Having a PhD in science makes my job as a mother easier, but maybe not in the ways that you might expect.
My PhD is in Nutrition, so you would think that getting my kid to eat well would come easy for me. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
I’ve logged more than two years of postdoc research on fetal programming, which is basically how the uterine environment affects outcomes in babies. You might think that this has helped me to do everything right during my pregnancy. Instead, I think it just led to more worry about all of the ways I might be damaging my unborn child. Stress! Sugar! BPA! Lab chemical exposure! OMG! More stress!
Sure, I have had access to more scientific information than the average mother. Sometimes this is helpful. But sometimes it is not. For instance, knowing how to do a literature search to answer my parenting questions often leads to further sleep deprivation, especially since slogging through Pubmed hits leads me to come out on the other side with more confusion. Sometimes my drive to find scientific answers for my parenting questions just distracts me from my instinct – not that my maternal instinct is all that amazing, but I do know my baby better than anyone else in the world.
So how does being a scientist make parenting easier for me? As a scientist mother, I trust other scientists. And I trust doctors. I even trust government agencies, which bring together the best scientists and doctors in a field to review the research and make recommendations for the good of public health.
I trust scientists and doctors because I have worked side-by-side with them for a decade, and I know that they are not only knowledgeable, but by and large, they are overwhelmingly good people. At some point, you have to trust someone. For me, those “someones” are scientists and doctors.
I trust scientists because I know that the vast majority of them are just underpaid nerds who are really passionate about what they do. They are driven by the desire to find the truth about a question and work, day in and day out, in that pursuit. In addition, I know that scientists don’t always agree, so when there is a general consensus among the majority of scientists about something, such as vaccine safety or global warming, I feel confident with the majority conclusion. Contrary to many claims on the Internet, scientists are not in bed with Big Pharma, conspiring make millions at the expense of your child’s health. They are in bed with their husbands and wives, probably chatting about their latest failed cell culture experiment.
I also trust science because I understand the peer review process all too well. Although it has its flaws, and as maddening as it is when I am the one being reviewed, I have confidence that the peer review process is highly effective at weeding out the kooks and pseudoscientists and the conflicts of interest. (Unfortunately, there are a few kooky psuedoscientists out there with serious conflicts of interest, and it just so happens that one of them managed to publish fraudulent research linking the MMR vaccine and autism. Many studies have since shown that such a link does not exist, but it took 12 years for Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet paper to be retracted. How many dollars have been spent and how many people made sick or worse in the continuing fallout and confusion about this public health scare? When the peer review system fails, it can be truly devastating.)