Case Studies: Flexible Working
"When I joined Lancaster University in 2002 as a Senior Research Fellow I was already a mother of two pre-school children. The University and the Institute for Health Research (now the Division of Health Research) were both very supportive and were more than happy to accommodate my part-time hours and to allow me flexibility in my days of work when unexpected things arose – like coughs, colds and tummy upsets! In 2004 I had my third child and took 7 months of maternity leave. The whole process of planning my workload and my leave was incredibly easy. This is partly because of the commitment to flexibility and parent-friendly systems within the HR department, but also due to the support of my line manager and HoD. My return to work was staged carefully. I resumed my normal post but at only 2 days per week, increasing to 2.5 days per week after 1 year and then up to my current 3 days per week after about 2 years.
"Having a family and an academic career can be a tricky balance. However, parenthood has not been a barrier to the development of my career. Things happen a little more slowly, perhaps, and require more planning and personal focus (eg I have always been encouraged to focus my publications on ‘good journals’ using a quality not quantity rationale). I feel that there is a commitment to supporting the personal development of junior staff amongst senior colleagues here at Lancaster. I feel confident that my contributions to DHR and the wider University take account of my need to strike a home-work balance and that being a mother of three does not disadvantage me. In my experience, it is a commitment to identifying and cultivating individual strengths which makes Lancaster an excellent place to work. I have been encouraged to lead research, collaborate with others, develop teaching and take on senior management roles because people look at what I do well - and don’t focus on my part-time hours or my (occasional) need to stay at home!
"I was delighted to be transferred to a lectureship in 2006 and that my application for promotion to Senior Lecturer was approved in 2008."
Dr Sara Mallinson is a Senior Lecturer in Social Science in the Division of Health Research and Associate Director of the NIHR Research Design Service for the NW.
"Lancaster University’s flexible, child-friendly policy has allowed me to successfully combine my busy research schedule in volcanology with the joys and responsibilities of parenthood since my son Alec was born in 2008. After taking a full month of paternity leave, which the Research Support Office helped me to arrange, I returned to work four days a week, spending one day a week with Alec, and caught up by working occasional evenings and weekends. Both my funding body (NERC) and the University were fully supportive.
From four months old Alec has attended the Pre-School Centre part-time, which has allowed my partner, who is also a researcher at the University, to also return to work. Now that he is approaching two years old we both spend one half-day with Alec per week, which works well. The pre-school centre is quite excellent, with caring and committed staff, and is within sight of my office window. Alec got to visit Iceland last year to help me with my fieldwork on an extinct volcano and I look forward to many more such trips in the future – but I won’t be able to carry him for much longer!"
Hugh Tuffen is a NERC Research Fellow in the Lancaster Environment Centre http://www.es.lancs.ac.uk/people/hught/hugh.html
"In 2008 I became pregnant with my first child and she was born in December 2008. It was quite easy to understand the procedure at Lancaster for receiving maternity leave and I stopped work the week before I was due to give birth. My job involves doing a certain amount of fieldwork; we have installed and maintain 3 all-sky cameras that take images of the aurora borealis throughout the winter months and these are stationed in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. My line manager has been very helpful and understanding throughout and when it came a point in my pregnancy where I was unable to do the fieldwork safely we came to alternative arrangements.
"I took 7 months of maternity leave before returning to work and I came back having discussed flexible and part-time working with my line manager and we agreed that I could work 80% time, with 3 days in the office and 1 day at home a week. We filled in the relevant HR forms and my request was approved which resulted in my contract being changed and extended. The research council that funds my position (STFC) allowed the term of the grant to be extended by the amount of time I took off which has really helped.
"I make use of the excellent nursery facilities at Lancaster University for the 3 days I’m physically in work (my husband works full time) and then I make up the time for the 4th day spread across the week as my research job does not have a specific timetable. The way the Lancaster University Pre-School is run allowed me to come back to work after 7 months; I was able to take short breaks during the day to walk 5 minutes to the Pre-school and continue to breastfeed my baby which eased the transition to work and day-care significantly for both of us.
"Since returning to work I have been able to resume my fieldwork activities having been to both the Faroe Islands and Iceland, first travelling away from home when my little girl was 10 months old. To be able to travel away from home now there are obviously a lot more considerations and I wouldn’t be able to do this without the help of my very supportive husband who takes on the baby duties when I’m away. Nonetheless, I am working now more or less as I did before my break, I do my research, I go on fieldwork and conferences and although I have a lot of extra responsibility outside of work I feel I am able to get a good balance between work and bringing up my daughter well.
"I think the most crucial aspects of getting back to work are: a helpful line manager backed up by good procedures in HR, outstanding nursery facilities on site and a supportive home environment. The people, facilities and procedures to make this happen are all in place at Lancaster University and for me this has worked very well.
Dr Emma Woodfield a senior research associate in the Dept of Communication Systems working on a short term contract.