Take your Daughters to Work Day

Deirdre Sholto-Douglas finch at MCS.COM
Mon Feb 2 12:19:09 EST 1998

In bionet.women-in-bio Karen Lona Allendoerfer <ravena at cco.caltech.edu> wrote:

:         It sounds like it could be a great idea, but like a lot of things
: it would have to be done right.  Has anyone else taken a daughter or
: daughter-for-a-day to work with them in lab?  What did you do with them for
: a whole day?  How did they seem to react?  Do people think this is a good
: way to get girls interested in science careers?

I've been taking my daughter to the lab (and to occasional lectures)
since she started school...kindergarten, that is.  She's currently a
ripe old ten years of age, so she's been exposed to the environment for
about five years.  Granted, she doesn't usually go on "work-for-a-day"
since that requires that she miss her own classes, but it never fails
that teacher institute days fall on days when it's absolutely imperative
that I be at work.

There are a number of pitfalls to bringing small fry into lab conditions.
While it depends upon the type of lab, there are always things which, 
as a professional adult, one overlooks.  Things like sharps containers,
reagents and all those wonderful (pushable) buttons on the equipment.

What I've noticed is that it's very hard for her to come into the lab,
see all the Neat Stuff Going On, and *not* be allowed to participate.
I can't speak for anyone else, but my observation of my own sprog is
that she's frequently unaware of where her body is in relation to other
things...a non-issue at home where her fast, "leap-first, oops-after"
mode causes no more damage than the odd dropped <whatever>...a *big*
issue in a lab where the consequences of knocking into things can be
more dire.

While she enjoys going, I can see that she's often frustrated with 
the restrictions placed upon her...regardless of the fact that she 
understands those restrictions are for her own safety.  Add into the
equation that no matter how hard they try, children have shorter
attention spans...a work day for me can be anywhere from 8 to 16 hours,
her attention span however, is measured in minutes.  If you do take
a child with you, resign yourself to not having one of your more 
productive days.

The up side of the situation is that it *does* seem to foster an
interest in science...at least from what I've witnessed.  I haven't
yet determined if it's because she's been exposed to science early
or because she sees me playing with things that, to her, look like
very nifty toys.  (Nothing like a six year old to make one regard
pipetting in a whole new light.)  

How you handle it should probably be based on the age of the child.
When she was younger, microscopes and pipettes were fascinating to
her, and from my perspective, it was easy to set up 'experiments' 
with them (Brownian motion, algae cells, mouth bacterial cells).  As
she's aged (not half so fast as me, it seems) she's developed her
own interests and as a result, it's become both easier and harder 
to deal with her. 

It's easier because I no longer have to over-simplify things. (As I
discovered the day, whilst explaining leaves in autumn, when I referred
to the 'hidden colours behind the green' and was treated to "Yeah,
I know, accessory pigments." <rolling eyes>  Okay, *fine*.)  Harder
because her level of sophistication has out-stripped her fine motor
co-ordination and there's *no* way I'm going to allow her to do
column chromatography without a *lot* of supervision...which, when
I'm working, I can't provide.  (Moreover goggles, gloves and lab
coats do *not* fit children.)

 From my own perspective and experience, I don't like taking her to
the lab...if only because *my* nerves end up frazzled.  If I have
a choice, on the days when she absolutely has to accompany me, I
try to either do field work or lit searches (which allows one to
explain how the closed stacks work and why mommy grinds her teeth.)
Frankly, I don't think anyone under the age of 12 really belongs
in a laboratory situation...especially not for an entire day.  Not 
to mention that it's disheartening, after keeping them both interested
and alive for an entire day, to ask "What did you think?" only to
hear, "The vending machine was *really* neat!"

Good luck to you.


| Deirdre Sholto-Douglas      | e-mail:  finch at Mercury.mcs.com       |
|                             |                                      |
  *******  The only acceptable substitute for intelligence  *******
                            is silence.

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