By Kirsty Pringle
Kirsty Pringle is a research support scientist at the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds. In her work she develops computer models for use in studies of climate change and air quality. She is also the mother of two children (aged 6 and 3). Since the birth of her first child she has worked part-time. Kirsty is interested in the role that positive role models can play in helping to establish a culture of flexibility and work / life balance in academia.
Of all the academics I know, I am the most part-time of the part-timers. By working just two and a half days a week, my weekdays are split evenly between home and work. It’s not for everyone, and I am a little jealous of those manage to share the childcare more evenly with their partners, but for my family it works well. I’m home a decent amount, and my partner works full time. I enjoy the days of play dough and finger painting more than he does, and I’d feel I was missing out if I was at work more. And I’ve learnt so much from working part-time; I’ve become more efficient, better at managing my time, and just a little bit ruthless about which meetings I attend. And every day that I’m home with the kids, I am grateful that I also have employment that is not “just a job”, but a career that challenges, interests and inspires me.
But part-time roles are almost never advertised; most often they are negotiated after a period of full time employment. I was lucky enough to be in a role I enjoyed before taking my maternity leave, so I was able to negotiate part-time hours that suited me, and I was well supported by my institution. But I feel for those that are looking to be appointed into part-time roles, especially those that want to work only a few days a week – it is one thing to ask if a full-time role can be reduced to 4 days a week, but 3, or even 2 days? It would require a great deal of negotiating skills, an open-minded employer and frankly quite a lot of luck.
This means that we part-timers have significantly reduced mobility – moving between institutes is a normal part of academia, and can be a really positive career move. But at the moment, the chances of being appointed into a role that would allow similar working hours is so low that it seems impossible to me.
I’d love to see more flexibility in job adverts, and for consideration of part-time working being accepted as a normal phase of the recruitment process. It isn’t even clear to me when one should ask if the role could be part time – does one ask during the interview? Only after an offer? To me, the lack of an established pathway makes the task more daunting and emphasises the feeling that by asking to work part-time one is asking for a favour.
Part-time may not work for every role, or for every project, but many research projects do lend themselves well to part-time working, and the growing number of part-time workers in academia is proof of that. But until this is considered routinely as part of the recruitment process, it is a benefit that is more readily available to those of us lucky enough to be already employed in roles we enjoy, and less available to early career researchers, and for the many researchers on short term contracts.