Monday, 8 February 2016

Raising Children Whilst Working In Academia

Traditionally, academic research has been dominated by unmarried individuals with no direct dependents who rely on them. The long hours and unpredictable nature of the work often make sticking to a strict schedule very difficult. Combine that with the everyday stresses of raising children and you could potentially have a recipe for disaster!
 

From my own experience, I often feel like I’m not committing enough of my time to my research project. Being a parent restricts the number of extra hours I can work and lack of childcare means weekend working is virtually impossible. The PhD is designed to allow all research to be completed while only working 9-5 Mon-Fri, but I cannot escape the intense feeling of guilt I experience if I am not reading papers at home.
 
To avoid feeling so isolated, I asked some other parents (who work in academia) to describe how they manage the delicate balance between work and family life – here are a few of the responses:
 
“Both myself and my partner work in academia. After my PhD, I was a leading UK expert in my field and recognised globally, with over 70 publications. After the birth of my first child, I returned to work part-time and continued with my research fellowship. I sacrificed my research career because I chose not to return to full-time work after the birth of my second child. I was given an ultimatum in job choice and was told that if I wanted my senior PDRA position, I had to be full-time. Rather than accept this role, I chose to go into management in a part-time role.

I have since returned to work in a full-time capacity, and my career path is on an upwards trajectory. Influencing national and international policy requires a lot of travel, which is only possible as my line manager agreed a flexible working pattern. I manage to take my kids to and from school at least 3 days per week, but many other personal sacrifices have been made. I have had to give up on personal hobbies and on keeping fit. My husband is also still in academia and we rely heavily on grandparents for times when we both have to travel. For me, working in academia and bringing up kids is difficult and I regularly see myself working 18 hour shifts straight!”

I'm definitely glad that this is not a scenario I have to worry about! My partner will never work in academia and is content with his 9-5 office job. If it weren't for the regular hours he works, I doubt I would have even been able to pursue an academic career. I have a huge level of respect for this person, especially with the regular 18 hour shifts!

“My wife and I have a three-year-old daughter and another baby due in April. We relocated to Glasgow from the North East of England as my wife had been offered her first consultant position after finishing her specialist medical training. In short, I’d finished my master’s degree just before our daughter was born in 2012 and had not been in employment or education until I applied for and was offered a PhD in October 2014.

It has taken me a while to adjust from what was predominantly a househusband role. My wife tends to leave early in the morning to avoid traffic, and I do the nursery run before then coming in to the department. Our daughter will end up watching some children’s TV whilst I get ready. I’m not very good at mornings, so with factoring in the usual messing around that she will do (insisting on wearing a “pretty dress” when it’s pouring with rain and freezing cold, and needing much persuasion otherwise), it’s at least after 9am before we even leave the house. I then drive to the train station, struggle to get parked and roll up to the department much later than I always intend.

My wife will usually pick our daughter up as she leaves earlier than I do. I’m more productive in the late afternoon/early evening, but it can be difficult as I want to leave the department in good time to get home and spend some time with our daughter before she goes to bed. This also includes taking turns to either cook dinner or get our daughter ready for bed with the routine of bath (alternate days) and stories. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing a PhD as more of a hobby than career progression!”

While I don't see my PhD as a hobby, I can definitely relate to this description. There have been days in the past when I have considered the possibility of returning to a housewife role. While I know I'm studying to get the better job in the long term, four years on a stipend (which only pays for travel and childcare) can be a tiring way to live.
 
“Once you decide that you want a child, it is the start of a completely new life. To be a parent is a blessing, but it is also a fulltime responsibility. I decided to go back to work when my daughter was 6 months old - the first few days were fine and I thought… Great having kid and going back to work is not a big deal, but it wasn’t easy at all! When your baby is not feeling well and you are awake the whole night, coming to a job is a nightmare. To be an academic, it is really difficult to be productive when you are not able to completely concentrate. Nevertheless, after a mix of pleasant and unpleasant events, you finally get in to a routine where you can learn to manage your work and kids. The good thing is you will go home and will see a smiling innocent face waiting for you, which wipes away all the worries and stress of the day. Still, sometimes I feel guilty that I am not setting aside proper time for my baby and I’m missing out on the enjoyment of the early growth stages.”

I think this statement pin points perfectly one of my reasons for not having any more children. I already feel like I am missing out on my children's lives and I couldn't bear the thought of going through that with another baby. Having to concentrate in the fast-paced academic environment, while surviving on very little sleep, is not easy and I don't think it is something I could cope well with again.

I hope these testimonies have helped to describe the difficulties associated with raising children in an academic environment. While these people all work in academia, the problems experienced are by no means exclusive to this field. Listening to these stories has relieved my feelings of isolation and I am grateful to know there are people I can go to for advice in this area.

Have any of you experienced similar problems in your own work place? If you have any comments for me or any of the people involved with this post, I'd love to hear about them below!
 
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37 comments

  1. I have 6 children so whether I am at work or at home I never feel I give each time enough quality individual one on one time so know how you feel but this is just one guilt we call carry we can only do our best we are human

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    1. True, sometimes I get so stuck on my own guilt, I forget that every other parent is busy with something different...

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  2. Regardless of the situation i'm sure most people feel that they don't put enough time into their work. I can't comment on the children side but I worked full time while doing my degree and never felt like I had enough time. As long as you're completing your work then that's the main thing x

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    1. I'm hoping I'm doing enough work, but there always seems to be something else that would make it look better lol

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  3. It must be hard to find a balance but you will get there!

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    1. I hope so, especially as I will be busy organising a wedding too this year! :)

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  4. It must be hard to find a balance - I am currently in discussions to start a course, learning from home. Quite how I am going to fit it in, I don't know!

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    1. It's always a struggle studying with kids, good luck with your course when it starts! :)

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  5. Work life balance is so so hard. I work full time 9-5 Mon-Fri but have 2 kids who have aspergers (eldest) and special needs/HAD (youngest). Even a solid routine doesn't help. Life is hard. But we'll all get through, some how - some way - and we'll be appreciated for it at some point. X

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    1. GDD not HAD. Autocorrect is evil. X

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    2. Yeah hopefully! I'm looking forward to the day when my kids are older and appreciate everything I tried to do for them :)

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  6. You will get the balance right eventually. it just takes time, good things come to those who wait...or work flipping hard to get it!!

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    1. Yup! I keep saying to myself 'just two more years and I will be done with studying'! :)

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  7. It must be hard juggling everything and trying to find the right balance that suits you and your family. It will be so worth it in the long run though. xx

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    1. Exactly! I'm hoping to finish my degree on time and then finally start my career and get on the property ladder! Perhaps then I will have more time for the kids :)

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  8. Being a parent is never easy, guilt just comes as part of the package but as long as you do your best no-one can ask for more!

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    1. That's what I try to keep reminding myself, it will get better soon :)

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  9. I think it doesn't matter what you do in live, as mothers we always feel guilty about something! I spent 8 years studying for a BSc (Hons) Life Sciences with the Open University and had two more children while studying for it, so much of their younger years were spent with me with my nose in a book and studying for exams. After I graduated (first class honours!) I had full intentions of getting work, but I'd started my blog as a procrastination and it really took off. That's my full time work now, allowing me to balance work and home and I have my degree to fall back on in the future, if I need.

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    1. I'm sometimes tempted by the idea of being a housewife after I graduate, it would give me a wee rest and let me spend more time with the kids. I would still always have my qualifications if I needed them :)

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  10. I am currently a work from home mum with two toddlers and it's hard either way. A full time job.

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    1. I totally agree with you, when I was between degrees I was a stay at home mum and found it incredibly difficult!

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  11. I know how you feel it is just so hard in any profession. I decided to go full time (44+ hours) in retail meaning I had to be able to work from 6am until around 10:30pm 7 days a week. They expected it to be my main priority. I lasted 15 months. I am a single mum so my daughter is my main priority. I have since changed jobs and shelved any future career progression until she is older. She deserves my time more than any employer does right now.

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    1. I'm glad so many people at my work have children, it means that more people understand the difficulties we face. My supervisor especially tries to make me remember that I shouldn't feel forced to go on long work trips just because everyone else does it!

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  12. Upmost respect for balancing all this! I'm sure you're nailing it too. We're told we can only have one thing and not the other, so it's great you're doing all this :)

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    1. Thanks, I didn't want to waste the opportunity of doing a PhD, but it has made life a little more difficult...

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  13. I still dont believe there are enough hours in the day to simply enjoy life, the whole work life balance thing just never works itself out x

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    1. Totally! It gets to home time and I just eat then go to bed!

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  14. Prior to having kids I was a marketing director in a law firm. Now I'm a stay at home mum and blogger whilst the Husband works full time. I'd like to go back to work one day but the other side of the coin you are talking about is that once you have left it's incredibly difficult to get back into work again.

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    1. That's one of my worries - if I took a small break, would I still be able to get a good job?

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  15. I can understand this, I am wanting to go to university but I just don't see where I will get the time. I don't want to give half my best

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    1. Universities often have people around to help, see if you can speak to someone to make your decision easier :)

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  16. It sure sounds like it's a common problem. The balance of doing it all is so difficult.

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    1. It sure is! I'm just glad opinions are starting to change a little bit :)

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  17. Blimey I think these people are amazing being able to work 18 hours and still look after their children. How on earth do they do it?

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    1. No idea, I'm glad I'm not working 18 hour shifts! :)

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  18. I have to wonder how anyone can possibly manage to do such long hours with children. I don't think I could do it myself, but we all have to choose whats best for us and our families.

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    1. I struggle to stay awake for that long, never mind look after kids and work too :)

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