I am at a point now where things feel fairly stable at home and work – as much as it can be with two teenagers anyway. This stability has been a long time coming. You certainly don’t choose research for reasons of career predictability – but, despite the challenges, things worked out OK with a young family. As well as having a supportive partner, managers and mentors have helped me enormously along the way, allowing me to progress within the context of short-term contracts and benefit from the relative flexibility and freedom.
I now have a permanent university appointment with the majority of my time allocated to research, but it is important to highlight that there has been a great deal of uncertainty and having to keep options open along the way. Inevitably most early career research positions are based on short-term grant or fellowship-linked funds without any promise of what will happen at the end of that term. So for example, when I moved my family from London to Reading it was for a contract that lasted for less than two years, so there was a real pressure to find additional sources of funds during that time, and having to take on different things along the way to fill gaps. For example, covering a clinical colleague’s maternity leave as one of my research contracts came to an end. This uncertainty can create stress, particularly if you are at a life stage where it is not easy to relocate, and it is important to work with managers who are committed to helping to creatively find ways to keep you employed and able to move forwards.
The biggest challenge for me has been juggling a busy research career with a growing family. I am determined that my children experience me as being available to them and I feel very privileged that I am able to take charge of juggling this in a way that I might not in many other jobs. When they were younger, it often meant early starts to the day, and then later on pausing for a bit of hanging out, eating with the children, and putting them to bed- before then trying to get back on with work once they were asleep. As they get older they are obviously becoming more and more independent, and bed times are also getting later and later, making it clear that the ways I juggle things will be in constant evolution.