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Are Universities supportive of parents

(61 Posts)
fr567 Thu 31-Dec-15 00:15:23

For lecturers and up, what are your experiences in research and teaching? Have new DD and my experience at work has been rather negative (and very identifying so can’t really go into details). Sorry if this is quite vague, but I’m somewhat down and pissed off. It’d be nice to know if it’s just me having a hard time of it. (For info am male.)

MedSchoolRat Thu 31-Dec-15 18:28:46

Personally I think compared to private sector absolutely yes Unis are pretty family friendly.
But I'm limited to personal experience.

MedSchoolRat Thu 31-Dec-15 18:31:22

ah, but just thinking, I'm not a lecturer. Just a lowly RA.
I still think very family friendly looking at colleagues in many disciplines, compared to other people/DH who has always worked in private sector.

purplepandas Thu 31-Dec-15 18:35:27

I am finding it very family friendly. I have just returned to a FT lectureship now that DC are 4 and 6. I WFH at least one day a week and finish early to collect DC some days if needed etc. Obviously hours get made up and I work lots of eves but this suits me as it fits with DH shifts.

mumsnit Thu 31-Dec-15 18:45:10

Where I work it is family friendly in general - HR policies all say the right things!! However I've found its down to individuals and line management as to how flexible it is in reality. There's a bit of a jobsworth/bullying culture around in my experience which has impacted on how easy it is to request to work around childcare.

Hope things improve for you OP.

FurryGiraffe Thu 31-Dec-15 18:45:33

My experience is very mixed. In some ways, it's very family friendly: good maternity leave, ability to work from home and nobody is going to take disciplinary action if you cancel a lecture because your child is ill. But in other ways I've found it very difficult: a dogged determination to avoid formal flexible working arrangements (and reliance on informal flexibility that is never guaranteed and often falls apart), a timetable that runs until 6 (which of course is when childcare stops), the ridiculous workload in term time. Most of all though, my department appears to be pervaded by a culture that your spouse is a SAHP. All the other women with children in my department have the other parent at home (or in very part time child friendly job) so I feel very isolated.

FurryGiraffe Thu 31-Dec-15 18:47:13

Cross post with mumsnit. Completely agree about the HR policy saying all the right things but much depending on the individuals in question.

mumsnit Thu 31-Dec-15 19:16:41

YY Furry - I love my job but these are definitely the frustrations I experience too!

purplepandas Thu 31-Dec-15 20:14:57

I do agree re individual line management. That makes a huge difference I think. Hope things improve for you op.

Booboostwo Thu 31-Dec-15 20:48:51

It depends.

Temporary contracts are catastrophic for family life. You have to up and move at short notice to the other end of the country for just 9 months, the workload is crippling and the compensation hardly worth the bother.

Permanent contracts are better. Maternity leave is usually good, all my colleagues have taken a year off per child. Hours are generally flexible which is good in principle but the workload is usually so high that you have to take work home for the evenings and weekends. Research and admin tasks are flexible which is helpful but it can be very difficult to find a colleague to cover for teaching or move teaching sessions in emergencies. Holiday time seems long and leisurely from the outside but the reality is that exam marking, course prepping, conferences, writing and other tasks take so much time it's difficult to take statutory leave.

In terms of general career progression the REF has only recently recognised that maternity leave is a reason for a reduced output, so that tells you how important this consideration was for the powers that be! Some research environments are so competitive that your colleagues may view family commitments with resentment.

geekaMaxima Fri 01-Jan-16 15:25:25

It entirely depends on your boss / line manager, I think (head of dept in traditional structures, or head of research group / subject stream / random silo in other stoopid management structures). Whoever makes decisions about your workload, admin jobs, teaching allocation, etc.

I've previously had a misogynistic sociopath as a HoD who described maternity leave as a baby holiday, wouldn't make any allowances for moving meetings or lectures to family-friendly hours, and openly denigrated anyone who went part-time for childcare reasons. No men took any extra parental leave, or asked to work flexibly, or said openly they had to leave early to pick up the kids, etc. under his long reign of terror. (Several women left due to feeling their careers were being stifled.) There was a general culture that kids were incompatible with a serious research career unless you had a stay-at-home partner - many colleagues (both male and female) with kids did so, to an extent I haven't seen elsewhere.

I've also had a decent human being as a HoD who did her damnedest to make working family-friendly, including encouraging meetings to end before 5pm, working from home during school holidays, etc. Both men and women took the opportunities given, and it was fairly common for fathers to take extra leave when children were born, or stay home to look after a sick child, etc. Everyone was aware some people had kids or other caring responsibilities, and it wasn't seen as a problem. Kids were not seen as a barrier to a research career, and all levels - L, SL, prof - had excellent grants and publications regardless of kids or not. (Btw, this dept did as well in the REF as the previous one with the psycho head). A few colleagues had SAH partners but most didn't, and there were quite a few people whose partners were also academics ore than I've seen elsewhere).

I've also had HoDs somewhere in the middle, who through indifference or ineptitude didn't engage with any family-friendly issues and just let things drift along. The culture then tended to regress towards the mean... as in any accommodations for childcare tended to be taken by women, and only occasionally by men. Colleagues would (for example) move meetings to accommodate someone picking up kids, etc. but would grumble if it happened more than occasionally. There was an overall culture that kids got in the way of the job rather than being a normal part of life.

Depressing when I look back on it, but the good news was how fast the culture could be changed by a new HoD if they were determined to change thugs for the better. Athena Swan helps a lot in that regard for sciences.

geekaMaxima Fri 01-Jan-16 15:28:10

...change things for the better, not change thugs... Ffs.

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 15:43:31

As an HR Manager at a university having worked for many years in Financial Services I think it's incredibly flexible. Many of the academics don't agree.

With the exception of lectures, tutorials and formal meetings hours are very flexible and providing the work gets done nobody minds if it's done between 9pm and midnight, allowing child pick-ups, concerts, dentists, Dr appointments, etc. In other jobs annual leave (often statutory 20+8 rather than an academic 35+8) usually has to be taken for such things.

I spend a lot of time nodding and smiling. Even for me, expected on premises from 9-5, with usually an extra 1.5-2 hours a day on top of that it's very flexible compared to other places. What feels like a downside are the backhanded comments from academics about how the professional staff are 9-5 and have time for tea breaks. It doesn't foster good relationships and saddens me.

maybebabybee Fri 01-Jan-16 15:46:58

I think it is for professional staff but maybe it is different if you're an academic

It does depend on the university though.

I agree with Beaufort re: relationships between academics and professional staff though, there are a lot of misunderstandings there.

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 15:51:36

Sorry maybe are you saying you think it's more flexible for professional staff?

disquisitiones Fri 01-Jan-16 16:20:57

With the exception of lectures, tutorials and formal meetings hours are very flexible and providing the work gets done nobody minds if it's done between 9pm and midnight, allowing child pick-ups, concerts, dentists, Dr appointments, etc. In other jobs annual leave (often statutory 20+8 rather than an academic 35+8) usually has to be taken for such things.

While I agree with the general point, in reality many academics nowadays have teaching and meetings scheduled right through every day, so they can't just leave for appointments in the middle of the day. (Personally I am in the office 8-5 or more every day, despite having children, and in my experience the admin/management workload for senior academics has increased massively in the last twenty years.)

And many academics don't even have the time to take 20+8 annual leave, let alone more than this. The last time I had a vacation of any kind was five years ago - I typically have to work over the Christmas period too. (I was given 2-3 days work on 23 December which needs to be done by 5 January; this is management stuff rather than my own research which I would like to do but don't actually have to.)

Overall I think there are massive variations according to university and department (often even within a department). I work in a research field which is very high pressure. The culture in my field is noticeably very different from those of departmental colleagues and I would bet that my experience of balancing family and work is very different from theirs.

Kids were not seen as a barrier to a research career, and all levels - L, SL, prof - had excellent grants and publications regardless of kids or not.

But to counterbalance this I have known a lot of academics slow down enormously after having children and not maintain reasonable (let alone excellent) research. It is one thing to work flexibly; it is quite another to e.g. stay home with young children a couple of days per week and effectively work part-time while taking a full-time salary. The latter is not honest and could well be used a reason to curtail academic flexibility in the coming years.

geekaMaxima Fri 01-Jan-16 16:36:43

It is one thing to work flexibly; it is quite another to e.g. stay home with young children a couple of days per week and effectively work part-time while taking a full-time salary. The latter is not honest and could well be used a reason to curtail academic flexibility in the coming years

Wow, I've never heard of anyone doing that! Perhaps I've just not been aware...

Slowdowns are common, yes, particularly in the first months back after mat leave (and particularly for a first child) as people learn how to juggle their new demands. Plus, in my field at least, the lack of data collection during mat leave can mean fewer publications a year or more later (given the lag for write up and review). My point was that this wobble in productivity didn't result in the quality of research suffering, at least in terms of grant income and REFable publications.

But the kind of behaviour you mention would be shocking. Do you know many cases where it definitely occurred?

I ask because I know some cases where it might have looked like that, but the people in question for actually working full time. One mother was working 4 compressed days to stay home one day a week, and another used annual leave accrued during mat leave to take every Friday off for months.

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 17:51:04

Sadly I do know one or two cases like that, yes, although they involve staff who have now had their research allowances cut and are close to performance management.

I think academics lose sight of the fact that they can compress their hours whereas the registrar or head of admissions can't because they have to be available for students and academic staff five days a week and have line management responsibilities.

I can think of one couple where the father is a Reader and the mother is an SL. They both work compressed hours and do some weekend catching up. They do work very hard but they also only have their DC in nursery for three days each week which is a huge childcare saving.

Our Head of Finance, married to an Assistant Head just can't achieve that sort of economy as a family. I think that's the sort of flexibility that academics do benefit from.

There is also the flexibility thatcworking from home affords, ie, research day. I know lots of academics who arrange deliveries, for the boiler to be serviced on that day, etc, whereas other staff would have to take annual leave. I appreciate the research often continues into the small hours but it's an autonomous flexibility that can be helpful. Many others don't have it.

maybebabybee Fri 01-Jan-16 17:57:16

Beaufort I think it's flexi for academics too but they don't always get their jobs are different to prof staff jobs and therefore flexibility is too.

Eg it's normal (where I work anyway) for academics to go away for essentially the entire summer, whereas professional staff can't do that. But then obviously sometimes academic staff have teaching requirements that can be quite inflexible, though where I work if you have family commitments they try to timetable your teaching around those.

geekaMaxima Fri 01-Jan-16 18:18:17

I very much appreciate the flexibility and independence typically inherent in academia. It was one of the reasons - long before I had kids - that led me to choose it over more lucrative jobs in the private sector.

So yes, academic staff in universities are in a better position than non-academic staff when it comes to flexibility because the nature of their jobs involves a lot of solo work. I can analyse data, write papers, write lectures, mark exams etc. anywhere. (And I certainly don't resent support or professional staff being able to take a tea break! It goes with having to be at your desk from 9-5, which I'm glad I don't have to do).

Unfortunately, a bad HoD can remove any useful flexibility from academic staff by refusing all requests for flexible working, giving staff a hard time for not being in their offices at random times of day, scheduling compulsory meetings in late hours and school holidays, demanding immediate replies to emails regardless of weekends or annual leave, and so on.

Good HR policies about flexible working can be undone by hostile management practices, so not all academics get to enjoy the flexibility they should. I think a lot of bitterness from academics about tea breaks emerges from the gap between theory and practice in their own dept. sad

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 18:26:13

I think that's shocking. No flexible working request can be refused unilaterally. There is a statutory requirement to consider it and it can only be declined if one or more of eight recognised business reasons applies.

I'm glad where I work all flexible working requests and their outcomes have to be signed off by me. A member of HR and the HoD and the member of staff meet to discuss how and if the request can be accommodated. Perhaps we are enlightened.

I do appreciate the pressures.

Sunshineboo Fri 01-Jan-16 18:30:13

From my experience it is much more flexible that other industries, particularly financial services and the other 'top flight' careers that academics could have otherwise pursued. However, many academic staff understandably put themselves under pressure for promotion - to be promoted you need a good research profile and juggling that alongside other duties is challenging. Throw in compressed hours and it can feel unmanageable. I have colleagues who bemoan having to write papers at weekends. I have to bite my tounge not to remind them that the coming in late and leaving early to do drop off and pick ups means that they have to make up the time elsewhere. And keeping an eye on emails is not working from home.

The good thing about academia (particularly in the more research intensive universities) is that generally you can organise things to suit you in a way that is hard to find in other careers. But it is still stressful.

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 19:08:30

Oh yes, those colleagues. Similar to the ones who don't book a day of annual leave during the summer because they are too busy, and yet the monograph is two years late and they've missed two bidding deadlines and have three weeks off with work related stress when their unreasonable HoD raises it. Or the ones who are too ill to teach, especially undergrads, but are able to jet off to a conference that happens to be in the same country their family is based in hmm.

Booboostwo Fri 01-Jan-16 19:09:07

In the Unis I worked at lectures and seminars were allocated centrally and we got absolutely no choice on days or hours. Anything between 8am and 6pm was fair game and on one course we ended up teaching on Sundays for a couple of years because there were no rooms acvailable on weekdays.

Tutorials offered more flexibility but again there was no choice over admin meetings as a large number of people had to attend and individual preferences could not be accommodated.

BeaufortBelle Fri 01-Jan-16 19:15:36

In any event fr567 we have digressed a bit and I am very guilty of it.

Congratulations on your new dd. How new exactly? I hope you and she are well and wish you both Avery happy new year.

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