Disaster, inspiration, and the way home

The biology department at Auburn University has a tradition called Bio-Lunch where graduate students invite a scientist to come and speak about their work over a brown bag lunch. My friend, Sara, came bursting into the lab one day to tell me that she had been chosen to invite the guest speaker for the next event. She was inviting a woman who did research in the canopies of South American rainforests. Her work was impressive and she was a leader in a field dominated by men. Sara had heard that the woman had a family, and we were very interested to hear how she had managed to balance the two.

Well, I missed the biolunch when Sara’s hero came to speak, but boy, did I hear about it! The researcher, who I will not name here, slurred her words and lost her train of thought in a way that prompted audience members to pull out cell phones and call emergency services. She looked like a diabetic suffering a hypoglycemic episode of some sort, but that was not the case. She was merely drunk – three sheets to the wind – half in the bag – blotto. The students put away the cell phones and carried on through the painfully awkward event.

The day went downhill from there, because the rest of the Bio-Lunch tradition dictates a pizza and beer get-together at the home of one of the faculty. I don’t know if it was groundless optimism or morbid curiosity that caused the faculty to press on; but, for whatever reason, they went ahead with it. I’ll just say this — apparently, the good doctor is quite a dancer in addition to her other talents.

In lab the next week, Sara and I worked in silence. We were crushed with disappointment. We both wanted to be successful scientists, but we didn’t want to give up the love and fullness of a happy family life. We thought we had found a model to emulate; someone who balanced work and home life in a way that worked. But we hadn’t. You couldn’t pay me enough to live that woman’s life.

Things are different in the science writer’s world. I’ve met a number of women who have built careers worthy of envy without forgoing the joys of marriage and motherhood – seemingly without drinking themselves blind. I feel hopeful because I see accomplished women and men living balanced lives doing meaningful, stimulating work and going home to spouses, children, pets, friends and even hobbies not related to work.

This SciCom program is grueling, but I’m certain that it’s worth the effort because it leads somewhere I want to go. I look forward to the day when I’m the lady at the NASW annual conference mixer talking to first timers about their hopes and dreams. I hope that I inspire them the way women at this weekend’s conference have inspired me.

At last, honey, I’m home!



About Donna Hesterman

Mom, wife, Marine, science teacher, science writer.
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2 Responses to Disaster, inspiration, and the way home

  1. nadia drake says:

    My undergrad commencement speaker — a well-known actor — was also acting quite drunk during the ceremony…falling in and out of sleep, loudly chewing gum, making up words during his address and generally being completely illogical. ‘course it was never confirmed, but it was sorely disappointing anyway.

    Beware the lampshade!!

  2. Jane Lee says:

    The first lab I was ever in as an undergrad was with a woman who seemed nice at first. But I quickly realized how insecure she was. She was so threatened by her graduate students that I watched her destroy one woman’s career for nothing. She stole a project one of the undergrads was doing and gave it to an incoming graduate student. She was horrible and I was so disappointed. I wanted to see a strong, capable woman in a professorial role, but instead what I got was cattiness wrapped in academic robes.

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