Thursday, March 26, 2020

Working From Home With Kids

Balancing a laptop and a sleeping newborn in my lap

With many people working from home and a more general acceptance of employees being full human beings with families and personal interests, I’d like to discuss my experience working at home with young kids.

“The ability to work with young children at home is zero,” claims a popular tweet posted a couple weeks ago as many companies and institutions in the United States temporarily shifted to encouraged or mandatory work-at-home status for many of their employees.

I assure you, it’s not zero. I’ve been working at home with young children for 4 years. In this time, I’ve created and run a small business, traveled for conferences and other business trips, helped organize conferences and events, taken on additional pro bono work, written and published a book, and cared for two young children. Without childcare or local family to assist.

Here are my tips to help with working from home with kids, which may or may not resonate with you:

  • Embrace the flexibility of working from home.
  • Embrace kid interruptions.
  • Encourage your kids to become independent.
  • Take advantage of quieter times.
  • Accept help if you can.
  • Accept that some days are really, really hard.
  • Have fun!

Embrace the flexibility of working from home

So many work-from-home guides encourage keeping a strict office schedule, only working in a home office, avoiding house chores during the day, and other strategies to emulate the office environment at home. That seems to work for many people. That does not work for me.

I proudly defy most conventional work-from-home advice. I encourage you to embrace the flexibility working at home offers. You can work from anywhere. Any piece of furniture or even standing up or walking. From any device or platform (desktop, laptop, phone, tablet, even a pen and paper if that’s your thing). In any room. Even outside in your yard or out-and-about. A working environment does not need to be constrained by the office life you’re used to.

Most of the time, you can also work when you want. There may be immovable telecons, phone calls, deadlines, and others’ schedules. But outside of those constraints, your time is yours to plan the way you’d like. If you’re a morning person, embrace the quiet still of the morning and be productive at 5 AM. If you’re a night owl like me who sleeps in as much as motherhood allows, embrace the quiet still of the night. Some days, I’m in the zone at midnight and can work for a couple hours at home at a time not conventionally seen as a time to work in an office.

Flexibility of schedule also means you can break up your day as you please. In an office, you may take breaks to grab a snack, use the bathroom, strike up a conversation with a coworker, take a walk, and whatever else you need to do to recharge. At home, you have even more flexibility to take a breather during the day when you need to. Don’t feel guilty for not working 8 hours straight at home; you’re a human, not a machine. Life is more than just working.

Embrace kid interruptions

Young kids will need you. Depending on the child, the situation, and the home environment, some kids are more in need of help and attention than others. This may seem incompatable with work, but with practice, you can work around these interruptions. See above: your time is flexible. A coworker may interrupt you at any time in an office setting. Your kids are your coworkers and they provide you with breaks from work throughout the day.

My 2-year-old is still in diapers so I expect breaks for multiple diaper changes throughout the day, usually not on my schedule. The kids need to eat, so I feed them when I eat: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks throughout the day. My 4-year-old usually fetches her own snacks when she’s hungry. I also provide them with drinks throughout the day.

When they need me, depending on the nature of the need and what I’m currently working on, I either pause work immediately to care for them or find a good time to pause my work before caring for them. Coincidentally, I was in the middle of writing the previous sentence when my 2-year-old asked me for a drink refill. It’s not an urgent need, so I will pause my writing to refill all our drinks at the end of this paragraph, so, now.

Breaks can also be for fun rather than for need. Enjoy time with your kids. Give them your attention when you can. Play with them. It doesn’t need to be long, just a few minutes. Or perhaps you can spare an hour to do an activity with them or to take a full afternoon off. Even just a few minutes here and there helps to reconnect throughout the day.

Encourage your kids to become independent

The ability for your kids to occupy themselves independent of you depends on their age, their personality, and your home environment. Where at all possible and safe, allow your kids to play or work independently while you work. Depending on their age and inclination to get in trouble, you can be in the room with them or allow them to be elsewhere without you.

Both my kids have been very independent from a young age. I’d even call my 4-year-old fiercely independent. Neither has ever had any problems entertaining themselves. Whether this is innate within their personalities or just how I raised them, I’m not sure. But it sure helps to get work done when I don’t need to divide my attention too much.

This doesn’t mean I work as if my kids don’t exist. I almost always work in the same room where my 2-year-old is playing. I keep an eye on him with my laptop in front of me. I prefer to watch both my kids in the same room, but this usually isn’t the case. My 4-year-old, as independent as she is roaming the house, is also endlessly curious and very clever with a tendency to get into things she shouldn’t, so I take breaks to check up on her frequently.

How would this work if my kids were older? Your parenting styles and education philosophies likely differ from mine, but I’ll offer my viewpoint anyway: we embrace adult-facilitated student-directed home education, often called unschooling. Home education does not need to look like school at home. Trust that your kids are learning all the times and especially learning when they are self-directed and engaged in an activity or topic that is interesting to them. Under normal circumstances, we take our kids out into the world to learn from the world and from other people. But even at home, we have books, toys, iPads, TVs, activities, and the endless resources of the internet.

Babies are understandably the most in need of your time and attention. Maternity leave is truly needed after a baby is born. I do not expect to get much work done in August when my third baby is expected. Parents with young babies need to be the most gentle with themselves about how much work they can realistically accomplish. Some babies sleep long stretches or are content to exist without much direct attention. Neither of my babies were like this. My babies were constantly attached to me. In those early months, I used voice diction or typed with one hand, used my phone more than my laptop, warned people about my baby-in-arms during calls, napped throughout the day, and set low expectations for my own productivity.

Take advantage of quieter times

When my kids were younger, they used to nap more frequently. There were times I struck gold and both napped simultaneously! I took advantage of those quieter times to really focus on work that needed my undivided attention.

More often, I find the quiet freedom of late nights when I’m still awake and can work while activity in my house has stopped and activity online (email and social media) is minimal. My husband, for the same reason, works his side project in the very early morning hours before the sun has risen and the hustle of the day has begun.

Accept help if you can

Many work-from-home parents have spouses, other family members, babysitters, or other childcare options they can take advantage of to give them more time for focused attention on work. If you have someone who can help you watch the kids, for your own sanity, I encourage you to accept.

Because of the circumstances of our family, only my husband and I watch our kids. Usually he works from home on Wednesdays which gives me a little more freedom to step away to be by myself on Wednesdays. Currently, he’s working from home indefinitely, which allows us to share parenting responsibilities even more than usual. There have been times when I’ve needed to leave him with the kids in the evenings or on weekends for an hour or two while I go off to another area of the house to work.

Accept that some days are really, really hard

This is not easy. This is seemingly impossible when you’re first thrown into it. I had the advantage of working from home before I had kids so I could set my own routine and slowly figure things out as my first child grew. For parents abruptly put in the position of caring for kids while working from home during a stressful time, this is going to be a very difficult transition. Don’t beat yourself up.

Even for an experienced work-from-home mom, some days are about survival. I had a challenging first couple of months this year with my 4-year-old. Some days all I could do was the bare minimum of work while I tried to keep my sanity. That’s okay. Be patient with yourself.

But some days just fly by in a zone of low turbulence, checking one task off the list after another, making extensive progress on a project, and keeping the kids and myself alive and happy. Those are the days when I know I can do this. And you can too. Maybe not now, under the current circumstances. But maybe one day.

Have fun

My favorite work-from-home memories of last year were watching the kids play in the backyard in the warm months of the summer and early autumn while I wrote my book using voice dictation on my phone.

Yesterday, with business slow and my mind distracted with the troubles of the world, I took some hours “off” in the afternoon to garden in the backyard with my 4-year-old. I checked email on my phone every so often, but mostly, I was out enjoying nature with my daughter.

I watch rocket launch livestreams with my kids nearby (who often aren’t interested, but I try) and talk with them about my work frequently. I truly enjoy being with my kids every day and I enjoy building a business in the career I love.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to work from home with my kids. I wish everyone could experience this in a positive way as I’ve been able to.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Space Podcasts I'm Hooked On

Original photo by NASA

I’m hooked on podcasts. I subscribe to 45 of them, mostly space podcasts. I enjoy listening when I’m doing work with my hands such as cooking and cleaning. Working from home, I also enjoy hearing the intelligent discussions about topics of interest to me.

With a lot of us working from home and staying in these days, I thought I’d share some of my favorite space podcasts.

Are We There Yet?
This weekly podcast by radio journalist Brendan Byrne also airs on public radio in Orlando, Florida, 90.7 WMFE. The title refers to the long road to get humans to Mars. In 28 minutes, Brendan gives quick space news updates at the start, followed by an interview with a space expert, followed by a segment with three UCF professors on space topics of interest.

Astro, Esq.
This space law podcast by Nathan Johnson, still on break from its first season in 2019, features interviews with various experts involved in space law and policy in 40 minute segments.

This space security podcast by Kratos, published approximately twice per month, gives updates about new satellite technologies in 20 – 25 minute segments.

Gravity Assist
This NASA podcast by NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green, still on break from its third season in 2019, published 10 to 15 episodes per year. It features 20 – 25 minute interviews on NASA science missions.

Houston We Have a Podcast
This NASA weekly podcast produced at Johnson Space Center features hour-long interviews about NASA missions and technology, occasionally by astronauts.

This biweekly podcast by Stephen Hackett and Jason Snell of Relay FM, ranging from 30 to 75 minutes long, gives an overview of the space news topics of the moment.

Main Engine Cut Off (MECO)
This weekly podcast by Anthony Colangelo, alternates between shorter space news updates (10 – 20 minutes long) and longer interviews with experts (30 – 60 minutes long).

Mission Eve
Still on break from its first season in 2019, this weekly podcast by Meagan Crawford of the Center for Space Commerce & Finance features 30 – 60 minute interviews with women in the space sector.

NASA in Silicon Valley
This NASA podcast produced by Ames Research Center recently switched formats. It now features live recordings with multiple interviews per segment throughout the year.

This monthly podcast by Jake Robins and Anthony Colangelo features hour-long interviews with experts on various topics of interest, space-themed drinks, and space picks of the month.

On a Mission
This NASA podcast produced by JPL is still on break from its second season in 2019. This weekly podcast, 35 to 45 minutes long, features NASA science missions in a storytelling format.

On Orbit
This 30 – 60 minute weekly podcast by On Orbit features interviews by experts in themes such as “connecting the unconnected” and other satellite communications topics of interest.

Planetary Radio
Produced by the Planetary Society’s Mat Kaplan, this weekly podcast 45 – 75 minutes long features interviews with Planetary Society leaders and outside experts, news updates, an overview of what’s currently visible in the night sky, a trivia contest, and a monthly space policy edition.

Small Steps, Giant Leaps
This NASA podcast published once or twice per month looks back at the Apollo program and forward to NASA’s plans in the Artemis program.

Space Junk
This hour-long mostly weekly podcast by OPT Telescopes gives practical information about stargazing and astrophotography as well as featuring interviews with experts.

This monthly podcast by the Space Foundation features 20 – 40 sometimes multi-part interviews with experts on a variety of space topics.

This monthly 15 - 30 minute podcast by Carrie Nugent features interviews with space scientists and unusual drinks.

This formerly weekly podcast but now being produced a bit less often by Marc Boucher of SpaceQ features space topics of interest to the Canadian space sector, sometimes news updates, sometimes interviews, and sometimes audio recordings of events.

This mostly weekly podcast usually 30 – 60 minutes long features an overview of the space news of the moment plus occasional interviews with experts.

The Invisible Network
This weekly NASA podcast, currently on break, features interviews and stories about space communications and navigation in 15 – 40 minute episodes.

The Orbital Mechanics Podcast
This weekly 30 – 90 minute podcast by David Fourman, Ben Etherington, and Dennis Just features discussions on space news of the moment, a space trivia contest, and occasional interviews with experts.

The Rocket Ranch
This NASA podcast produced by Kennedy Space Center once or twice per month features 30 – 45 minute episodes on various NASA historic and current events topics in a storytelling format.

The Space Above Us
This biweekly podcast by by JP Burke gives an in-depth look of every historic NASA mission, one mission per episode, from Mercury to Space Shuttle (as of this writing, he’s up to STS-33), in 20 – 40 minute episodes.

The Space Angels Podcast (now Space Capital Podcast)
This 30-minute podcast by Chad Anderson, produced a few times per year, features interviews with companies in the Space Angels portfolio on various space technologies and other space experts on space entrepreneurism and the commercial space industry.

The Space Shot
This 15 – 30 minute weekly podcast by John Mulnix features a look back at historical space anniversaries of the week with occasional interviews with experts on a variety of space topics.

This 45 – 75 minute weekly live recording video broadcast (which I listen after-the-fact in podcast format) features space news, interviews with experts, and space discussions.

Universe Today
This podcast by Fraser Cain publishes several episodes per week including hour-long live video question & answer sessions, 10-minute segments on a space topic, and 30-minute interviews with experts.

This biweekly podcast by Jake Robins features 30 – 45 minute interviews with experts on a variety of Mars-related topics.

All the above podcasts are presumably active. But I want to mention one limited-production podcast released last year:

This 12-part storytelling podcast series by The Washington Post’s Lillian Cunningham on the history of the Apollo program, starting from early science fiction to the Apollo 11 Moon landing, was excellently researched and produced. I learned a ton of space history from these accounts.

Since publishing this blog entry, I’ve received many great suggestions from readers! I’d like to add for your consideration:
13 Minutes to the Moon by BBC World Services
Casual Space by Beth Mund
Satellite Stories by SES
Terranauts by Iain Christie

This is not an extensive list. There are other space podcasts out there. What’s your favorite space podcast?

Monday, March 16, 2020

The 7th Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

Before the chaos of the coronavirus and mass cancellations, there was the 7th Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. I’ve attended all 7 of them, usually spaced 1.5 to 2 years apart. This year, I was a member of the organizing team. In addition to running the social media accounts, I organized a panel and helped with other things along the way. Additionally, I gave a talk and was a panelist for another panel.

It was fun but anxiety-inducing to organize a panel on the connection between suborbital research on new vehicles launched by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic and orbital research on the ISS. I’ve organized panels before and have no problems identifying and inviting potential panelists. I confirmed four speakers: two ISS managers (one from NASA and one from my former employer CASIS / ISS National Lab, a nonprofit that handles Earth-benefitting ISS research) and two researchers who have flown experiments to suborbit and orbit (a NASA engineer and a university medical doctor and professor).

What made this panel different was a SpaceX CRS launch to the ISS scheduled Sunday night after the official start of the conference. Two of my panelists were attending the launch. If the launch was delayed a day, they would be unable to attend my panel and I’d be down to two panelists. It turns out the SpaceX launch was delayed – by 5 days! So my panelists attended the conference and then attended the launch.

Snow! Just before conference kick-off on Sunday.

In addition to constant social media posting and engagement, I staffed the registration desk Sunday evening and Monday morning. I’m an extrovert, so greeting people when they arrive is fun. Find their name badge, hand them their program and flyer packet, give them some give-away swag (this time, a conference pen and a Virgin Galactic “remove before flight” keychain tag), let them know about the ZeroG Corporation raffle, and ask if they have any questions. If they are a friend, catch up a little bit with small talk. If they are a journalist, student, or VIP, there was additional information to tell them. I had helpers during both sessions who I trained to take over when things got too busy.

Sunday evening was the conference opening reception. We wandered around the hotel’s side lobby while caterers carried plates of food around and a couple Colorado politicians spoke words of welcome. I spent most of the time at the registration desk but ran off for a few minutes at time to take photos of the speakers for social media posts and grab some food.

As he was filling out his raffle ticket, three-time space shuttle astronaut and first commercial astronaut Charlie Walker, who I’ve met several times at this conference throughout the years, informed me that he had experienced plenty of microgravity time and would give away his ZeroG parabolic flight ticket if he won. He offered to give it to me. What a story that would be – an astronaut winning a raffle and giving away his ticket! Every time he saw me at the conference, he knew the exact number of hours until the winner would be selected on Wednesday morning. He was so excited about it for someone who didn’t plan to keep the winnings!

Astronaut Charlie Walker filling out his ZeroG Corporation raffle ticket

Alan Stern kicked off the talks Monday morning. Although he is a planetary scientist and can speak endlessly about Pluto and other Kuiper belt objects, he’s also passionate about the commercial space industry and suborbital science. This conference is his baby and he has tickets to fly himself with an experiment someday. As a grad student, Alan was my inspiration realizing I could be a scientist and work in the space industry simultaneously, that the two worlds can come together.

Other Monday morning speakers included Ryan Hamilton of Southwest Research Institute, Kevin Coleman of the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial spaceflight office, George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic, Steve Squyers of Blue Origin, Eric Stallmer of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Steven Collicott of Purdue University and CSF SARG, and finally, my favorite, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who high-fived me as he was boarding an elevator after his talk.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaking at NSRC-2020

Fellow book author Alan Ladwig had a whole table for book signing. His book is a historical look at space tourism. I had brought 6 copies of my book to sign and sell. We traded: a signed copy of mine for one of his. He’s also an artist and doodled as he signed. He gave a talk about his book during the conference which was great because it was full of amusing old stories.

Alan Ladwig and I showing off our books at NSRC-2020

I attended as many of the talks as I could so I could be there with my phone to take photos and write up content for social media. I was constantly sharing the posts of others as well. It kept me quite busy. I didn’t take as much time as I usually do to network in the hallway.

My talk was second-to-last Monday afternoon. I presented insights on how to market suborbital spaceflight to millennials based on the research I conducted for my book. I didn’t know if anyone would still be in the room or if they’d be off at the poster and networking session starting 15 minutes later. There was still a small audience, so I gave it my best. And despite some initial technical difficulties displaying my presentation correctly, it went great! There was no time for audience questions, but I got so many complements after the talk.

I wrote up a one-pager on how to market spaceflight to millennials, available here.

Giving my talk on how to market spaceflight to millennials at NSRC-2020

Tuesday was exciting to me because of one newly arriving attendee: Beth Moses. She is Virgin Galactic’s astronaut trainer. In 2018, she became the first woman astronaut on a commercial vehicle, the first woman suborbital astronaut, and the first person to unstrap and float around in a suborbital spaceflight. She was the seventh person to be awarded FAA commercial astronaut wings, the first six being pilots and she being the first passenger. She’s my suborbital astronaut role model.

I met her briefly at the registration desk, which I wasn’t working at the time but happened to be there resting. I sat front row to watch her panel with Michelle Peters of ZeroG on how to train for microgravity research missions. I finally got a chance to pose for a photo with her at the VIP reception that evening.

Meeting Beth Moses

Tuesday was also the panel I organized which went quite well! We only had a few minutes for audience questions, but the information presented was great and Q&A session went well too. Mission success.

The very last hour of the Tuesday afternoon sessions was the panel I was added to a week before the conference on the importance of researchers flying with their research on suborbital spaceflight missions. There were seven panelists, which is a huge number for a one-hour panel, but it worked out pretty well. Only astronaut Charlie Walker gave intro slides and the rest was Q&A. I took a different approach than most of the others and spoke about what I learned from researching for my book about normalizing spaceflight, creating that human connection, bringing spaceflight to the masses to stabilize the field financially and politically the way we take air travel for granted today, and opening space to other scientific disciplines such as psychologists researching the way humans perceive the planet and ourselves after experiencing spaceflight.

Wednesday was the final day of the conference. I sat in on talks by my graduate advisor Josh Colwell and former lab college Addie Dove of UCF, reminiscing about the experiments I spent years on in grad school.

The two raffle winners were announced for free tickets on ZeroG’s “weightless” parabolic aircraft flights. I’ve flew two campaigns in grad school and absolutely loved it, even though I got sick. I’d still fly again in a heartbeat! I was chatting with my former CASIS colleague Ed Harris who now works at Keck Observatory in Hawaii. He was in the middle of telling me that if he won, he plans to donate his ticket to a scientist in Hawaii who can fly Hawaiian student experiments, when suddenly the whole lobby was looking over at us. Ed had won! I’m so glad because his generous donation to support Hawaiian schools is much better than me flying for a third time.

The final session of the conference, right after lunch, was full of more top speakers. My favorite space journalist Jeff Foust of Space News gave an analytical view of suborbital spaceflight: where it was predicted to be, where it is now, and where it could grow to be. Beth Moses gave another talk, this one a more detailed look at her job as an astronaut trainer and research facilitator with more details about her own spaceflight. Dylan Taylor of Space for Humanity inspiring talk about the philosophy of opening up spaceflight with ideals that mirror my own. And Alan Stern wrapped up the conference with thank-yous.

Those 5 remaining books I brought with me to autograph and sell? I sold all of them! I probably could have sold a couple more if I had brought more.

Why do I continue being involved in NSRC when my work is now broader and I’m no longer directly working with suborbital research? It’s a small an intimate gathering, a welcoming community, a good mix of multidisciplinary attendees and presenters, and very forward-thinking topics. It’s a seamless fusion of science, engineering, public outreach, government, and commercial space. And because it’s not annual, it’s not repetitive in an ever-changing field. Even though my work is broader now, I still wish to be a suborbital astronaut/ space tourist. When I fly, I’ll take an experiment with me. I’ve trained to be a suborbital scientist. Aside from a lunar astronaut, suborbital astronaut who I desire to become.