Jenny Rohn finds that child-rearing and a career in research are not easy bedfellows. But she does still bake cupcakes

Before becoming a mother, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldnt be able to do it right.

I am sure that all prospective parents suffer from such doubts. But Im equally sure there is something especially pernicious about being a research scientist. Despite many years of earnest effort, academic science remains a less-than-ideal vocation for women as well as for parents overall. This may go some way towards explaining the scarcity of women at the higher levels, an uncomfortable truth that has lingered for more than a generation.

Although some point to sciences flexibility as a plus point for those with caregiving obligations, academia does not score highly on work-life balance nor on career stability. Yes, if you can find backup for your teaching, you can leave work early when your child is ill but that same kid might not be terribly happy when her father is in the lab all weekend, or her mother is holed up with her laptop writing grant after endless grant.

And when the open-ended contract runs out of funding, you might find yourself uprooted yet again from your childs schools and friends, from your own support network. And then, gaps in employment not an uncommon fate for early career researchers can make already overstretched finances even tighter.

Everyone can point to some academic parents who seem to be totally together. Sadly I am not one of them.

Even during my maternity leave, my career was already starting to suffer: I have no doubt that my dream fellowship eluded me because of the fragmented way I was forced to write my proposal: between naps and interminable crying sessions. Three years on I still go through some days like a sleep-deprived zombie.

I wouldnt change being a mother for anything, but I can honestly say that the break, and the ropey transitional years returning from it (during which my field marched smartly on), did not do my career any favours. These years of young child rearing map almost precisely onto the thinning out of my publication record, which I am only now starting to patch. Because of this, motherhood will inevitably delay my next promotion.

Working parents often talk about how they struggle with the idea that they arent doing either role well. And I am no different. I want to win the Scientist Mum Nobel. I want to earn a steady grant income, publish good papers, and be the sort of mother who can whip up a dozen cupcakes and take them out on a tray into the back garden where my son and his little friends play hidden somewhere in the undergrowth (because who has time to prune?).

I write this now, even though I know that, as in past posts, some commenters will look up my publication record and deem me unqualified to talk about the scientific profession, because I dont have a paper published in Nature. Others will sagely observe that proper scientists dont write for public consumption despite the fact that our activities hinge upon the goodwill of the people and of government (I like to think Im taking one for the team). And of course, there will inevitably be a cohort of readers who decide Im a crappy mother because Im even admitting to this internal dialogue in the first place.

But, you know what? I dont care what people think, especially if a two-minute internet search can convince them that they can see the true value of my science or the depths of my soul.

What I do care about is that I can look at myself honestly, strengths and weaknesses alike, and say: Im a good mother. Im a good teacher. Im a good colleague. Im a good ambassador for what science is all about. And Im also a good scientist. My team is happy and thriving, bringing data to my office in a steady stream, and livening up the lab with their good humour and questionable musical taste. I am making a difference to patients, because the exciting science that I and my collaborators am working on now will be in clinical trials within the year, all going well.

In short, Im good enough.

And one day my son will be old enough to think: This is my mum. She does all these things, and shes amazing.

Dear reader, I played with my son for many hours on Sunday, despite the fact that I had an urgent grant deadline. I also found the time to pickle homegrown gherkins, make jam and fold the laundry.

I even made those damned cupcakes.

They were delicious.

Read more: