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Christine Nattrass | USLHC | USA

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Thanks, Mom!

Since today is Mother’s Day (at least in the US), I thought I’d write a post about my mom and the role she had in me ending up where I am now.

My mom is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  She had two children while she was working on her PhD.  Neither my brother nor I were exactly easy children to raise.  Mom turned in some of her papers with trucks drawn all over them because my brother drew trucks on everything.  My mother was in Georgetown, KY doing her practicum as a school psychologist in Appalachia when truancy laws and child abuse laws were just beginning to be enforced – not exactly an easy job.  She worked with kids who needed to be held back in kindergarten because they were adjusting to indoor plumbing and electricity.  Neighbors told my mother that she was neglecting and abusing us by putting us in day care.  And why did she need to work, anyways?  My father had a job.  I think my brother and I have done plenty to prove those naysayers wrong – but their worst fears were probably realized.  I did get my PhD, after all, when I should have been barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen.

Because of my mother, I never doubted that I could get a PhD.  In fact, I intended to get a PhD since I was a little kid in daycare.  At the age of two when I was in day care, I sat scribbling on a pad of paper, ripping the paper off, wadding it up, and throwing it out.  When they asked me what I was doing, I said I was writing my dissertation.  It took me about twenty six years to finish, but I got it done.  Mom came up with a rule that I could keep anything I caught as a pet, as long as I could identify it.  This meant I read a lot of books about nature so that I could keep anything I caught – the start of my interest in science.  When I found monarch caterpillars visiting my grandparents in Michigan – and was able to identify them successfully – we took them back to Wisconsin, stopping every couple hours to pick them fresh milkweed.  Seeing them metamorphosize into butterflies was amazing.  Mom is dreadfully afraid of snakes, but I could even keep snakes if I could identify them.  When my mother came home one day to find my pet flies with dog poop (which I thought was their food) in one of her good canning jars, we ended up with a rule against using mom’s good canning jars for my pets.  After I watched a show on peristalsis on PBS, we ended up with a rule against eating while standing on one’s head.

And my mom rocks.  She’s had an incredibly accomplished woman.  She’s written at least eleven books and she’s working on a few more.  When she was told that her department didn’t need to give her a raise because she had a family and she couldn’t move her family, my mom found a department willing to pay her what she’s worth and we moved.  When the president of one of the national organizations in her field said that school psychology was clearly no longer prestigious because women outnumber men, my mom got elected president.

As I went through undergrad and graduate school, I frequently asked my mom for advise navigating academia.  Mom taught me to pick my battles – a very useful lesson in academia.  She doesn’t pick fights, but she doesn’t often lose them either.  I don’t always take her advice, but I do think hard before going against it.  It helps to have a coach.  Seeing my mom succeed in academia, I always knew that I could do it.  There are still some really, really serious problems with discrimination against women in physics*, but this is a much better working environment than my mother’s generation had.  We all need mentors and role models.  I am lucky enough to have my mom.

So I can’t say it enough – thanks for everything, Mom!

*Physicists – especially people in leadership positions – I am not letting you off the hook.  It’s just not the subject of this post.

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