Tag Archives: assistant professor

How I survived my first semester as assistant prof (with a new baby)

19 Dec


First of all, the job as assistant professor is all mine, but the baby is very much shared with my husband.

Earlier this year I gave birth to a baby boy and two months later I started my new position as an assistant professor in biology at San Francisco State University. Several people have asked me how I managed to combine the baby and the new job and not go insane (*).

The first semester is over, our baby is 6 months old, and I didn’t go insane. I taught a class, submitted a paper, wrote a grant proposal, went to a conference (baby & husband came along!) and served on a search committee. In fact, I enjoyed the semester (but now it is time for a break!)

Here are some of the things that made it possible.

1. My husband, because he never thinks that taking care of a baby is something that only women should do.

2. Facebook, the company where my husband works, because they give men and women four months of parental leave to be taken any time during the first year. Knowing that my husband could take time off during my first semester as a professor made a big difference, because we didn’t know how things would work out with work, teaching, nanny, and baby. Without the generous parental leave from Facebook, I would not have started my job this semester, instead, I would have started the new job 6 months later. Also thanks to his parental leave, he and baby could travel with me to the conference I went to on the East Coast.

3. My colleagues at SFSU because they did not put any pressure on me this semester. They understood when I missed department meetings or when I didn’t show my face on campus for days in a row. Maybe it helped that many of the professors in my department are women with kids.

4, Professional help. We live far away from our families, so we depend on professional help with childcare. We had a night nanny early on, which really helped us get some sleep. Then when the baby was two months old we hired a full-time nanny. We could not have combined work and parenting if we wouldn’t have hired these amazing professionals.

5. Saying no. I only taught one class. I did no reviews. I started no new projects. I accepted only one student in my lab and this only in the second half of the semester. I didn’t buy furniture for my office space yet. I didn’t go to our departmental seminars. I only had lunch with colleagues a few times. These things will have to change next semester!


*I think that often, behind such a question (“how do you do it?”) is the tacit assumption that I, as the woman, do most of the caring for the baby. This is not the case. My husband does just as much, if not more.

My husband and I were both at home for the first two months after our baby was born, but I usually hear: “Wow, you went back to work after only two months?”, whereas he hears: “Wow, how cool that you were home for two full months!”

So if you are wondering how it was for me to go back to work after two months of being at home with our newborn, you should really be asking my husband the same thing. Maybe he’s interested in writing a blog too.


10 reasons why I am thrilled about my new job at SF State University

13 Apr

A few days ago I signed a contract with SF State University to become an assistant professor in their Biology Department. I am soooo happy about this!


In case you are not an academic biologist, you may not realize that jobs as assistant professor, especially in nice places such as San Francisco, are very hard to get. I sent out many applications (not just in SF, but all over the US and in Europe) before I got this job. But now I feel like I hit the jackpot! Here are some of the reasons why I am so excited.

  1. I will not have to apply for jobs next year. During the last three winters I have spent a lot of time and energy applying for jobs and flying to interviews (if I was lucky to get invited). Next year I won’t even be reading the ads!
  2. I don’t have to move to the other side of the country (or globe) or leave beautiful California, or choose between my job and my husband’s job!
  3. As an assistant professor, I will be running my own independent group (tradition says that this group will be referred to as the “Pennings Lab”). Even though I have had amazing advisors during my scientific career, I look forward to being my own boss.
  4. As part of the job, I will be teaching again, and my teaching will count for my evaluations and for getting tenure[1]. I really like teaching, but in the last couple of years I didn’t teach at all, knowing that only more publications on my CV would really help me to get the job I wanted to get.
  5. I will be teaching students from a wide variety of backgrounds, which will be exciting. I expect to learn a lot about the US from these students.
  6. I will be in the same department as Kimberley Tanner, who does research on biology education and who convinced almost everyone in the department to take a one-week HHMI funded course on scientific teaching. She also wrote this useful paper on equity in the classroom (http://www.sfsusepal.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CBE-13-06-0115-Revised.pdf).
  7. I will have great colleagues to collaborate with. For example, there is someone in the SFSU Biology Department who is interested in evolution of HIV (Joseph Romeo), there is also someone who is interested in molecular evolution and who runs a “dry lab[2]” just like I will (Scott Roy), and there are several people in the department who are interested in adaptation in natural populations. Plenty of opportunities for new collaborations!
  8. I’ll still be close to Stanford and look forward to continuing my collaborations with Dmitri Petrov and Bob Shafer and their groups. I will also continue to be part of the Bay Area Population Genomics community.
  9. At SFSU I will get help with writing grant proposals (for example, they pay other scientists to pre-review my grants if I have them ready on time), but I don’t necessarily need to get an R01 or similarly big grant to get tenure.  Given the current funding situation, this may save me from a lot of pre-tenure stress.
  10. I will be part of a department where 38% of the professors are female. I don’t know of any biology department with that many women.


[1] I will come up for tenure after 6 years. If I get tenure, I will become associate professor and later I can be promoted to full professor.

[2] A “dry lab” is a group of biologists working only with computers. The opposite, a “wet lab” is mostly used to refer to molecular or cell biology labs. One of the first questions I always got in interviews was: “Will you be running a wet lab, or just a dry lab?” I recently learned that mathematicians call our “dry labs” “computer labs” in stead.