I was talking to another (more junior, female) post-doc the other day about juggling childcare and working part-time. I said it’s working well in general but next time (I’m currently pregnant with baby two) I will be taking off the maximum amount of time which is 12 months plus accrued leave. Her response was astonishment that I will be away from work for so long…How will I keep up with research? I’ll fall behind on publications, my boss might not like it…To me this list of reasons for not taking more than a few months off is reminiscent of the ridcululous advice I was given when my daughter was born: If you don’t put her down you’ll be carrying her to school when she’s 10, if you nurse her to sleep she’ll never learn to sleep by herself, you’ll turn her into a spoilt brat if you respond to her cries straight away….
After my first pregnancy I took 11 months off . I made the most of my time away from work, as I’ll do this time around. When I went back to work I changed to part-time hours, as did my partner. I read papers during my leave. I also had meetings with my PhD student and PI every six weeks or so. I took my daughter along to most of these meetings unless her dad was able to look after her while taking a long lunch break (he’s not a scientist but used to work in a building nearby).
During my first maternity leave only three papers that had a direct impact on my research were published. There were a few others that were of interest. I read more papers in the year I had off than I have ever read in a year while working. As with falling behind on publications, if you are productive before taking any leave, you will be afterwards too. A year off is not going to change that. In fact, I seem to be more productive while on leave than when I’m doing experiments because I have time to get away from the laboratory and reflect on the results I have so far and how I am going to take my project and career forward. (Maybe everyone should spend a week or two working from home once in a while to reflect on their work and how to take it forward.) A few months into my last maternity leave I was an author on a paper published in the Journal of Immunology (see here) and this time, two weeks into my leave another paper was submitted and a third is being written. I am also writing a project grant to extend my current contract and having meetings with another PI every 6 to 8 weeks to set up a collaboration. I have already told him that I will be bringing my son along to these meetings and if I need to I will nurse him during the meeting. Having children himself, he was happy with that.
When do I have the time to do this? I enjoy work enough to read papers while the children sleep and also while they are having some time alone with their dad. Life isn’t all about work though. There are other things I enjoy doing too such as gardening and getting back into running (see other blog here – a work in progress!).
My boss not liking that I’m taking so much time off? He doesn’t have a problem with it. Besides, even if he did, taking 52 weeks off is my right.
Work will always be there but it’s important to spend time with the family and children grow up so fast.
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Last week I had an induction to become a STEM ambassador with Ellie Cripps and Liz Lister. Attending the induction at Oasis Academy Brightstowe was the first time in over 10 years that I have stepped inside a school. As an ambassador I’ll be visiting schools like this more often to hopefully inspire children to take up a STEM career.
Why am I doing it? I’m investing in my daughter’s future. I want her (and other children) to be excited about Science (and the other STEM subjects: Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I also want to pass on the job satisfaction a career in Science provides, how every day is different and how I am constantly discovering something new. I hope to show that Science can be fun and rewarding. STEM jobs are largely linked to research and development. They are about being creative and bringing ideas to life (innovation). Innovation and economic growth
are known to go hand-in-hand (innovation economics). Therefore, to improve Britian’s economy
an investment in young people and their education is needed.
Young people have to stay in education until they are 17, but this is going to change to 18 in Autumn 2014. However, they make their GCSE choices when they enter Year 9 (13 years old, turning 14) and at this point can drop Science. Therefore, these children need to be inspired to do STEM subjects before they turn 14, ideally in Year 8 (12/13 year olds). STEM Ambassadors are doing a good job of promoting STEM careers as reported by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
[Numbers taken from the NFER report.]
The government puts money into the STEM programme where volunteers take part in one activity with a school every year (minimum). People studying or working in STEM show pupils which options are open to them if they are considering a career in STEM; if not, then it still shows how STEM touches lives every day. The volunteers help teachers make interesting projects come to life. Students are given an alternative viewpoint on a subject and talk about something new, something which is outside of the curriculum but still supports it. It is also a resource for teachers, keeping them up-to-date with developments in research. It also puts into context what is taught at school. STEM ambassadors help can help with activities that are difficult for the teacher to carry out alone during an ordinary lesson. These activities are a change from the norm and therefore exciting, brightening up a dull, ordinary day. There are 23,000 STEM ambassadors UK-wide, with about 1,400 based in Bristol, Bath and Somerset (there are fewer in Somerset compared to Bristol and Bath).
STEMNET increases teachers’ awareness of STEM subjects and increases pupil engagement with the subject. Teachers gain an increased awareness of STEM career and employment options with an increased understanding of STEM business and industry. They are also more likely to remain a teacher of STEM if a STEM club is running in their school.
What are the benefits for me, my work (research into inflammation) and my employer (University of Bristol)? Inspiring people and being a positive role model is rewarding. I feel I’m giving something back to the community by volunteering in schools. It also puts my own work into context. Their interest in my work will renew my interest in it and drive me to do more. It improves my communication and presentation skills. It raises the profile of my employer and the research group I work in. Peer-reviewed publications and science conferences are not the only way to disseminate research. When scientists apply for grants, there is usually a section where the project idea needs to be written in lay terms. There is also a section about how the findings will be disseminated (papers, conferences, etc. ) and in this section, public engagement should also be key. The University of Bristol is actively engaged in outreach activities and promoting the importance of pathways to impact.
[Numbers taken from NFER report.]
What counts as a STEM ambassador activity? Volunteering in schools and taking part in a STEM-linked activity centred around the needs of the school. It can also include supporting teacher CPD, networking events with teachers and science fairs such as the Big Bang.
My first event will be a women in science workshop repeated three times in one day (with help from Gemma Beers and Maddy Stimpson, two PhD students in the Ophthalmology labs) for over 200 Year 9 girls in Taunton; an event organised by skirting science on 27th March 2014.
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