I joined the Tomlinson lab, then in London, to start a postdoc in 2007. Shortly afterwards the lab move to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford. Starting a family took me longer than I’d hoped but I finally fell pregnant in 2010 and had my daughter Bethan in April 2011. The Oxford University maternity pay was generous so I took 8 months of leave in total. Before returning, I discussed flexible and part time working with my PI and the HR department, and was able to agree a 4 day week with defined hours of 8.30 to 4.30.
This set up worked very well for me and, I think, my PI. I continued working these hours for two years during which time I achieved data for and published a high impact first author paper as well as contributing to other projects and publications in the lab. I then took a second period of 8 months leave after the arrival of my son, Owen. It is now 1 year since my return and the 4 day week is still working well, despite the obvious juggling act that any working mother needs to negotiate. My slightly shortened hours mean that I can drop off and collect my son from nursery close to my home in Beaconsfield. My daughter is now at school and I have organised a combination of wrap-around care in school clubs and with another parent, who also works flexibly. My husband, who works in London, can’t help that often, but he does cover 1 drop off per week and occasional pick-ups so I can stay late for important meetings or networking events.
I am fortunate that my PI is very supportive and both he and my colleagues respect my hours and never expect me to attend meetings or seminars too early/late or on my day off. I have found that, as long as I plan my work well and work efficiently, that I am nearly as productive as I was working 5 days with less restricted hours. During the time I have in the lab, I prioritise working at the bench, interacting with colleagues and supervising students. Any writing up, analysis or other computer based work that I cannot finish during the day, I complete in the evenings after my children are asleep, although I try to keep this under control.
I really enjoy the day that I spend at home each week. I am able to drop off and pick up my daughter from school meaning that I can get to know her teachers and other parents, which I have discovered is very important for both my daughter and me during this big step in her life. In the evening I take her and a friend to ballet class. I also get some precious 1 to 1 time with my son and try to make sure that I spend it doing enjoyable activities not housework. In recent weeks we have been to a toddler music group, a petting zoo, the local park and Legoland! I am grateful that I can experience some of the pleasurable family time that stay-at-home mothers enjoy, while actively pursuing my career in science.
While having children has undoubtedly slowed my career progression, I have recently been awarded a New Investigators Research Grant application to the MRC for independent funding to start my own group. This will obviously pose new challenges and I expect to be very busy. Some great women scientists in Oxford have shown that it can be done though.
Written June 2016