Troy Littleton, M.D., Ph.D., is a Professor of Neuroscience in the Departments of Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He also runs a research lab at the school.
Professor Littleton recently shared his "favorite new equipment purchase for the lab"—a portable crib.
He tweeted an image of a Graco pack 'n play set up next to a desk, with the caption, "My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab – a travel crib to go in my office so my graduate student can bring her 9-month old little girl to work when necessary and I get to play with her while her mom gets some work done. Win-win!!"
Professor Littleton's tweet quickly went viral, with people around the world applauding the gesture of support for his student.
My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab – a travel crib to go in my office so my graduate student can bring… https://t.co/y67A78h6ei
— Troy Littleton (@JTroyLittleton)
"Love this Troy. Just this!!," commented one woman. "(This is what equity and support of women looks like, for those who need concrete examples! And done with excitement even!!)"
Another person tweeted, "Well, I hope you realize this will probably lead to joy, laughter and feelings of warm, fuzzy adoration between you and a baby girl."
"20 years later the baby will grow up with tons of memories of being at her mom's workplace and this world will be kinder and warmer," added another.
Professor Littleton quickly clarified that he hopes people celebrate his graduate student for being an excellent mother and student.
"Well that little tweet blew up?!?" he tweeted. "However, I wish people were able to spot the real hero here. It's the graduate student mom, not me. She's amazing to do all she has to with her daughter and still keep up her thesis project research. Happy Mother's Day to all – they deserve it!"
In an interview with "Good Morning America," Littleton explained that the crib was just one way he hopes to support his graduate student, Karen Cunningham.
"Usually in non-pandemic times we always have baby showers for expectant mothers and fathers where we give them gifts and we weren't able to do that with Karen because of the pandemic, so this was sort of the lab gift for Karen, 10 months later," Littleton told GMA. "It's always a challenge [being a parent while in graduate school] so anything you can do in a lab to facilitate and help out, we try."
Cunningham told GMA that while it can feel overwhelming to be a working parent, she found hope in Professor Littleton's gesture.
"I think it's really easy to look at the systemic challenges facing parents and moms in our country … and kind of throw up your hands and be like, 'Well it's huge. I can't fix that,'" she said. "But then these sort of local ways that people in positions of power can protect parents against the systemic things, like what Troy's been doing in creating a really supportive and inclusive lab, I think that does make a really big difference and it's great to have an example of that."
We agree! While we wait for systemic change in the form of paid parental leave and universal childcare, we need more employers, educators and mentors to look for meaningful ways to help parents succeed.
Sometimes, that starts with a simple gesture like letting a new mom know that her baby is welcome at work.