicated thing I had to do for my PhD, but it’s a lot of work. And this is relevant mostly because after four or five hours of writing my dissertation, I have no mental powers to write a blog post. Sorry about that. However, since I have you here, I’ll tell you about my trip to Oxford.

Last week I gave an invited talk at a seminar in Oxford University. I was super-excited (I still can’t believe I did that), and it went well. I went for the day, got to see a bit of the city and campus, and I had lunch at a college (don’t ask me how this system works, I’m still confused. I think my hosts were, too). It was fantastic. At one point I asked the people I was having lunch with whether you get desensitised to being at Oxford all the time. They all said “yes, pretty much”. I, however, marvelled at the 300-year-old buildings in which people are doing ground-breaking research for centuries. I’d love to have a conversation with the walls of one of the local old pubs.

Anyway, here is a pdf file of my slides from the talk I gave. One day I’ll write a post about my research, but for now, there are some interesting academic things in there 🙂

A tale of two flexibilities

A Letter To My Son On His Fifth Birthday

Photo Credit: Andy Eick

My, how you’ve grown in the last year. You’ve had many experiences this year that put you squarely into the big-boys club. Moving to a different country and continent, leaving all your friends behind, and making your way in this new and strange world must have been so hard. I know it was hard for us grown-ups. But you didn’t flinch, and you took on the new experiences with your head held high – looking for Mary Poppins.

You are always so curious about how things work. Reading comes easily to you now. We were also lucky enough to find a teacher who not only allows you to run ahead with your skills, she challenges you and encourages you to go even further: to learn new things, and figure out new tricks, like writing the numbers 1-100 using the pattern the numbers make.

You made new friends at your new class so quickly, it’s like you knew them for years. Your friends greet you enthusiastically on the playground, and love coming over and having you over. And you wouldn’t even consider not inviting everyone in your new class to your birthday party, so we had to find a venue to accommodate all of them.

We also discovered this summer that you don’t like to lose. You hate it so much, in fact, that sometimes you have uncharacteristic tantrums when you do. It breaks my heart every time I tell you, “You know what? We can’t win all the time”. It’s true, and you have to learn that, but I wish you didn’t have to learn it quite so early, and in such a harsh way. But you have to learn it, so we try to make it about learning to enjoy the game for the sake of the game. And you do like to play these games – from football (American Translation: soccer) to chess and checkers, which you started playing this summer with gusto.

I feel like only yesterday you were a baby, looking around from your baby carrier as we walked along the streets. You always liked busy streets, and fell asleep when we were walking down the street with the most traffic. Now you ride around on your scooter in one of the busiest cities in the world, like it’s nothing to write home about. You have preferred restaurants, and you love going to the library because that means we have new books to read. When did you become such a big boy?

I wish for you to always be learning new things. It’s what you love most, and it is what you should do at this age. I wish for you to learn about the physical world, but also about the social world. I wish for you to learn about numbers, but also about how important is each friend. I wish for you to learn about letters and sounds, but also about how to make your voice heard and when not to say everything that pops into your mind. I wish for you to learn the most from your failures, even though they hurt.

 

With all my love,

Mommy.

A Legal Alien – Again

Sting
Sting

I published a few weeks ago the long-overdue letter for my daughter’s third birthday. I can’t believe I have been blogging for over two years now. I haven’t written a post in 6 months, but there’s good reason. I’m going to do one more personal post, and then back to the regular content (I hope in a more regular timing). I’d like to tell you what I’ve been up to in the last 6 months.

In the winter term I was teaching a course. I was a “pretend” university professor. I call this “pretend” because there’s much more to being a university professor than teaching courses. But students, bless their hearts, don’t distinguish between contract instructors and associate professors. In fact, many people do not make that distinction (my parents included), but that’s another story. I had a great time teaching. This was a wonderful opportunity for me: I got to develop a full curriculum, set the exams and assignments, and determine the content. I took a lot from that experience, and I hope to teach again some day (maybe soon). What struck me most was how much teaching was like the work I do in this blog. I did my best to take complex research and explain it in a way that my student would understand. My teaching assistants (both fourth-year undergrads) were delighted with the course. My students a bit less so, but I suspect a lot of it had to do with the midterm being a bit hard.

Then, I presented in two conferences. I gave talks in two conferences. I’ve never given a scientific talk before, and this was also a fantastic experience. I don’t think I could have done it without teaching first though. Teaching made me a bit less anxious about standing in front of an audience and looking like I know what I’m talking about. It was a good preparation for these talks. I gave talks about my research, which was extra-awesome, because I’m excited about my research. It may not be the cure for cancer (it is about as far from a cure to cancer as blue birds are), but this is my work.

Then, we moved to London. For my Canadian readers I’ll add: London, England; not London, Ontario. We packed our stuff (man, do we have a lot of stuff), we heavy-heartedly said goodbye to our dog (he is too old to make this trip, he deserves to go live with his favourite person in the whole world, his walker), we packed the kids, and got on a plane, and we are now living in a different city, country, continent.

This has been a big change for everyone. Since my son will be starting school in September, we figured it makes sense to have both kids at home with me. I took the summer off school, and now I’m a stay-at-home-mom for the summer. We like it here a lot. We live in a great neighbourhood, which has just the right amount (for us) of families and trendiness. I have been taking the kids exploring the public transportation system. We also happened by a few free museums and fun places along the way.

Next week, my daughter starts full day nursery. The week after that, my son will begin attending primary school (with uniforms and everything). Also next week, my part-time after-school nanny (score!) will begin working for us. This will definitely give me more time to work (I have managed to work a total of 7 hours throughout the summer, including this post), and hopefully will also give me some time to blog. Until then, I will keep adding items to my list of “things you can do on a rainy day when you have been home with your kids for two months and you really would like to strangle them but you love them too much to do it”.