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This MIT professor put a crib in his lab to help a new mother

How Troy Littleton went viral for helping a mom, Karen Cunningham

Troy Littleton shows the crib for Karen Cunningham.
This Twitter post from Troy Littleton shows the crib bought by graduate students for Karen Cunningham.
Screenshot, Troy Littleton Twitter

Karen Cunningham, a biology graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, didn’t know how she was going to handle being a new mom.

Thankfully, her professor — Troy Littleton — stepped in to help.

Littleton asked nine students in the biology graduate program to pay for a new crib for the new mother as something of a gift, according to The Washington Post. The crib would be bought for her to use at work.

“When we have new fathers or mothers in the lab, we usually have a baby shower and everyone pitches in on a gift,” Littleton said. “We couldn’t have a shower for Karen due to the pandemic, but we all agreed that a portable crib would be the perfect gift.”

So they went to work. And, once the entire lab got their COVID-19 shots, the crib was given to her so that she could spend time in the lab with her baby nearby.

The worry went away.

“Child care in any profession is a challenge, but in science, it can even be more challenging,” Littleton told The Washington Post. “Experiments don’t always fit a 9-to-5 schedule. It just made sense for Karen to bring Katie in.”

It didn’t take long for Littleton to go viral. He posted a photo of the crib on social media, instantly attracting attention.

“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!!”

He garnered so much attention that he was interviewed by “Good Morning America” about the crib. He said his lab always does what it can to help young mothers — “anything you can do in a lab to facilitate and help out, we try,” he said.

“The tweet came from just being delighted to be able to see Katie for the first time and to have the opportunity on occasion, when Karen wants to bring her in, to be able to play with her a little bit,” Littleton told “Good Morning America.” “That was the genesis of the tweet, not from any idea it was going to create this large discussion about the challenges mothers face in the workplace.”

“But I’m glad it had that effect because we need to be solving these issues, both in academia and on a broader level as well,” he said. “It’s highlighted that this is a really important issue for our community.”

According to People magazine, Cunningham’s husband will continue to watch the baby during the day. But, she said, it’s nice to have the crib as an option.

It’s one of the reason, she said, she loves MIT.

“One of the reasons I picked MIT was because I got a really positive response from the biology department when I brought up the fact that I was definitely going to want to have a baby during grad school,” she said, according to People magazine. “I was thinking about that the whole time.”