Finding a Way Back Home

Strabo, Xuanzang, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Isabella Lucy Bird, Freya Stark, Bruce Chatwin, Bekka Brodie, Viorel Popescu, Tavi Popescu, and Rex-a-roo.  All are famous travellers.  Okay, true, the last four listed (me, my family, and our dog) are not famous enough… just legends in our own minds.  We are academic nomads; in search of wisdom, experience, adventure, happiness… and the “holy grail” (AKA positions at an academic institution). However our nomadic lifestyle is coming to a close and we have finally made our voyage home.

Many academics live the traveling lifestyle for 10+ years before finally finding the “holy grail” and we are no different. Over the last 10 years we have lived in 7 different cities and 11 different rental apartments/houses (this does not include travel for fun, conferences, or research). However, the main difference is that we have unique circumstances (detailed in “The family with no country to call home” and the follow up post “Why we are a family with no country to call home“), and we have lived in 3 different countries (United States, Canada, and Romania).  Often (thanks to Skype and the Internet) we are living in one country and working in multiple other countries at the same time.  There are many blog posts about academic nomads (here, here, and here) but this post is our story.

The beautiful thing about being academic nomads are the places we have been, meaningful relationships forged, and memories we have made along the way.  While living abroad we made a point of seeing and experiencing as much as possible, often with friends and family, or with friends we have made along the way.  Just to name a few of our favourites… In Maine, U.S.A, we loved visiting Bar Harbour, Acadia National Park and the Maine coast (too many times to count).  While in the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, Canada), our favourite places were the Okanagan, Squamish, and Whistler (2010 Winter Olympics venue), and traveled to Kona, Hawaii… twice!  (One of the added benefits of being an academic nomad are having friends to visit all over the world. For us that included beautiful and tropical Hawaii; thanks Emi and Scott!). While living in Romania last year, we tightened bonds with family and friends while exploring Transylvania, Banat, but also Barcelona, Spain, and Montpellier, France. Tavi spent quality time with his grandparents (3 full months of summer vacation), and learned to speak fluent Romanian.  …Can’t think of any added benefit for Rex (and, honestly, he has “baggage” from all the traveling), but he might be one of the most well traveled dogs EVER.

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park (Maine 2010)
Aloha! (Tavi and I with friends, Scott Hamilton, Emily Knurek) (Kona, HI 2013)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy "G") (Whistler BC 2014)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy “G”) (Whistler BC 2014)
Excavation at Harrison Lake (B.C. Canada, 2013)
Brans Castle
“I vant to suck your blood… ah ah ah”  (Traveling with friends, Viorel Popescu, Antonia Musso, and Andrew Cook) (Bran Castle, Transylvania, 2015)
The Spanish Inquisition!
Dramatic Spanish architecture! (Traveling with family: Me, Ionuts Simion, Veronica Simion, and Viorel) (Barcelona, Spain 2015)

Now, we are on our way home (my home, the United States).  My husband, Viorel Popescu, and I have accepted positions at Ohio University, Athens OH (not to be confused with Ohio State University in Columbus, OH).  Luckily for us, we are good at moving… a super power we rarely get to brag about.  We can pack up in less than 1 day and can fit all of our possessions into 6 suitcases.  In fact, we have just about memorized exactly which items are packed into what suitcases; making packing even faster and more efficient.  To top it all of, Rex, has his own pet passport!  His passport helps expedite his movement through security at various layovers and into the country of our final destination.  (In this case, back to the USA… not that anyone at the border really cares about the dog because they are entirely too busy giving Viorel the third degree).

Leaving Romania, destination Athens, Ohio.
Leaving Romania with the help of family and friends ( 6 checked bags, 3 Carry-on bags, 1 dog crate [plus dog]), destination Athens, Ohio, USA! (Left to right: Cristian Tetelea, me [Rex], Veronica Simion, Tavi Popescu, and Ionut Simion)
Pet Passport_Woo
Rex-a-roo and his pet passport

We quickly adjust to our new home, (wherever that may be) thanks to Google, Skype, Facebook, family, and friends.  (Seriously, I don’t know how people did it before google: search, maps, translate, etc.).  Using the internet, we can quickly find the essentials like a home to rent, transportation, and the closest grocery store.  Family and friends helped considerably by storing our personal items, salvaging housewares, and furniture from roadside curbs and thrift stores, feeding us warm meals as we transition, and moving us.

(Photo of Tavi and Woo passed out in back of Larry's Truck, our new car and home)
Tavi and Rex passed out together while in transit to Athens, OH from Rochester NY… this is actually a very typical travel scene. Thanks Larry and Mangie!
12615 N. Peach Ridge Rd
Tavi outside our new rental (a cabin in the woods)! Thanks Danny Moates!

We can quickly assimilate into new cultures, places, people and food, but nothing prepared us for actually moving home and getting our dream job(s).  Now that we are here, our personal life has settled but our academic life has not… regardless of that coveted “holy grail”.  We are still adjusting and transitioning at Ohio University.  Viorel is navigating his role as assistant professor of conservation biology: planning lectures and teaching, recruiting graduate students, writing grants, networking, and attending meetings (a lot of meetings…).  I have been given adjunct status at OU, with an office, lab, and insect rearing room, which is more than I could have hoped for considering I only recently defended my PhD. Matt White, Biological Sciences chair at OU, was instrumental in providing all this support for me.  At the moment there are no classes for me to teach, and it is uncertain if anything will be offered in the future.  So, I am concentrating on identifying funding resources (i.e., opening my own business, Brodie Insect Science LLC!) and research.  Although we are incredibly nervous, we hope to eventually carve out places for ourselves at the university.  Go Bobcats!

Exploring Ohio University
Exploring Ohio University.

There is a saying that “travel is timeless”, and this certainly holds true for us.  Over the past 10 years we have developed meaningful relationships, seen amazing places, and made memories to last a lifetime. However, traveling (or, in our case, frequent moving) is tiring and we are happy to end our nomadic lifestyle, grow roots, and really invest in our new community. The timing could not be better for Tavi; he has started kindergarten and looks forward to making life-long friends at his new school.  As well as for Rex, who is just too old to be dragged all over the world anymore, and would prefer to spend the rest of his days napping.

This is the world as Academics know it and as we know it.  It has made us stronger, opened our eyes to new opportunities, and made us appreciate and cherish our loved ones, and above all else, we have lived.  We are not unlike the philosopher and famous great traveler, Strabo, we synthesize our own travel into a science of geography, or as he put it “the art of life, that is, happiness”.  Although we have found a home, the adventure is not over, we will continue to look forward to what is around the next corner and the voyage that awaits us… but always returning home.

Pre-school Graduation!

This time of year students all across the world are graduating from scholarly institutions, and pre-school is no exception!  Pre-school graduation has become quite popular days (I never had a pre-school graduation… or maybe I did and I don’t remember).  It’s an end of the year song, dance, and celebration with friends before beginning kindergarten.  Parents, classmates, and pre-school alumni are all invited to join in the fun. I can’t think of anything more adorable than twenty 3-5 year olds singing and dancing in not-so-complete unison!

Although my son, Tavi, didn’t graduate this year, he showed off his talents at his pre-school graduation celebration.  My husband and I checked out of the lab/office at 3pm to watch the show.  Once all the parents had arrived, the teachers funnelled the youngsters onto the stage, and using the ring of a bell, called the children’s attention and silence. (I’m still considering this method for my university students…)  With guidance from their teachers, they sang us 5 songs: Sizzle Sizzle Pop, Baby Beluga, Each Of Us Is A Flower, Roar (Katy Perry), and Happy (Pharrell Williams).  The song and dance was followed by PowerPoint slide, which featured photographs of the children playing together and all their activities for the year, field trips, arts and crafts, and outdoor games.  As a parent, it was very fulfilling to see Tavi’s progress, and all that the teachers achieved with him and his classmates this year.

The graduating (and non-graduating class) are all finishing pre-school in a tough job market.  None-the-less, they all seemed to have their priorities in order and knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grow up.  The boys overwhelmingly wanted to be firemen, with the exception of one robot builder, a superhero, and a recycling truck driver (the latter was Tavi).  The girls had more variety and aspired towards slightly higher skill levels, including teachers, princesses (personally, I’m still aspiring to be a princess since my Romanian prince proved to be a total fake), dentist, hair stylist, and a doctor.  These youngsters are all so open-minded and full of hope, we could all stand to learn a thing of two from them all!

Thank you to the teachers and young scholars!  You have all worked so hard this year!!

Sizzle Sizzle POP:

Baby Beluga:

Each of us is a Flower:

ROAR- Katy Perry

Happy- Pharrell Williams


Tavi's Teachers (left to right) Leslie, Shannon, and Poonam
Tavi’s Teachers (left to right) Leslie, Shannon, and Poonam
Baby Beluga
Singing Baby Beluga
Showing off his moves.
Showing off his moves.
Teachers Poonam (left) and Lesle (right) with pre-school class.
Teachers Poonam (left) and Leslie (right) with pre-school class.
Accepting his "degree" for completing 2 years of pre-school.  (He will graduate next year.)
Accepting his pseudo degree for completing 2 years of pre-school. (He will graduate next year.)
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi with a handful of graduating friends
Tavi with gradua
Checking out the graduation package
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi and Friends
Tavi and Friends
Tavi and his favourite Teacher, Angela
Tavi and one of his favourite Teachers, Angela

Tavi Quotes from this school year:

“Uranus (the planet)… is a gas giant.”

Specific to Pacific Rim (the movie): “Gipsy Danger!” or “Elbow Rocket!”

To his girl friend Sunday Rose, “Want to smell my B (blankie)?”  …She did not (and even made a face).

To a kindergartner in the hallway at school, “look I don’t have my potty seat anymore!  I use the urinal.”

In response to being asked to pick up his toys and put his clothes in the hamper: “I am so mistreated.”

Tavi talking to his teacher (Poonam) who was wearing stylish jeans with holes: “My jeans have a hole because they are old…  so yours (Poonam’s) must be VERY old.”

Also to his teacher, “Thanks for filling my brain!”

“Mama, Rex (our dog) opened the bottle of bubbles and spilled them on the carpet!”  (…ALL of the bubbles.)

After finding Viorel’s candy wrapper on the couch: “Mama, there’s the evidence!”

A conversation about pets:

Tavi- “Can we get a pet?”

Me- “We have a pet, Rex”

Tavi- “Oh… (Wheels in head turning) Rex is our pet.”

Me- “Well,  what did you think he was your brother?”

Tavi- …(silent contemplation)


Regarding the Gries lab: “Antonia studies mice, Catherine studies spiders, and Sean studies birds… (picture the gears turning in his head). So, what does Gerhard (our advisor) study?”


Reading the sign outside the Capilano Ecology centre, “Why can’t you have McDonalds in there?”

Last (bottom) image.
Last (bottom) image.
"Why no McDonalds?" -Tavi
No McDonald’s allowed inside the ecology centre.  All other foods “okay”.


In Romania:

After inspecting carutza si cai  (a Romanian horse and carriage): “Where’s the exhaust pipe?”

Look!  A CLASIC Romanian car (below)!

Classic Romanian Car!  (Photo: Tavi Popescu)
Classic Romanian Car! (Photo: Tavi Popescu)

Citations: [Photograph] Retrieved June 23, 2014 from

“What’s in a name?”

Recently I was asked “why didn’t you take your husbands surname, Popescu?” For me, and for my husband, it wasn’t a decision we gave much thought.  Many women in Academia keep their names for professional reasons (publications, contacts and networks, etc.).  So, in our circle, it’s not uncommon and (up until this moment) we have never felt any stigma associated with our choice.  For me, the answer was simple… I like my name.  It sounds pretty and it’s been mine my whole life.  Anything else just wouldn’t feel right.  (And if I’m being totally honest here, my name would have been Bekka Sue Popescu.  Which rhymes and sounds silly!)  Nonetheless, when I had to explain the reason for keeping my surname, the response I sometimes received was, “oh, you’re one of those people!”  Hmm…  Yeah, I guess I am one of those people.  So, this post is about finding out more about those people who choose to keep their surname.

There are many reasons for a women (and even a man) to keep, change, hyphenate or even fuse their name after marriage, and over the years, these reasons have changed dramatically.  These reasons include children, identity, career, culture, religion, aesthetics (like the sound of Bekka Sue Popescu), and hassle.  With the passage of time, changes in social and cultural norms, the weight placed on these reasons has changed dramatically too.

To start my investigation about those people, I asked friends, family, and friends of family.  As an American, and a scientist, its normal for me ask lots of questions.  This time however, the type of questions I was asking were personal… and it was hard to get people to share private information.  When I did receive responses it became obvious that many people, especially women, struggle with the question.  If was clearly great blogging material!!

Mrs. Brodie, Popescu, Brodie-Popescu, Popescu-Brodie, Brodescu?!?!
Mrs. Brodie, Popescu, Brodie-Popescu, Popescu-Brodie, Brodescu?!?!

After my initial survey, it appeared to me that the main reason older generations of women decide to change their names after marriage or, after divorce, keep their former surname was for their children.  From the responses I received women explained, “it cuts down the confusion at school” making it easier for the children because “children that had different names than their parents meant that they were out of wed-lock”.  Fifty years ago, the main reason to marry was to have children and a women’s job was to raise them.  However, with the passage of time and the acceptance of women in the work force, this stigma has been reduced (in places but not everywhere).  Many of my friends and colleagues have kept their maiden name after marriage and children were not a consideration that factored into their decision making.

Some women I interviewed wanted to accept their growth and change in identity (as wife and a mother) and take their husbands name. Even after a divorce one women’s comment was, “I wanted my child and I to be identified as a team” and kept her previous husbands surname.  Many young women, however,  explained to me that they prioritize their identity, independent of their husband and children (or future children).  One of the responses I received was, “I am many things, a friend, sister, scientist…. not just a wife and mother.”  In fact, one women admitted it was silly but that “when mail arrives for Mrs. John Smith (made up name to protect privacy), I do not regard it as having anything to do with me, for I am not Mrs. John Smith, and even get irritated by it.  It’s annoying when people make that assumption.”

Adopting your husbands name is a tradition held in English speaking countries (U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia) and a few others (South Asia and India). European countries seem to be a lot less traditional than North Americans. In most European countries, women keep their traditional surnames, in France “no one may use another name than that given on his birth certificate”.   There is more flexibility, women can adopt her husbands name or men can adopt his wife’s name; and there appears to be no social stigma (which you would most certainly find in North America). Also in Europe, there is an increasing trend for couples to live together in a committed relationship that choose never to get married because they “just don’t see the point.”

The number of women keeping their surname has been on an upward trend, peaking in the 1990’s (Kopelman, R and Prottas, D. J. 2009).  The increase is undoubtedly linked to the feminist movement (1960’s and 1970’s), the increased number of women in the work force, and the diversity of careers they hold.  Career women who have built a professional network don’t want to potentially compromise it by changing their names.   In fact, research has shown women married between the ages of 35-39 are 6.4 times more likely to keep their name (Kerns et al. 2011).  Similarly, the divorced women I’ve interviewed have kept their x-husbands surname because they had already established themselves and their career.  Additionally, although it hasn’t been investigated, I would be willing to bet the increased use of online social media (LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, etc.), which makes local and global networking (professional and personal) easier, has played a large role in women’s choice to keep their surname… it would be interesting to look for a correlation there.

Lastly, many women explained to me that they kept or changed their name for aesthetic reasons, i.e. it is pretty and they like it (or sound terrible and really don’t like it).  One of my very close friends has an Italian first name and, will only consider taking her future husbands surname if it’s Italian because “It just won’t sound right.”  She said she “would consider fusing surnames” (different than hyphenation) which is becoming a popular trend with young couples. Many women admitted that the whole thing is “just a huge hassle with all the paperwork and fees, it’s just not worth it!”  None of the women I interviewed mentioned religion, culture, or tradition affecting their choice but, undoubtedly, I’m sure they are out there!  (I’ll admit my sample size has been biased thus far!)

There are many reasons for women (and men!) choose to keep or change their names after marriage but, as I learned during my investigations, this is a very personal question.  (Additionally, I realize that asking a subsample of friends, family, and friends of family is rather biased.) It’s one of those topic’s which really fascinates me and, additionally, I’m very curious how the gay population is dealing with surnames now that marriage is legal in so many places. So I invite you all to take a brief (only 8 questions) and anonymous survey, or kindly leave a comment with your opinion on the topic.  The results from the poll will be updated on this post as the data rolls in.


Kerns, Myleah Y. 2011. North American Women’s Surname Choice Based on Ethnicity and Self-Identification as Feminists. Names- A Journal of Onomastics, 59 (2) 104-117.

Kopelman, Richard E.; Prottas, David J. 2009. The bride is keeping her name: a 35-year retrospective analysis of trends and correlates. Social behavior and personality, 37 (5) 687-700.

The Romanian Tarantula

Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770)
Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770)

The Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770), is actually not a tarantula at all!  It’s a wolf spider! In Romania, and in most parts of Europe, the members of the family Lycosidae are commonly called tarantulas. This species is the largest spider in Romania.

For the last couple weeks my family and I have been visiting relatives in Romania.  While we’ve been here, my son (Tavi) and I have made it our mission to capture the Romanian Tarantula. It all started when we were visiting the Celic-Dere Monastery (black water in Turkish) in northern Dobrogea (or Dobrudja), Romania and found numerous large holes in the ground surrounded by a “spidery” silk. The holes were about the size of a Toonie (about 1 inch in diameter) and approximately 30 cm deep (measured with a stick). So, we just had to investigate.

Gallery entrance of the Romanian tarantula
Gallery entrance of the Romanian tarantula

After talking with the locals, it was explained to us that the best way to capture one of these spiders was to “fish” for it.  More specifically, we needed to use a skinny candlestick with the wax removed down to the last centimeter.  (So, basically 1 cm of wax and the end of a string.)  We immediately set out for our “fishing” trip…


Unfortunately, we had no success. After further questioning the local people, it was suggested we smoke it out… and still no success.  (One of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” plans.)  Finally, plan C, to simply dig it out.

Tavi, Gigi (my father-in-law), Sile (neighbor) and I digging for the Romanian tarantula
Tavi, Gigi (my father-in-law), Sile (neighbor) and I digging for the Romanian tarantula

And… success at last!

Success!  Tavi and I with a female Romanian tarantula and egg sack.
Success! Tavi and I with a female Romanian tarantula and egg sack.

The Romanian “tarantula” is found in central and eastern Europe.  In Romania the species appear to be quite common but are classified as critically endangered in the Czech Republic and on the current IUCN Red List other parts of Europe (Frank 2000). The spider spends most of its time in the gallery it digs in the ground.  The adult spiders are nocturnal and hunt mainly for insects but have been known to eat small lizards (locals, personal communication).

The species size and lifespan various according to their sex, males are smaller (approximately 19-25 mm) living one year and the females larger (approximately 25-30 mm) but live for two years (Iosob 2009). The spiders have an oval shaped cephalothorax and abdomen that are brown and black on the dorsal side. Their ventral side is black.

Female Romanian tarantula with egg sack.
Female Romanian tarantula with egg sack.
Egg sack
Egg sack
Black ventral side of the spider.
Black ventral side of the spider.

In late summer and early fall males court the females by performing a nuptial dance just outside the gallery entrance. When the male approaches the female he begins to swagger, his leg hair lifts and descends alternately while vibrating (Prisecaru et al. 2010). The nuptial dance varies in time but copulation takes place for up to 1-2 hours (Prisecaru et al. 2010). Shortly after mating the male dies, leaving only juveniles and females to overwinter.

As is common in the spring, we caught an adult female with an egg sack, and as Tavi pointed out, “she is a very good Mama!”  When we first dug her out of the ground she was separated from her egg sack, but when we put them together in a jar, she attached herself to them immediately. It has been reported that if the female looses her egg sack she will look for it with perseverance and even accept another spiders egg sack or a sham (Iosob 2009). Once the eggs hatch, females protect their spiderlings by carrying them on her abdomen and cephalothorax (about 4 days) until they deplete their vitelline reserves and complete their first moult (Prisecaru et al. 2010).

The name tarantula is derived from a common wolf spider (genus Lycosa) from Apulia, Italy. The folklore during the 11th century suggests that a person bit by the “tarantula” will undergo a hysterical behavior, called tarantism; that appears like violent convulsions. The only prescribed cure for tarantism was frenzied dancing; now known as the traditional Tarantella.


Romania has without a doubt, some of the last untouched and preserved eco-systems among the European Union countries. (In fact, taxonomists can hardly keep up with identifying new species [Cogãlniceanu 2007].)While in most parts of Europe many plant and animal species are threatened or endangered, they can be found thriving in Romania (species like bears, wolves, tortoises, cormorants)… at least for now. It is crucial that we learn more about these species while they are still common (including the Romanian tarantula), and help them remain common in the face of growing threats such as economic development, overexplotation, or poaching. (You can read about some research and conservation work here and here.)

Tavi and I enjoyed exploring Romania, especially capturing and learning about the Romanian tarantula! No spiders were injured during our escapade. At night, we safely returned our spider (and her egg sack) back to where they were dug up collected. We suggest you all visit and, as Tavi likes to say, “find the Mania in Romania!”

This post is featured on the Entomological Society of Canada blog:



Alin, Iosob G. Lycosa singoriensis sau Tarantula romaneasca.” Cunoaste natura si animalele din Romania!Blogspot, October 2010. Web. Accessed 01 May 2014.

Cogãlniceanu, D., Ruşti D., and Manoleli, D. (2007) Romanian taxonomy in crisis-present status and future development. Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. L:517-526

Frank, V. (2010) Spiders (Araneae) on the red lists of European countries. EkolÓgia (Bratislava) 19: 23-28

Prisecaru, M., A. Iosob, O. T. Cristea. 2010. Observations regarding the growth in captivity of the wolf-spider species Lycosa singoriensis (Laxmann, 1770). Studii şi Cercetări: Biologie, Universitatea ”Vasile Alecsandri” din Bacău, 19: 33-38.

Happy 4th Birthday, Tavi!

This weekend we celebrated Tavi’s 4th birthday!  Tavi had a space themed party at Crash Crawlies. Which is kinda like Chuck E. Cheese’s or just any really big indoor playground.  This was Tavi’s (and our) first birthday party with his playmates.  The previous 3 years we held “family” parties at home.  Since we don’t have any family on the west coast, when I say “family” what I really mean is all our close friends (or the Gries lab).  But this year, Tavi invited his preschool/ daycare friends…  ALL 13 of them!

Here are the activities leading up to pure fun (AKA complete chaos)!

Tavi and I made Solar System invitations for all his friends!  Complete with glitter and little facts about each planet or spaceship.  Yes, Tavi and I know Pluto is not a planet… It’s a dwarf planet!  

4th B-day invite2

Every year I bake a cake for Tavi. Last year it was Angry Bird cup cakes and the year before, a bulldozer.  This year Tavi picked a Solar System cake.  (Obviously!)  So, below is the PhD Mama’s version of how to bake a Solar System birthday cake.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all “Smitten Kitchen” or “Marth Stewart” on you.  But really, I LOVE Smitten Kitchen!  It is the only cooking blog I follow AND I own the cook book.  

2014-02-09 15.11.12

We made it with time saving boxed cake mix (hey, don’t judge).

2014-02-08 14.45.46

We used a variety of cake and muffin pans, and even a mixing bowl for our cake moulds.  Instead of butter to grease them we sprayed them with PAM.

2014-02-08 15.02.02

Tavi helped me with the frosting.

2014-02-08 18.27.06

And it was definitely a big hit!

2014-02-09 17.54.01

Proof that it tasted as good as it looked!

2014-02-09 18.00.23

After the cake was served it was time for presents and, apparently, I just wasn’t fast enough for the kids.  At this point, the kids took over and I totally lost control of the situation!  I swear, I looked away for 2 seconds, and when I looked back there were 7 kids (including Tavi) just diving into presents. There was wrapping and tissue everywhere!

2014-02-09 18.07.04

That night was one of the only times I can remember that Tavi told us he was too tired for bedtime books and stories… he just wanted to go to sleep.  He was zonked!  In fact, we all were.  It’s a good thing the next day was a holiday (BC’s Family Day).  We all stayed home to rest, recuperate, and play with all the new toys!

Happy 4th Birthday, Tavi!!

Face your Fear

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962).

Three years ago, I moved cross county and internationally with my family in tow.  We moved from Orono, Maine, USA to Burnaby, BC, Canada so that I could begin a PhD position at Simon Fraser University.  Yes, that’s right; I made my entire family move here so I could pursue my passion.


Map of Route Viorel took from Orono, ME, USA to Burnaby, BC, Canada

I had always wanted to continue my education.  I have always been intrigued by entomology and I knew I wanted to work in the field.  Once Viorel was nearing the end of his PhD at the University of Maine, it was my turn.  To be honest, making the decision to go back to school was easy; following through with it however, was incredibly difficult because of  the lack of support I faced at home and academia.  At home, I thought my friends and family would support our decision to move and encourage my choice to go back to school, but I was wrong.  My colleagues and acquaintances thought we were nuts.  One of my colleagues said, “well, if you’re going to do it, now’s the time… Tavi won’t remember.”  The majority of my family didn’t say anything and, at best, politely gave me a half smile.  On many occasions my grandfather told me I was “too educated”.  (I honestly don’t think he meant any harm… but I really don’t know what he meant.) Worse, however, was being told I was selfish.  I was told that, “you’re selfish to go back to school when you have a baby and a family to take care of” and “selfish to take your family so far away from home.”  It was as if I had to choose between my career and my family and, clearly, I was making the wrong choice.  I felt incredibly guilty.

If that wasn’t hard enough, there appeared to be (and continues to be) little to no support for parents, especially mothers, in academia.  Women in academia suffer a “baby penalty” over the course of their academic careers. Family formation can negatively affect women’s, but not men’s- academic careers (Mary Ann Mason, N. H. Wolfinger & M. Goulden, 2013).  For men, having children can be an academic advantage and, for women, it is a career killer.  To learn more about the topic I joined a book club at the University of Maine.  We read, “Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out” followed by a panel discussion on the topic.  After which I was terrified of stepping foot back into Academia as a student again.  The majority of the opinions, experiences, and stories shared were mainly negative with few “traditionally” successful mother scientists sharing their stories.  Almost none of the stories were of women who maintained full-time academic work after having a child.  And here I was, planning on entering academia as a student again, full-steam-ahead… with an infant in tow!  After this experience, I left with the mindset that I would keep my family life to myself.  I planned to keep a strict divide between my family life and academic life.  I was determined to measure my success by academic achievement and not by my reproductive status.

I was lucky though, I had unwavering support from my husband and BEST friend, Bess Koffman, to continue my education. With them at my side, I convinced myself that the satisfaction of investing in my education and future would make me a happier and more contented person; thereby increasing the quality of care and love I provided my son and family.  So, regardless of the pressures from social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations, we followed through with our decision.  I faced my fear and went back to graduate school.

Before leaving Maine, we gave away or sold most of our possessions (don’t worry, we didn’t have much anyway) and packed our car with what items “made the cut”.  This mostly consisted of Tavi’s baby gear. (He wasn’t even a year old yet!)  Viorel and Rex drove across the continent together in the dead of winter in our trusted Outback.  Tavi and I flew and met them in our new home about a week later… I’m still not sure which one of us got the better deal!

Viorel and Rex made a little detour to pick up Bess who was visiting her Mom for the holidays in Washington State.  We had very little money (obviously because we just moved cross country and were on a student and postdoc salary.)  Bess and Viorel spent the entire week scouring Craig’s List and thrift stores to set up our apartment.  By the time Tavi and I arrived, we had kitchen ware, towels, a bed, a crib, and other miscellaneous necessities.  If anyone has ever tried to set up a home with a limited time-line and budget, than they would understand that this was no small feat!  This meant a great deal to us, to me, and I hope that I can someday return the favor to Bess.  I could never ask for a better friend!  I am so so so lucky!

Bess and Bekka

Bess and I on SFU Campus (January 2011)

Presently, I’m right in the thick of my PhD and going strong!  I have 2 publications, 4 in queue (which I will undoubtedly and unabashedly self-promote on my blog once published), nomination for a teaching award at Simon Fraser University (2012), Insect Ecology (BISC 317), and I’ve presented in multiple scientific conferences throughout Canada.

At the start of my PhD, I was determined to keep a strict separation between work and family.  Now I bring my whole self to the lab.  The separation never really worked for me and, as it turned out, was un-necessary.  In fact, it`s my belief that sharing my personal life and feelings has built deeper working relationships with my lab-mates and colleagues.  My lab-mates have become our extended family away from home.  Tavi has acquired at least 15 “Aunts” and “Uncles” and LOVES going to the lab and insectary.  When Tavi is visiting the lab, everyone is welcoming and never seems to tire of his exhaustive questions.  My advisor has been supportive of me, my academic pursuits, and my family.  (This says a lot about his personality because I can be opinionated and demanding at times.)

Tavi's Lab Award

Lab Christmas party, Tavi receiving his “Award” (2013)

…and, as far as I can tell, the quantity of family time and quality of parenting and has not diminished nor has it been affected… but rather, it’s been enriched.  Turns out, being in school has offered me a great deal of flexibility because, for the most part, I make my own hours. So, I can be there for Tavi when he needs me.  Additionally, Tavi is intrigued and challenged by being surrounded by vibrant and intelligent people and the academic activities in the lab.

I faced my fear and I have no regrets.  So, when was the last time YOU looked fear in the face?


Mason, M. A., N. H. Wolfinger, M Goulden. 2013. Do Babies Matter?  Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower. Rutgers University Press

E. Monosson. 2008.  Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out. Cornell University Press.