Tag Archives: San Diego

The Dual Science Job Hunt: California Called & We Want to Go Back (Part 2)

Spring/Summer 2017: We had decided to make a lifestyle move and were actively hunting for jobs. After what felt like ages of radio silence, we started getting (a lot of) feedback. We had promising opportunities in Monterey & San Diego and were about 90% certain we would be moving back to California. 


I traveled to Monterey again for a second interview at NPS. On Thursday night I sent Lauren’s CV to some people at NRL Monterey. Friday around noon (9am California time) Lauren’s phone starts ringing off the hook, culminating with an off the cuff interview with a branch head from NRL MRY who happened to be in DC on the same day. They were super excited about having a young scientist aboard, her work was relevant and fit well, and they explained they have had a hard time getting people to move to Monterey. It’s expensive and pretty isolated. The prospect of a young family with two science incomes was very exciting because the family would have enough income to afford an actual house! We would also probably love it there and want to stay, or in other words, they wouldn’t go to the effort of interviewing and hiring Lauren for nothing. We got pretty excited but tried to keep our other options open. In the end, it didn’t work for Monterey. I was offered a job at NPS, but it was only 25% covered rather than the 75% I was looking for. I would need to raise 75% of my salary myself and there would be no start-up assistance. The other job I interviewed for was much better (and almost impossible to come by – 75% hard money, light teaching load, and a federal position – people called it a unicorn job). But my lack of teaching experience really shone through during the interviews. Lauren has an interview scheduled for what seems to be a great job at NRL MRY, but ultimately I couldn’t say yes to coming up with so much of my own funding in such an expensive town. I turned NPS down and we closed our door to Monterey… for the time being. Long after this episode, at a scientific meeting, the folk from NPS approached me and informed me that the 75%-covered job was still open and asked if I was still interested. If only the stars had aligned!

San Diego:

It goes without saying that we have many happy memories in San Diego, so of course we jumped at an opportunity to return.

Joey got an ear infection and couldn’t go to school. We called Lauren’s mother at the last minute and she came up on the evening train to stay with him because the next day, we gave talks at NRL to visiting upper management from SPAWAR (the San Diego lab). We were effectively starting our interviews for San Diego at our current place of work, in front of the management who were choosing to let us go, who were simultaneously schmoozing our potential future bosses. It was a little weird. The San Diego people were great – enthusiastic about our interests and eager to help us both find a home at SPAWAR. We spend quite a bit of time, including a memorable airport dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl, liaising with the SPAWAR folks in DC on Thursday and Friday. The irony that we were using her parents’ proximity to help us interview for jobs further afield did not escape Lauren. We wondered how San Diego would work.

Lauren and I both flew to San Diego separately for formal interviews at SPAWAR. It was July 2017. We were excited to catch up with old friends and PhD advisers, and to learn more about what the jobs would be like. When Lauren flew to San Diego, she was simultaneously eager to learn more about Newport (which she hadn’t visited yet, but I had been verbally offered a job there) and was stalling turning down the NRL MRY job as it had seemed extremely appealing. We realized that at this point we were much better at job applications, interviews, and job talks than we were when we started this roller coaster in January. SPAWAR had a different feel to NRL. We weren’t completely convinced that we could blaze our own scientific path in the fashion we wanted, although we were quite sure that the jobs were very good options. The interviews at SPAWAR go well, and living in San Diego with its ocean activities, glorious sunsets, many friends and colleagues, and abundance of burritos was tempting. Very tempting.

“Simon’s boss seems to have given up all hope of us staying and is telling people prematurely that we are moving to California. The increasing amount of red tape, frustration, and failed promises reinforces our decision to leave NRL DC. I talk to our realtor about selling our house.”

 This is part of a multi-part series on our dual job hunt and move – stay tuned and check out

Part 1: A Challenging Year

Part 2: California Called & We Want to Go Back

Part 3: What’s so Great About Newport?

Part 4: New State, New Jobs, New Home

Part 5: Welcome to New England

Part 6: The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

Part 7: Finding Our Newport House

The Annual Honeymoon

We’ve written about our vacation deal before – we promised one another before we were parents that every year we had dependent children, we would go on at least one vacation without them. So far we’ve managed to pull it off, and one of our friends started to use the term “annual honeymoon.” It is a perfect description of why we do this.

The point isn’t to get away from our kids – we adore them both, and we love spending time with them. The point is to spend time focused on ourselves and each other. You know – what we used to do all of the time before we were Joey’s Mom and Blake’s Dad. We had full lives with hobbies and activities. We’ve been fortunate enough to find ways to carry on most of those hobbies with our little explorers, but in some cases it just can’t be done. Scuba diving comes to mind (and will be featured in the 2017 honeymoon…!).

That’s why we have the annual honeymoon. Special bonding time for me and Simon, to keep our relationship happy and healthy so that we can best serve our family. Special bonding time for the older and younger generation, where the grandparents are given full control and the grandchildren receive exotic treats like juice for breakfast, pet fish, and all the educational toys they can get their little hands on. It is always hard to leave, but wonderful to come home well rested and energized to hear of their adventures at the Grammy & Papa resort.

We have been long due for a honeymoon, as our last was a dive trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia in December 2014/January 2015 (it was a big enough trip that we counted it for both years). Blake arrived in December 2015 – making it tricky to plan a trip in 2016. Fortunately, a good friend planned a New Year’s Eve wedding in San Diego and gave us the perfect excuse to fly as a duo at the end of the year, just after Blake had cleared his first birthday.

In our four day trip, we visited old friends, favorite restaurants, and re-lived many of our graduate school dates. (Most of them involve take-out burritos and a hike on cliffs overlooking the sea). We had hours of time to talk to one another without interruption. We didn’t worry about nap time or bedtime, and slept late in the morning. The wedding was beautiful. It was time and money well spent. There is truly nothing better to come home to than my sweet boys’ smiles and hugs.

Oh, and Dory the pet fish lives at Grammy and Papa’s house now 😉


When Travel Doesn’t Go As Planned Part 2: Be Calm & Be Kind

We made it home! In time for Simon to start his new job! With most of our things!

After our last post, the comedy of errors continued including a rental car with no child seats (did you know that rental agencies are not obliged to guarantee child seats?, and that if you try hard enough, priceline will refund prepaid ‘nonrefundable’ rental car fees?), lost diaper covers, awkward seating assignments on flights, Blake being kicked out of a bar (too intoxicated), etc.

But something strange happened. After the first few days of everything seeming to go wrong, Simon & I stopped being stressed. We accepted the situation, paying an extra $1700 for flights, and moved forward calmly. We worked together to manage the safety, happiness, and well-being of our family first. We met many friends and colleagues along the way who were always surprised when we said our trip was full of things going wrong. “But you seem so calm and happy!” they said. Truthfully… we were.

The biggest reason is that we were with our kids, and my strong feeling is that happy parents make happy babies, and happy babies make everything easier. We both work hard to achieve family happiness at all times, but especially during travel and times of stress. The side effect of ensuring that the boys get time to play outside, timely meals, naps, and bedtime, is that we experience many of the calming benefits and are able to better handle the various fires being thrown at us.

In addition, we had a lot of good things happening alongside the fires. We had productive meetings with colleagues; Simon got good experimental data, we gave various talks, brown bags, and seminars at Scripps and at the International Coral Reef Symposium that were well received; we enjoyed quality family time in beautiful places; and we had happy reunions with friends.

Something else special happened on this trip though. In our times of great duress, we received unexpected assistance from strangers. Random acts of kindness that meant so much given our compromised state:

  • The strangers that switched seats with us on the red-eye flight from LA to DC so that our family could sit together in one row
  • The Virgin America flight attendant that provided six little bottles of water when we desperately needed it for the kids
  • The baggage claim clerk that helped me move all of our luggage to the street to meet Simon with the rental car and I was alone with Blake
  • The collection of Brazilian scientists at ICRS that happily held & played with Blake during the last night banquet for an hour while Simon & I ate and made friends with them
  • The friends-of-friends that offered to take photos of our whole family on our last day  (and only day on the North Shore!)
  • The cleaning staff at both hotels we stayed at, who were amazing about providing extra towels and coming back repeatedly so as not to disturb our napping children when cleaning the room

That’s not to mention all of our friends and family that stepped in, whether or not we asked, to play with Joey, hold Blake, and in general help us out immensely. Japanese grammy came all the way from New Zealand to Hawaii to look after the boys during the meeting. She did the typical grammy thing – spoil Joey rotten with care and attention – so that now Joey wants to “go back to Hawaii”. Why? “Obaasan”.

Those relatively small kindnesses made all of the difference for these strung-out parents that wanted to bring their kids on a work trip. Kindness matters most to those who need it. Look for the need and pay it forward. You might be in the needful position some day.

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When Travel Doesn’t Go As Planned

I wanted to call this “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” but I’m pretty sure my mom reads it.

You may have gathered that we have taken to the air again with our two kiddos and are currently in Hawaii. The lack of a pre-departure post is a fair indicator of our lack of organization for this trip.

Joey collects Macrocystic kelp on the beach in La Jolla

Usually, I am a super-planner. Every detail thought out, from snacks for everyone on the plane to printing out hotel confirmations and addresses ahead of time (or more recently, saving them to my iPhone). Simon is surprised if I cannot spout off our itinerary in detail at any point on an adventure.

This trip was not well planned. In fact, it coalesced together in a messy fashion after we both were given slots for conference talks at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu this week. From there, we slowly added on items. We decided to bring both boys & a dedicated care giver (Japanese Grandma!). We decided to come to Honolulu early to use rewards nights at the Marriott for our anniversary, and to stay the weekend after the conference with friends on the North Shore of Oahu. Somewhere along the way, we had the idea to make a long layover in San Diego en route to Hawaii where we would visit Scripps to give talks, catch up with friends & colleagues, and Simon would collect some data off the pier while we were at it. So in summary, in two weeks we would visit two cities, stay in six different places, do a wide variety of work things, vacation with our kids, and catch up with friends.


If we had gotten on our original flight to Honolulu, we wouldn’t have had this beautiful cliff top picnic on our last night in San Diego
Joey likes al pastor tacos the best







What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot:

  • We forgot toothpaste
  • We didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have childcare in San Diego for all of those talks and experiments & had to modify our plans at the last minute
  • Joey took three days of sharing a room with Blake to nap quietly without waking his brother, much to my dismay
  • Our bags didn’t really fit in the rental car with the car seats (so I had either a large suitcase or stroller on my lap)
  • Renting car seats with the rental car is expensive & they didn’t tell us that ahead of time. In fact, our first rental car reservation added so many costs & fees that Simon elected to cancel it and find another rental car at the airport, adding nearly an hour delay before we got to our digs for the night.
  • We missed our flight from San Diego to Hawaii and had to fly standby the next day
  • On our standby flight, we were seated behind another child who spent a lot of time screaming, making it extraordinarily difficult for our non-screaming children to nap and remain well-behaved
  • We lost Simon’s wedding ring and the quadcopter (not at the same time)
  • We continue to not have baby wipes available when we need them, despite bringing at least five packages with us

I’m forever optimistic, and am inclined to now list the things that are going well. I’ll spare you bullet points, but will say that we are still having a good time and for the most part the boys are not phased by our stress and struggles.

Whether this trip is a set of unique challenges or a complete disaster depends on your point of view. For example, we found ourselves leading a discussion with graduate students about government jobs and postdocs while holding a very alert and cheerful Blake, watching Joey play with the foozball table out of the corner of our eyes. At least we’d had the foresight to suggest this event occur in the graduate student lounge? And the grad student coordinator that organized for us had kindly provided Joey’s favorite snacks (bagels) as refreshments, further sweetening the deal for him. In fact, he has been asking to go to another “work meeting” with us since.

So what do you do when your plans fall apart? Or you failed to make a plan in the first place?


Make a new plan stat.

Simon & I will waffle endlessly about things like where to go to dinner – until we get to a critical situation. Then we both switch gears and start damage control. We dish out orders to each other and the children, and follow one another’s instructions exactly.

We triage:

  1. Safety
  2. Immediate/unchangeable logistics (i.e. flight departure)
  3. Personal needs (hungry, tired, diaper change)
  4. Everything else
Blake’s first steps in the ocean. This moment alone made all of the hardship worth it, but there were many other high points along the way too.

This trip has been a healthy reminder that planning is important, but even more important is learning to roll with the punches and make the best of it. We could have let various challenges ruin this trip, but that would have been a much bigger loss overall. The kids mean that we spend more money (missed flight? better just get a new hotel and go out for lunch so the boys can eat & nap), they also keep us on the happy end of the spectrum. They achieve this magic partly because we want the best for them, including happy parents, and partly because they are delightful and they cheer us up. Joey has even started making jokes. We also have some perspective that the most challenging situations wind up being some of our favorite memories and most endearing stories later on.

That ^^ was supposed to be the end, in hopes that posting would put an end to our comedy of errors. Nope! Cue some important emails to Simon yesterday about his first day as a federal employee – not only does he have to be in the office in person with paperwork on Monday, but he needs to arrive no earlier than 7:30am and no later than 8:00am. Our flights would not get him there in time.

Both swaddle blankets dirty? No problem, use one of Daddy’s t-shirts instead. Improvising solutions to smaller problems along the way have kept our whole family much happier.

We each had our own itinerary on the same flight, and Joey was attached to Simon’s. Much of our first day at the conference was spent looking for flights, calling airlines and travel agents, and establishing that Simon really had to be at work by 8am Monday (he does). We went through a string of options and came down to the choice of 1: buying Simon a new flight home early, while I traveled alone with both boys on a red eye and really hoped that they would let me add Joey to my reservation without asking for large sums of money or 2: cancel all of our flights home and buy three seats on an earlier flight together.

I think we’ve finally learned something from the last few weeks, because we picked #2. This sadly means cutting our family fun weekend on the North Shore a little short, but based on how things were going we decided to plan conservatively.

What else can go amiss in the next few days? Stay tuned for updates 🙂




On Grad School & Science Work With a Baby

On Grad School & Science Work With a Small Baby

In Summary:

  • The later part of a PhD program can be a great time to have a baby
  • If you are married to another PhD student, you can use the flexible scheduling to your advantage x2
  • Be realistic about your goals – when someone tells you that you can get 2-4 hours of work done a day when your kid is 3 weeks old, believe them. 
  • Having a supportive partner, family, and friends makes a huge difference
  • So does your own attitude. 
  • Take advantage of the help! If people offer to bring you a meal, take your kid for a walk so you can work/nap, run a load of laundry, etc – always say yes!
  • Pay it forward when you can – always offer to help new moms in a way that makes sense to you. If babies aren’t your thing, bring over food or do a household chore 🙂
  • Don’t be afraid of childcare – it is worth the money to not have stress over being able to get work done!
  • Your baby and family are unique – work with what you have.
  • Ultimately what your family does is up to your family – no one can tell you that you were wrong. It is your responsibility to make it work.
Joey's first TG - Scripps Friday evening social hour - exactly 2 weeks old.
Joey’s first TG – Scripps Friday evening social hour – exactly 2 weeks old.

It was part luck and part careful planning, but I wound up being able to take a full 9 months off of work to spend with Joey during his first year. When he was born, Simon and I were still PhD students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I graduated when he was 3 months old, and since then have been on self-proclaimed ‘maternity leave.’ I start my new position as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow on August 25 – a couple of weeks after Joey’s first birthday.

We spent a good amount of time before getting pregnant thinking about the best time to slot in a baby or two with our career plans. Several of our professors indicated to us that the end of grad school is actually a great time – the hours are super flexible since near the end your main task is writing and editing your dissertation and associated manuscripts. This was a little tough to believe during our hectic first years of classes, but we decided to give it a shot!

Pregnant and didn't know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.
Pregnant and didn’t know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.

Soon after Simon’s and my joint field expedition to Hawaii, we found out we were pregnant with Joey.

Having a kid in grad school worked out very well for us. We had been in San Diego long enough to have a great support network, and at Scripps long enough to be established with our own shared office. We installed an electric baby swing, and within a couple weeks of Joey’s arrival we started bringing him into work with us. We would work during his naps, then feed and change him and periodically take him for walks along the beach.

Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris
Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris

We spent long hours at Scripps in the time immediately preceding our defenses. I remember still being there at 10:00pm on the night of Halloween and feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten Joey a Halloween costume, so I took a photo of him wearing a dinosaur hat. He probably missed out on a few other things during his first few months since we were so caught up in work, but he was an incredibly good sport about letting us get what we needed done, and he also wound up getting to spend his entire days with one or both of his parents. We had some excellent friend babysitters that would take him for long walks when we needed to really focus, and my mom came to stay a couple of times before we graduated to help take some of the care duties so that Simon and I could both get our work done.

Joey's sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013
Joey’s sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013

I had always intended to continue working after having kids. Simon and I dream of a joint science job somewhere beautiful along the water down the road. But after careful consultation with my advisors and assessment of our life situation, we decided to take 3 months off as a family after graduating to travel and visit Joey’s extended family/fatherland, and I stalled on my job search so that I could stay home with Joey until he was 1 year old. I’ve gotten less science work done during that time than I had hoped (two submitted papers instead of four), but more life work – updating the family photos, organizing our new townhouse, spending time with Joey and my family, and other good stuff like that.

Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle
Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle

 Now that my start date is closing in, we are tackling the hardest parenting job we have faced yet – finding Joey suitable care while we work. The first daycare we visited us bluntly informed us that Joey would cry for the first several weeks after being dropped off at their house, may not eat, and probably would stop sleeping all night because he was so distressed by the change after being spoiled by a year at home with his mama. I imagine this was a poor example of a daycare provider (we haven’t visited another yet), but it was still a crummy first experience. We took the initiative to look into other daycares, nanny-shares, and part-time babysitters. We are still searching, but slowly honing in on the best choice for our family. Thank goodness I started this hunt six weeks before my job start date!

*UPDATE 11-20-14: Joey has a wonderful nanny that we all three love. She stays with him 3-4 days a week. On the other days, Simon & I work a split schedule*

I am so grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Joey, and also so excited to be returning to full-time work soon! Sometimes it is hard to keep the long-term perspective in our sights, but usually the other of Simon or I is quick to remind the distressed person why we are making these choices. The biggest key to our happiness is being realistic – how many hours a week could one work if providing 80% of the care for a small baby? What could one achieve in that time? If it isn’t enough, how can we pull in friends or childcare professionals to help us achieve our goals?

The academic and professional science environment can be a wonderful place to have a weird schedule, accommodate a growing family, and get in a lot of cool work travel. Ultimately it is up to you the scientist to be pro-active about making the situation meet your needs.

All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.
All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.

A day in the office

After a shoutout from fellow scientist Jill, I realized I hadn’t posted in awhile.

Since my last post, I successfully navigated the qualifying exam that it described, married the love of my life in my parents backyard, and have spent most of the summer in San Diego ‘working.’

I don’t have an incredible research trip, or even really cool research results, to share with you today.  So I thought I’d go into some ramblings on what is involved when I say ‘work.’

Most days, I wake up around 8am, make breakfast and coffee at home, and eat it while I read my emails, answer anything important, skim the news online, and set out a plan for the day.  I make a little to do list on my computer, which is usually a copy of yesterday’s to do list with several additional items.  I know in making the list that I will not possibly complete all of the tasks, so I put the really important ones in boldface and decide that if I can at least achieve those, I’ve had a good day.  Then I pack my lunch, clean up the kitchen, and ride my bicycle to school.  I ensconce myself in my office with a freshly topped off water bottle and begin working through one or more of my items, which will probably involve coding on my computer.  Within an hour, I’ve reached a brick wall and write several emails asking for help.  I take the opportunity to walk down the hill from my office to our coffee cart, refill my coffee mug for $1, and either sit in the sun to read or make my way back to my office.  Around noon, I meet Simon for lunch and we find a comfortable outdoors location in which to eat and discuss our day.  If I’m still stuck in MATLAB or unix, I ask his advice (and he usually has good advice).  We talk about what time we might leave, if we want to race each other home on our bikes or not, and what we’ll make for dinner.  I then return to my office and am usually very productive for about two hours.  Around 3pm, I am feeling tired and my eyes simply do not want to look at a computer screen anymore.  Depending on how motivated I am, I will either 1- print off some papers and read them 2- go to a seminar 3- find someone to talk to about science or vaguely related things 4- go to the lab and work on my sediment samples or 5- sit placidly in front of the computer, but stare out my window watching for dolphin fins or whale spouts until it is time to leave.

On a good day, I’ll have produced nice figures in MATLAB that get me slightly closer to answering research questions.  I’ll have learned a new trick or shortcut, and have read a relevant scientific paper.

However, this peaceful schedule is often disrupted by meetings, labwork, conferences, proposal writing, applying for fellowships, seminars, and requests from help from other students.  I usually embrace these opportunities to walk around and sit in a different location for awhile (and of course- get away from my screen!)

I am learning slowly but surely that I can’t be trusted to focus on a single problem for more than three hours at a time.  I try to plan my schedule accordingly, and get a chunk of ‘work’ (that coding stuff) done once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Inevitably, I do not always succeed at this.

And while you may now be thinking “Wow, that sounds great, she has it so easy”- it is important for me to note that sometimes deadlines approach and I go back to work after dinner and all weekend.  While my day to day routine is super flexible, I have some very large things that need to be done two years from now- big research projects completed, scientific papers published, and a thesis written.  It is a little hard to ever feel like it is easy with all that over your head!

Welcome & Hello!

Thanks for checking out my new blog!

that's me in my favorite place, pretending to be a fish

I’m a silly, fun, ocean-lover, engaged to a kiwi, and going to graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.  Like many of us, I fell in love with the sea the first time I laid eyes on it as a small child.  For me, not much has changed since then.  I do what I can to organize my life and work around spending time in and on the ocean. I am in graduate school and not a dive bum because at some point I realized that people were in fact changing the face of our planet and its oceans, and I wanted to better understand what was happening and try to do something about it.

I’ll be posting on here about recent ocean science news, what kinds of things I do at ‘work,’ and ideas about how to change the world to be a little bit better.  Thanks for stopping by!