2016 in review...

I have to admit that 2016 was a bit of a rough year; and not in the John Oliver "F$%k 2016" because of Brexit and Trump's election kind of way (although there is that too). Rather happenstances at work coupled to the realities of being a relatively new dad conspired to complicate things.

As parents we learned that 'with mobility comes great responsibility'. Once our son was able to run around the apartment, gone were the days of being able to sit down and read or use a PC. As I should have expected - though perhaps hadn't fully appreciated - this led to an utter tanking of at-home productivity. In fact, I daresay that 2016 is the least 'productive' year I've had since becoming an adult. Don't get me wrong, a large part of the reason that I left academia was because I felt that the poor work-life balance wasn't justifying the rewards. Here I'm talking about the ability to do anything at home - be it work, hobbies, blogging, etc. Also, because we've been more-or-less sticking to a 'no-screens' policy, I've pretty much fallen off of the face of the earth when it comes to staying in contact with folks via FaceBook or email.

I knew that having a child would mean giving up a lot of free time, but I've seen other folks manage to continue productive postdocs or careers whilst being new parents. Unless you count watching the entire run of The Sopranos in short bursts once the baby was put to bed and the kitchen was cleaned, I did little at home, work or play. I know, I know - this probably shouldn't be a big deal, and again, I should've expected it. But as someone who, as a postdoc, used to work most weekends, I really felt like I was accomplishing nothing.

Things kind of took a weird turn career-wise as well: organizational changes and reprioritization of objectives led to my main project shifting unexpectedly. I was quite passionate about what I was doing and, unfortunately, it did bum me out. On the plus side, this forced me to learn a number of new skills and explore a completely new field. Thankfully, things are looking up for 2017 as I'm actively working on multiple manuscripts detailing our work on my 'passion project' and it looks like I'll be heading up some more exciting stuff.

I feel like I tell myself this every year, but my main goal for 2017 is to better balance the demands of work, family, and play. First, I'm crossing my fingers here, but I assume that our son will soon (eventually?) be able to occupy himself sufficiently such that I can get a little more work done here and there. You know, to keep treading water if nothing else. Second, I've always been pretty bad about staying in contact with folks via email, but as mentioned above in 2016 I fell off of the map. To be fair, our 'no screens' policy has a lot to do with this, but I don't think that becoming a hermit will do anything to help with my feelings of accomplishing nothing. Oh, and as always, I want to get back to blogging. Though I've wanted to get back to blogging since like 2009[1].

I'm not calling these resolutions, because those typically fail. Instead, I think that my holiday break is as good a time as any to adjust my priorities and objectives such that I can achieve as many of them as possible. All of this being said, I realize that I'm basically building a house of cards atop the expected behavior of a toddler. Plan B will be to start pounding two cans of Monsterâ„¢ every day instead of one. 

[1] I have a good reason for wanting to blog. As I may have mentioned before, writing is a skill that benefits from regular maintenance. When I was blogging and writing papers regularly, sentences and ideas flowed much more naturally then they do now. If you want to get good at coding, code every day. Same goes for writing, no? Alternatively, I may just be getting old. Well, I'm certainly getting old.

Reflections on parenthood: one year in...

Our son recently had his first birthday, marking a milestone that I felt was worth reflecting upon. In some ways, the past twelve months have felt like five years, despite all of the talk about kids growing up so fast. In other ways, it's also been pretty fulfilling.

The best part of being a parent is seeing our son go through the fascinating stages of childhood development: beginning as a helpless, chubby little thing, but soon figuring out how to sit up, crawl, walk, and eventually, say a few words. Folks who know me also know that I generally haven't been a 'kid person', but things are completely different when it's your own. He gets so excited whenever he learns to do something new that it's infectious, and lasts for weeks afterwards. I've avoided being that annoying parent on Facebook, but the family's been receiving their regular dose of baby pics and videos.

As noted in a previous post, we've also discovered that we have a very active baby. As he's stumbled upon new modes of locomotion, he's become less-and-less interested in sitting still in his high-chair, stroller, or car seat. We're currently visiting my family in Canada, and I don't think that the grandparents quite realized how tiring it can be to follow him around for hours, as he tries to pull on everything, whether nailed down or not. You very quickly realize how much more effort this takes when you're visiting a non-baby-proofed home.

In retrospect, this is the aspect of parenthood that I was least prepared for: the complete inability to accomplish anything while our son is awake. On a typical weekday, the baby goes to bed sometime between 7 - 8:30 pm. By the time we've cooked dinner and cleaned up, it's easily 10. I know that many folks try to get in a few hours of work before bedtime, but sadly, I've been terrible at doing this. On a good night, my gf and I get in a 30 - 60 minutes of Netflix before one of us passes out. This has also had a pretty serious impact on my fitness routine and, sadly, I've begun to fall into 'dad bod' territory.

I work with several new parents and, from our discussions, I know that I'm not alone. We all feel the challenge of working in positions with semi-frequent spikes in workload and we all have a hard time taking our work home with us. As I've lamented before, living in the Bay Area necessitates existing in a two-income household, and I have no idea how some people can maintain the work demands of a postdoc or academic position without some form of extra-party solution [1]. I know that having local family available to take care of the baby once-in-a-while would make a huge difference for us: we've only hired the services of a babysitter once in the past 12 months, and it was wonderful.

We knew that having a kid would be a life-changing event. But, depending on where you live and your support situation, I think that it can be far more 'life-changing' than expected. Regardless, things are looking up, and our son seems to be falling asleep a little bit easier and sleeping a little longer (those 5:30 am mornings were awful). 'Fingers-crossed', but in a few more months he may actually be able to tell us what he wants, leading to fewer struggles to make him happy.

Now our attention has shifted from simply keeping him alive to seriously thinking about the future: if San Francisco and its surroundings continue on their current course, no reasonable amount of two-person income may get us to where we want to be in terms of living conditions, and unfortunately, we may have to begin considering alternatives.

[1] One extra-party solution that I've seen quite regularly is that of the 'au-pair' babysitter. This requires providing room-and-board, so it's not doable without a multi-bedroom house or condo. But even if we had the appropriate conditions, I'm not sure how I'd feel about the whole thing in general. You feel bad enough sending your kid to daycare without having a "substitute mom" around 14 hours a day.

Where did the time go?

This past Saturday, my gf and I went for a walk along a beautiful nature trail that happens to be near our place. We buckled our now 10-month old son into his stroller and started along the path. Around the 25 minute mark, he began shrieking [1]. See, he doesn't like to be in his stroller for very long - he'd rather be held. Except that that doesn't last very long either, and then he'd rather crawl around on the ground for a while... You get the idea. 

However, what I really wanted to discuss was this couple that we saw as we were walking back to the car. They had a kid about a the same age as ours, sitting in one of those three wheel activity buggies, and they jogged past us. They were JOGGING. I couldn't believe it. It was was so mind-blowing to us that we're still bringing it up days later. 

There's a reason that I haven't blogged, or posted much on Facebook, or done anything much, really, during the past three months: I'm always exhausted. I mean really tired - more tired than I think that I've ever been.

The baby books I read suggested that we could expect our kid to start sleeping through the night sometime between three and six months. Ha! We're lucky if he sleeps three hours in a row [2]. I'm probably getting about 6 hours of sleep per night at best, and my gf isn't even getting that. It's kinda crazy because we'd been doing so well from months three to seven. Then it all started going downhill.

It's amazing how chronic sleep deprivation will sap your productivity and ambition. Work, home, life in general - you name it - I want to get more done, but I just don't have the willpower. I have bags under my eyes. I've fallen asleep at work [3]. I've got a lot to write up at work, and forming coherent sentences is surprisingly challenging.

I can't imagine doing this as a postdoc. The baby needs constant attention and given that my gf is more sleep-deprived than I am, it wouldn't be fair for me to leave her alone with our son so that I could get more work done. It's a good thing that work-life balance is better in industry, but I still feel like I'm doing all the running that I can do to stay in the same place.

I think that both my gf and I feel like we're losing touch with the outside world. It's conceivable that people actually think we've moved away or something. Everyone is still telling us that this phase will pass, and that eventually we'll start getting more sleep as well as being able to do more in general. I cannot wait. 

[1] Like clockwork.

[2] Don't worry, we've been to all of the necessary pediatric checkups. He's fine - but, unfortunately, an unstable sleeper.

[3] Conveniently, we have these beds that anyone can use for napping purposes. Silicon Valley tech companies, eh?  

A fond farewell and new beginnings...

Last week, I finally bid farewell to my lab at Stanford, thus ending my five-and-a-half years of being a postdoc. As excited as I am to move on, it was a bit bitter-sweet: I'm leaving friends and a location where I've become quite comfortable. (To be fair, I'm moving to a job ~20 miles away, so it's not like I'll never see my friends again or anything.) I'm also leaving some projects 'hanging', though I hope to be involved in seeing them through to completion when folks in the lab are able to finish up the required bench-work.

In order to start my new job (see below), I've had to renew my American work visa, so my significant other and I took a brief 'baby-moon'[1] to Vancouver, BC. I did my M.Sc. at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, and I hadn't been back in 10 years. I remember Vancouver as the most beautiful city in Canada, and I wasn't disappointed: the downtown core remains amazingly clean and welcoming compared to other cities where I've lived. 

It's interesting to think that both Vancouver and San Francisco suffer from the common problem of being located on peninsulas, preventing the sort of suburban sprawl associated with less expensive locales. However, it looks like Van is handling this better by encouraging the construction of modern high-rises to meet housing demand. San Fran appears very apprehensive about construction in general, but it's difficult to see how anyone could consider these buildings 'ugly'. Also, it's not as though their presence is changing the charm of the traditional neighborhoods like Gastown or Davie Village - at least from the tourist perspective. I'm not expert on the causes of the exorbitant cost of living in the SF Bay Area, but it does strike me as obvious that improving public transit while allowing higher-density housing would help a lot[2].

Now that the visa situation is taken care of, I can talk about my new job: I'm going to be working as a computational research scientist at Counsyl, a South San Francisco-based genomics company that specializes in non-invasive genetic screening, such as is used for family-planning, checking fetal health (something our 'family' did recently), and cancer risk assessment. Non-invasive screening of cell-free DNA in the blood is a relatively new field that offers amazing opportunities for detection and monitoring of diseases that previously required surgeries and biopsies. It's a brand-new field for me, so I've been doing a lot of background reading to get myself up to speed. I have to admit that I'm somewhat excited about being able to tell people that I work on human health related problems, rather than trying to explain how studying yeast regulatory evolution will unlock the mysteries of the phenotype[3].

So there you have it. Unlike in academia, I'm certain that I won't be at liberty to discuss the specifics of my work here, but I'll try to post about the the field and the generalities of switching to industry science when I can.

[1] I was only made aware of the concept of this 'pre-baby' trip last week, so it's fortuitous that we'd already planned one.

[2] Vancouver is also an expensive city, but a quick Craigslist search reveals that it's nowhere near as bad as SF. I recently read a book, The Gated City, that spends a lot of time explaining that the entrenched interests of the Bay Area benefit greatly from the high-price of housing, and have fought mightily to institute NIMBY laws allowing them to resist any type of change. It also strikes me that fewer people drive in Van as compared to SF as the downtown streets are far less congested. Don't even get me started about all the misguided 'environmentalists' around here who don't understand that urban areas are actually good for the macro-environment.

[3] By no means have I lost my interest in evolution, nor in how phenotypic mysteries will ultimately be unlocked.