Archive for July 12th, 2009

Of conferences, 5 yr olds and Professors

July 12, 2009

No bad science this time – Dr Aust muses on scientific conferencing, family life, and the usefulness of child psychology

As indicated over on the diary page, Dr Aust has been away this week at a conference.

Sadly this was not the conference where Bad Science guru David Colquhoun was delivering his latest broadside against Inhuman Resources, Homeopathy-loving Vice-Chancellors, Herbal Remedy Entrepreneurs and the like. However, Dr Aust’s conference was in a different EU country, there were some good talks, and plenty of old friends to catch up with. Which almost made up for the rather spartan University accommodation, and particularly the need to walk 300 yards to get a breakfast cup of coffee and a Pain Chocolat.

Now, conferences and travel are part of a scientist’s life, but one tends to go through phases of more or less enthusiasm. As a youngster I would have told you that the travel was very definitely one of the best bits of the job. In my thirties in particular I wholeheartedly embraced the global travel possibilities of science, spending a couple of European Summers on “working holiday” enjoying the Australian Winter – which was actually far better weather than the Northernshire Summer – and visiting plenty of other interesting spots.

However, I found that as I approached my forties it all began to get less enticing, and when Jr Aust arrived even less so. And since this time last year, when Baby Aust joined us, my “conference drive” has reached a historical low.

Though conferences still have their attractions. Most parents occasionally fancy a night or two away from the kids. This, and the promise of a few beers and potentially a good night’s uninterrupted sleep, gives child-free conferencing a bit of allure. On the other hand, when I get there I find that I miss the little blighters terribly. Together with the fact that I can’t drink like I used to – getting old, I fear – this means that “conference fatigue” sets in earlier than it used to. Currently I find two and a half days of concentrated conference is about my limit.

Of course, when you get back, the happiness at being home lasts about a day before it is replaced by the usual family mayhem, which starts you thinking about conferences again.

Vive la resistance… er?

Now, a key part of the family mayhem at Aust Acres at the moment is the continued inter-generational psychological warfare being waged mostly by Jr Aust. This titanic struggle alternates between armed guerilla action and Gandhi-style passive resistance (though with added screaming). In essence it involves Jr Aust (just turned five) and Baby Aust (eleven months) competing for Dr Aust and Mrs Dr Aust’s attention.

Baby Aust is simply being a baby, and does not realise he is competing, of course. The same cannot be said of Jr Aust.

It is all very tiring, though I am sure it will all work out in the end. If we all survive with our sanity intact.

Is child psychology the answer?

Actually, I have recently come round to thinking that I may have been approaching this family dynamic problem wrongly. In particular I have, I think, been guilty of treating Junior Aust as too much of a small adult. She is, after all, only just five.

But of course, five years olds and adults do have some things in common.

Dr Aust has an ex-Head of Department, now retired, who had originally trained as a clinician, and much later became Dean of a Medical Faculty. Once upon a time, many years ago now, two of Dr Aust’s colleagues and friends at work were engaged in a bitter feud, with Dr Aust haplessly trying to mediate. The ex-HoD, who also knew both parties, used to offer Dr Aust occasional sage advice.

In one of these conversations, the ex-HoD and Dean told Dr Aust:

“Do you know, I never could really work out what the point had been of having to study child psychology during my medical training…. Until I became Dean of Medicine and had to deal with lots of Clinical Professors”.

Now, Dr Aust only has the one daughter, but he has dealt over the years with lots of Professors – mostly non-clinical but with occasional clinical ones thrown in.

So anyway – no more treating Junior Aust like a small grown-up.

Instead I shall try treating her like a Professor, and see if that does the trick.

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