Flexible Working: Christina Halpin

Continuing with our Flexible Working blog series, to raise awareness about the benefits of flexible working and empower you to feel able to talk about it to your line manager, I spoke to Amanda Weston, who works at the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, about her experiences working part time.

What role do you work part time in?

I’m a Research Associate (RA). In my current role, I’m working on a project that looks at the evolution of warning signals in insects and the design of those signals. Most of my time is spent either in the lab running experiments, or analyzing data and writing papers, but I’ve also supervised a number of postgraduates and project students over the years. I work 80% FTE over five days, on an extremely flexible schedule.

How have your hours changed over time?

I’ve been working 80% FTE since I had my son 9 years ago, to allow me to care for, and have more time with, him. Initially, when I returned from maternity leave I worked 4 days, Monday to Thursday, with Friday off. But as my son got older I changed my schedule so I was working the hours flexibly over 5 days, which I found a very easy change to make and it worked out really well.

How have you advanced your career while working part time?

I’ve never seen working part time as a hindrance to my career, or that it has stopped me achieving what I’ve wanted to achieve. After my PhD, I got my first RA role straight away, which I stayed in for 3 years before moving to an unrelated research role for a year. After that, I successfully applied for a Faculty Fellowship, which I feel has been my biggest achievement so far. Now I’ve returned to being an RA, but this was out of personal choice, and not driven by me wanting to work part time.

What advantages has working part time brought you?

For me, working part time has always been about allowing me to effectively balance my family and work life. It has allowed me to continue to pick up my son from school some days, and not have to always rely on after school- or summer clubs. Everything has worked out really well for me and I feel very lucky to have had this flexibility.

Where did you find support while working part time?

I’ve always felt supported in my decision to work part time, by both my close colleagues and my family. My supervisors have always been particularly supportive, and have made it clear that I would continue to be supported should I ever choose to decrease my hours further. I’ve also found the workshops I’ve done on grant writing and CV writing to be particularly helpful for career advancement.

What challenges did you face while working part time?

I haven’t really experienced any major challenges. Some busy weeks, I might find myself working what are essentially full time hours or longer, despite officially working 80% FTE, but I think that this is inevitable when you’re working in a research environment and running experiments. Overall, this hasn’t been a big problem for me and it has helped a lot that I’m able to be flexible with my hours from week to week, so if I work extra hours one week then I’m able to take them back in the next.

What single piece of advice would you give to others who are considering working part time?

If you’d like to work part time, you should carefully consider the flexibility of the role you’ve got and decide if it would be suitable to work in part time hours. For example, in a research role you need to be able to easily alter your schedule depending on what you’re working on. You need to think about the responsibilities you’ve got and what needs to change in order for them to fit into your proposed timeframe.

Thank you so much to Christina, and we wish her continued success working flexibly in her career!

Flexible Working: Lynsay Blake

For the next blog in our Flexible Working blog series, that highlights the successes and challenges of part time working, Lynsay Blake told us about her experiences of working part time in two separate roles, while also caring for her young family.

What roles do you work part time in?

I work at Durham University as a Daphne Jackson Research Fellow on my own project entitled ‘Integrating solid waste into the circular economy’, and work at Newcastle University in Research Funding Development. In this role I help others to build teams, and gain the research funding they need to push forward the boundaries of science.

How have your hours changed over time?

Currently, Monday and Tuesday I work in Newcastle. Wednesday to Thursday, and every second Friday, I work in Durham. However, my hours have changed a few times since 2013 when I had my second child. I moved from research to research development full time, then went to part time to have a ‘happy middle week’ with the kids, then back up to full time, before taking on two part time roles earlier this year after having my third kid to accommodate both my research (which I had been doing as a hobby since 2013) and research development

How have you advanced your career while working part time?

This is a difficult question to answer. I have been offered roles that have been a ‘step up’ while working part time, but when this has happened I have felt that they were not the right fit for me so have turned them down. I have also taken a side step in a restructure, which has really worked well for me and allowed me to consolidate some skills and work in a new team.

With regard to research, in the last year and a half I have had my third (and final) child, published some really good papers, written and gained funding for my own research fellowship, and started building my research for the future. I am proud of this because I have accomplished these things using dedicated periods of time in the NU Women Wednesday writing group, which when I have been incredibly busy at home and work this time and group has been the difference between being able to do these things, and not being able to do these things.

I have also had some exceptional opportunities and my CV looks great. I have just returned from South Africa and Zimbabwe, where my ‘mentor’ from Durham and I went to meet collaborators and discuss future projects, and this has already led to opportunities to widen my research and research network.

With regard to research funding development. I have also helped others to develop their research ideas, teams and proposals. From the small first time grant, to the massive global cross disciplinary proposal. Essentially, each day I go to work knowing that I am pushing forward science to change the world through my own small scientific contribution, but also through helping others to reach their full potential.

What advantages do you feel working part time brought you?

I have been able to keep the security of having my permanent role in research development, while gaining my first role as an independent researcher (on a temporary contract), and having every second Friday free to be with my children.

What challenges have you faced while working part time?

Because I have two part time roles and a young family, there are times when I am incredibly busy and there are competing pulls for my time and energy. This means that I have to be organised, keep my priorities at the front of my mind, and remember what I am working towards, and what I want/need to deliver on three fronts. Luckily, I have managed my own time and workload for a number of years and often working on/leading on multiple complex projects at one time, so am experienced enough to know where to place my energy.

What would you do differently if you had your time again?

I don’t think I would do anything differently. I really love being a mum, I really love research, be that mine or other peoples, and love helping people. These roles are ideal for me. I think if I was to change anything I would make a little more space in my life to draw and paint which I also love.

What advice would you give to others who want to/are considering working part time?

I am not entirely sure. For me I have had some exceptional opportunities to develop two aspects of my working life at the same time, and to give me every second Friday to be with my kids. This seems to work for me, at the moment. Everyone has different priorities, commitments, aspirations and reasons. Maybe the advice would be to think of what would work best for your priorities, commitments, and aspirations and speak with others within and out with the university to work out the best way for you to satisfy these.

Where did you find support with working part time?

When I moved into my current role in Research Funding Development at Newcastle in the restructure, I knew that it was likely I would be taking up my Fellowship. I was open with my line manager and my team mates about this, stating my views on the roles complementing each other and enhancing the skills and capabilities of our team. My line manager and the team have been incredibly supportive, and have helped smooth the way for me to do both of my roles. In addition to this I called upon people whose opinion I respect, such as my previous PhD supervisors, new mentor and collaborator at Durham University.

Outside of the University, my husband and close friends have provided support for this change.

Thank you so much to Lynsay for talking to us! 

If you currently work part time at NU and would be interested in talking about flexible working, we want to hear from you! To take part, please get in contact with Georgia Spencer.