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Monday, December 27, 2010

School, Parenting, and Networking - It Shouldn't Be Impossible

The Princeton Review sends out a comprehensive survey to MBA students in order to come up with their B-school rankings.  The survey asks questions about everything from the professors to the facilities, from minority to family-friendly programs.  As I was taking the survey this year, I tried to honestly gauge where I felt my school was doing well and where it was missing something.  One section really gave me pause.  It went something like this, although I don't remember the questions exactly.

On a scale of 1 to 5, would you agree with the following (1 is strongly disagree, 5 is strongly agree):

My school provides plenty of opportunities for networking.
Yes, there are plenty of networking activities going on all the time.  But I can't attend any of them because they take away family time.

My school has part-time options for working students.
My school is 100% part-time; all the classes are in the evening.  In this we excel.  In fact, many students choose this school (including me) particularly because of the part-time non-cohorted aspect because they work or they have kids, or both.

My school provides resources for parent-students.
What?  What is that?  I know I can't be the only parent, but I haven't run into anyone else that's a parent.

My school provides daycare for children of students.
Um, I think so.  At least I know there is a daycare for the professors' children.

Is there anything you feel is missing from your school?
Now that you mention it, I would like to network with other students.  But it would be really great to meet other working (or non-working) student-parents and network with my daughter, so I could spend time with her at the same time.

Thus an idea was born and our school's MBA Parenting Network will kick off in February.  So far there's been a lot of interest from the school staff and all that's left is to decide on an activity. We'll probably try to do a monthly activity and a network of contacts.  Even if all we end up doing is swapping poopie horror stories, it will be well worth the time for the emotional lift and to know we're not alone.

You needn't be an MBA student to start your own circle of similar-interest parents.  There are a plethora of Mommy and Me-type organizations that already exist, or you can always start one of your own centered around your chief issues du jour.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and make friends!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, the TSA has stepped up its screening practices with a choice between a high-powered scanner or a rather intrusive pat-down.  Just as a friend posted earlier this week, I take issue with the idea that we need to participate in this three-ring circus.

The deeper problem, though, is our prevailing attitude towards technology, as if it's this panacea that's going to save us from goofing up at work or getting blown up on a plane, even if we take out rational thought processes.  I see this at work when an analyst fires up a piece of software that he doesn't really understand and spends two hours on an analysis that he could have done with a five minute hand calculation.  Oftentimes, he doesn't even know that his results are unreliable based on his inputs because he doesn't understand the fundamentals of what the software is trying to mimic.  I see this in the parent-hysteria marketplace with GPS trackers for our kids, as if a kidnapper would never think to toss the kid's backpack from the outset.  And we seem especially susceptible to technology worship when someone mentions the word "terrorist" or the phrase "homeland security".  These words should be re-labeled as "fear of the unknown."  How did we get so distrustful of our own instincts?
Is it the marketing, the fear of not being objective enough and/or getting sued, or are we just purely in lust with the whiz-bang factor of complicated machinery and the like?  I wish I knew.  

Here are a few facts to inform you of the impact of your choices at the airport this season:

1.  It wasn't so long ago that world-renowned hospital Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles was found to have accidentally zapped over 200 CT scan patients with more radiation than they thought they were using . . . This mistake went undetected for 18 months.  The CTs were set up by medical professionals.  The airport scanners are set up by the TSA.

3. The fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guards against unlawful search and seizure.  I am pretty sure this extends to my private parts.  

4. This poor 3 year old girl.  I can't even imagine what I would do if they did this to my daughter.

5. Not one of the terror incidents on planes in the United States (including 9/11) would have been caught by this new scanning process or the pat-down and not by previous procedures.  Not one.  This process does not scan for liquids, so if you soak yourself in turpentine, you'd still get by (if you wore a ton of cologne I guess).

6. It is only a matter of time until a terrorist sidesteps this process somehow, builds a better bomb, etc.  We're treating this like an arms race when the terrorists treat it like more of a process to terrify us.  Looks like it's working very well.

7. People are getting rich off of this of course.  People you're at least vaguely familiar with.

8. Take a look at this book.  I read it while in college and it is still the best literature I have ever found on the topic.

9. If you are more inclined towards a business approach, I refer you to Lean and Theory of Constraints approaches - technology is almost never the answer.  As Edward Deming once said, "If you design it for any idiot to use, any idiot will."

In short, unless technology starts to approach the levels seen in The Matrix, all the scanners in the world are never going to be able to protect you as well as a human being with human instincts, intuition, and ability to read behavior, who has the backing of the authorities and/or their employer (as the case may be) to act on those instincts.  That applies to scanners as well as analysis software and stranger danger.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Re-evaluation and Rejuvenation

I have to apologize for my lack of content in the last few weeks.  I've been thinking about my decision to go to school while my daughter is so young.  It is natural to re-evaluate your decisions every once in awhile and certainly it never hurts to check yourself before you wreck yourself.  It all started like this . . .

I was doing some volunteer work for church and I met a fascinating woman in the process.  Since we had a lot of downtime between customers for festival tickets, we had an abundance of time to get to know each other.  She works in quite a different industry than me and also runs her own business.  As we chatted about the realities of full-time working and full-time parenthood (in my opinion, there really is no such thing as part-time parenthood unless you mentally check yourself out of your kid's life), I began to think about my schoolwork and the stressful weekend the family had.  We had run from place to place getting chores done and in my so-called "downtime" I was behind in my schoolwork, not to mention that work was feeling very non-rewarding at the moment.  Then a friend stopped by to ask if I'd be willing to sponsor someone through the process of joining our church, which involves a very serious time commitment and an even more serious mental commitment.  At this point I was standing in the rain and I just had it.  I said that no I couldn't sponsor someone as I was barely together myself.  After she walked away, I said "That's it I'm quitting school."  

The remark wasn't callous - I truly believed I was done at that moment.  I wanted a break!  I wanted to sit and veg in front of the TV every night and maybe knit some.  I wouldn't really gain much time with the munchkin as I don't ever try to do schoolwork when she's awake; at most I would gain three hours on school night.  But I was drained.

A few days later, I made an appointment with the faculty advisor to discuss a leave of absence.  I wanted to quit for awhile and then re-evaluate whether I was truly done.  The appointment was set for the day after I came back from visiting my in-laws.  

On the plane to the East Coast, I got all my homework done.  I was finally caught up!  I spent a few wonderful days with my fun family-in-law and rested my soul a bit.  While reading the homework, I had some great academic discussions with my husband and realized I understood what was happening with our economy for the first time, and why it really mattered - as in how the decisions by our leaders and the public have such a dramatic effect on our daily lives.  Maybe this b-school stuff wasn't so bad after all.  I even squeezed in a visit to one of my company's other locations to see how they were doing and say hi to a few long-distance friends.  

I discussed my thoughts with my mother-in-law.  While my husband had said he just wanted me to do what I really wanted, I needed another person's opinion.  Was this school stuff taking a toll on my daughter and husband that I didn't see?  We had a great conversation.  I will spare you all the details but I ended up knowing that it was worth slugging it out in school and I wasn't dragging the rest of the family down as a result (thank you Mom Mom!)  As she pointed out well, as a mom you have to nurture your own soul if you want to nurture those around you.  

I left the East thinking maybe I would stay after all.  I cancelled the advising appointment.  The next school day I went up to my professor's office to get the results of my midterm.  He said that I was excelling in the class and he was glad I seemed to be very engaged.  That really sealed it for me. 

I did make some changes as a result of all this contemplation.  At the beginning of every semester, I struggle with the right amount of studying and work to do.  It is always a panic.  Towards the middle of the semester, if I am doing well, I relax a little and don't freak out if I don't read the next chapter until an hour before class.  I'll be looking in the spring to relax more towards the start of classes so I don't throw everyone in the household into a tizzy with me.  Also I left a little of the guilt (there will always be guilt) and promised myself to enjoy learning again.  As the munchkin would say, "Learning's my favorite."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Do you know what QE2 is?  If not you better figure out quick.  This is going to affect all of our lives in the US, and even the lives of those around the world since the dollar is the benchmark currency.  I suggest you figure out what it is very soon, and thus how you feel about it.  It didn't work all that well in Japan by anyone's estimation, or even here in the US during the first quantitative easing.  But we are looking at essentially printing money in the amount of 1/4 GDP into the economy.  So all I'll say here is at least know what it is and where you stand.  

This is a recurring point of discussion in many news outlets and econ classes for a very good reason.  Printing money naturally leads to inflation, which has certain consequences . . . 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Economics and E-Books

For my economics class this semester, I was presented with a choice of a traditional textbook or a digital book for half-price (and no shipping).  I chose the digital textbook for many reasons, not just the price.  For starters, I hate carrying a bunch of extra weight around every semester.  This way, I can carry the laptop and that's it.  It's one less thing to clutter up my kitchen island, one less potential target for happy-face stickers, one less giant paperweight at the end of the semester.  Not to mention that nobody had to print the book or inventory the book or ship it.  

It's sort of fitting for an e-book to be offered for an economics class.  The marginal cost is essentially zero (translation: the publisher can make as many copies as they want and it won't cost them anything more than it did for the first one), it's much less capital-intensive to produce, and the barriers to entering the e-book market are virtually nonexistent.  

However, the first principle of economics is that people face tradeoffs.  Who's losing out on this transaction?  At least in the world of fiction, the authors are, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal.  Although authors now get a higher percentage of the sale, the overall sales price of an e-book is much lower than a paper book, so the net effect is a decrease in author payments.  In addition, people so far are more likely to buy an e-book from a well-established, popular author than a newbie.  The bookstore browsing model just doesn't exist much yet on the internet.  Libraries are also getting worried.  And there are the publishing houses, of course.  

My best guess is that the business of books will work itself out the way that music has with the advent of .mp3's and iTunes.  Marketers will have to get creative, of course, with emerging authors.  But it's anyone's guess as to when that will happen, or if the situation will find a way to right itself before authors and libraries start to get out of the book business.  What do you think?  Have you read an e-book lately?  Some people will inevitably prefer the weight and smell of an old dusty hardcover to the sanitary landscape of a Kindle.  But then again, people used to like typewriters too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The BlackBerry, my Frenemy

Last week, my company-issued BlackBerry Curve 8310 died.  When I say it died, I don't mean that something malfunctioned; it simply would not turn on anymore.  I was secretly excited.  I figured I'd have a glorious carefree weekend without my electronic tether.

After all, the BlackBerry (affectionately known in our household as the Crackberry; I have no idea who coined the term but we adopted it as our own)  has been both the bane of and the panacea to my existence since it arrived at our household. My husband brought the first one home from work in 2004.  It was a curious  thing, and while I was impressed with its possibilities back then, it was also the chief relationship-interrupter.  It would go off and my partner would drop everything.  I found myself wanting to sabotage it and did everything I could  to get him to ignore it.  In fact, when we went on vacation in Hawaii, I intentionally buried my nemesis in a pile of dirty laundry in hopes that he wouldn't hear it.

A few years later, I was nine months' pregnant and my RAZR3 died.  By this time I was lusting after the QWERTY keyboard and it now had access to the web.  Thus began the "love" portion of the show.  Through  the next few months, when stay-at-home moms became my idols and I truly realized how amazing and rare that talent was, my new CrackBerry became the one connection I had to the outside world.  I could breastfeed and check on the world news (which I was in no emotional position to check), read and surf the Web, chat with a friend, anything to get through that first few months.

As I went back to work, the CrackBerry further embedded itself in my life.  I received one for work shortly thereafter.  At first, it was great because I could answer little emergencies without firing up my dinosaur of a laptop which took 20 minutes to load.  I did start to observe, however, that perhaps I was spending a bit too much time paying attention to the CrackBerry and not, say, having a conversation.  It was all too easy to confuse the urgent with the important.

Then the project at work got really crazy and my work CrackBerry started competing for my time with my child.  Back to hating it I went.  I would have done anything to go back to the RAZR; everyone expected that I read their email as soon as I got it.  It is much easier to ask someone to work the weekend over email which seems less confrontational than actually having to talk to the person to do it, right?  Soon I was working during almost every time my daughter went down for a nap.

Lately, my husband and I are still in the process of learning to balance our electronic ball and chains with our personal lives.  This certainly got worse when we bought iPhones for our personal use, to the point where our daughter, at 27 months, already tells us "No phone.  I here" when we get sucked in.  Fortunately, that all-too-embarrassing and telling moment is rare around here.  If we were never admonished, it would be even better.

At some point, we learned to turn the darn things off and to stop picking them up in our downtime.  Life got a lot less crazy.  We still do our share of zoning out from time to time, but we've realized our time with each other is a lot more important than what someone posted on Facebook or the latest work disaster.  We pick them up when we know there's something in particular going on for work, but those weekends are the exception rather than the rule.

All of which led me to anticipate a blissfully ignorant weekend.  I did have my blissfully ignorant weekend, but I guess I haven't been noticing how many of those I've been having recently, so it was not all that different until Monday morning when I realized I had no idea where I was supposed to be.  Did I have a meeting?  Where was it?  Somehow it really turned into my day-planner more than anything.

I'm not sure whether the smartphone has affected me in a positive or negative way.  In some respects, my attention span is surely shorter than it used to be, but at least I am more prompt.  As a society, we consume an astonishing array of information, but what we have gained in breadth, we might have lost in depth.  When was the last time you read an entire newspaper instead of skimming the headlines on a website?  Do these grown-up toys make our lives more enjoyable for what we can do with them, or have they killed our ability to find joy?  What do you think?  I'm sitting on the fence for now (with Pandora playing in the background, skimming the Wall Street Journal . . . )

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back to school

When I tell people that I'm also a mom (if I'm at school) or that I'm going to school (to one of my mom friends), the reaction is usually about the same: "OMG!! R U SERIOUS?" Then the classmates ask me How can you Possibly Handle a Kid with school, or the moms ask how it's going and how I manage, because they're thinking about going back. Or they secretly also think I'm nuts.

Let me explain how it works. I am not and never will be Superwoman. However, mommyhood gives you an edge over the average student. Whether you want to or not, you learn time management. As in if you do not drop whatever else it is you're doing RIGHT THIS SECOND, your kid is going to run into traffic / impale the cat / throw your favorite shoes into the toilet or God-knows-what else. So there is no option to study while your kid is awake. There is only naptime and nighttime (occasionally poopytime if it's a big one, sorry folks) so you better get it straight. This ongoing situation has made me terribly productive and aware of how valuable any free second actually is.

I had lots of time to get it right before having a child. Seven years of college to be exact. I think I spent a year of that between the gym and the bar. Those days are gone, baby!

This translates into being better at being a student in the following ways:
1. So what if I have to start reading the textbook two weeks before class? That's the only way I'm going to cover the course material, and this is how I chose to spend my free time.
2. Anything that doesn't involve Special Agent Oso is incredibly absorbing and interesting. Really. Anything.
3. Group time in group projects is double time to get it done. Any minute spent in group time is time I could be spending with my kid. And I'd most likely rather be spending time with my kid. So if you're in my group and you want to flirt with another person in my group, you sure as hell better be doing it outside of group time, or I am going to go Chuck Norris on your ass.
4. I have learned to give up most things that are not important or interesting. My time is filled up with the important and interesting, which is a really fun way to live. So yes I probably missed the Lakers game. But I can analyze a 10-Q.
5. In all this busyness and chasing after the kiddo and schoolwork, I have also learned to be patient. Patient enough to take one class at a time and no summer classes . . . which means I will be graduating . . . not anytime soon. And that's just fine.

What do you think? If you had to do college again now, if you have a child, or even if you don't, would you be better at it the second time around?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Science Embassy: Guest Post: Wilbur and Orville's Mom

Just as I was about to start my own blog, I ended up doing a guest blog. Life is strange that way.

The Science Embassy: Guest Post: Wilbur and Orville's Mom: "Introducing fellow science diplomat Natalie Straup. As we add more writers to this blog I will continue to update a list of diplomats on th..."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This is a blog about the three main aspects of my life right now: being a mommy, working full-time, and pursuing an MBA at the same time. It's not easy, but it's what I do, and it's not rocket science (which is part of what I do at work). Hopefully you'll get a little bit of everything out of this.

I became a mom in May 2008. I thought I would morph into the perfect, quintessential mom the moment I gave birth. That's not exactly what happened. What really happened is that eventually, my daughter taught me what is important in life, which turned out to be something different than what I thought it was. That process is still ongoing.

As far as work goes, I can best describe myself as someone who has career ADD. I have a BS and an MS in Mechanical Engineering. As far as I knew at graduation, this would mark the end of the learning process and the beginning of 30 or 40 years of running around in a lab coat and solving the world's problems. How funny that seems to me now! I always imagined myself as a working mom. However, the picture a DINK (dual-income no kids) husband or wife has of a working mom in their head does not quite capture the reality. It has its really wonderful moments and its not-so-great ones.

On top of all this and struggling with a post-partum mood disorder, (I will get to that at some point), I decided what I really needed was a Masters in Business Administration. Seriously. You can stop the chortling now. At the time, I was a bit bored with my current job (see ADD reference above), my husband was in his last semester of business school, and it looked like something interesting that had relatively little to do with what I was working on then, but enough to get someone to pay for it. Three cheers for working for a big corporation! I'm about to start my third semester. I've learned what works and some things that my family would definitely prefer I not take on. At the end of the first semester, I think I found the real reason I enrolled in business school. I want to make a difference in the world for the better, for my daughter and for everyone in a tangible way. I have always fantasized about working for a non-profit company, but I think I've found a way to help the world through business. That sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Save the planet! Save the people! Save the bottom line! Are these things really symbiotic? We shall see . . .