returning after a long maternity leave: struggling to find a job

(7 Posts)
jclm Tue 12-Jan-16 11:55:13

I would like some careers guidance, or just some support! I am finding it very difficult to find a job on return from maternity leave, and I am losing hope.

I gained my PhD (social sciences) in 2007 and worked on several research projects at different universities between 2007 – 2013. In my career I had a great publication record and gained some small funding grants to organise conferences etc. In 2010 and 2012 I had my children and had a break of 9 months in each case. After my fixed-term contract finished in 2013 I have found it difficult to get another job. It’s now been 2.5 years since I’ve had a paid job.

We live in an area where there are very few jobs. We are staying in the local area as my husband has a permanent job here, but he may take early-retirement in 3 years so we could move at that point. My local university does not have a social sciences department, though admin roles are sometimes advertised. There are a couple of universities in nearby cities, but the nearest would be a daily commute of 2-3 hours. I am not keen to work full-time as my toddler has severe learning disabilities and I feel he needs the extra stimulation from me (in comparison to leaving him with a nanny or childminder, inexperienced in learning disabilities).

I would like a job at this point because I am panicking about being out of work for so long, and I want to re-start my career and pension contributions, even if it would be impossible at this stage to have an academic career as I had hoped in the past. So I am ‘side stepping’ and am widening the job search. I have been volunteering (I am a trustee and I am doing some trust fundraising for a charity) which is giving me some different skills. I am even considering doing another PhD, which would come with a £14k stipend and which would be flexible around school pickup. I have accepted that after a break I cannot expect to return to my salary of £30k but most of these jobs I applied for have been paying about £23k, which doesn’t even cover the childcare costs.

I have been applying selectively for local, part-time jobs. I have had 8 interviews for part-time jobs in 2.5 years:

-Three interviews for research assistant roles at universities (these jobs were not entirely in my subject area, but the interviews went well)
-A project officer role at a university (I did an excellent interview but they had an internal candidate)
-A research assistant role at a charity (I was an excellent fit for this job but I did badly in the competency-based interview)
-A policy officer role (I did badly at the interview because I did not fully understand the role)
-An evaluation officer role at a charity (I did an excellent interview but they had an internal candidate)

After all these unsuccessful interviews, I am losing hope! Especially considering each interview is very draining (they usually want a 10 minute presentation and an interview of 50 minutes). I usually have to pay for a day’s childcare to allow me to go for the interview which is costing a small fortune.

My questions are: is it usually this difficult for mums with PhDs to return to the labour market after having maternity leave? What can I do now to increase my chances of getting a paid job?

disquisitiones Tue 12-Jan-16 13:22:32

My questions are: is it usually this difficult for mums with PhDs to return to the labour market after having maternity leave?

Yes, I think it probably is, unless your skills allow you to apply for a wide range of non-academic jobs.

In my own area it would be almost impossible to return to academia after a career gap (it's very hard to get a permanent job even without a career gap, you have to be willing to move countries) but it would be pretty easy to start a new career using transferrable STEM skills.

If there is not much on offer in the areas you have been applying to, I guess you need to broaden your net and think of other possibilities?

I am even considering doing another PhD, which would come with a £14k stipend and which would be flexible around school pickup.

If your first PhD was funded by RCUK, you will not be funded for a second PhD by a UK research council.

Even if your first PhD was not funded by RCUK, you may well find that you will not get another PhD position - my department has a policy of not signing off on second PhDs.

MedSchoolRat Tue 12-Jan-16 20:14:28

I think, I actually am the only career RA on MN. I don't move around the country neither do other career RAs I know.

Is there anyone (several people even better) you could approach at nearest Uni to write grant applications with, you as named investigator? The grant writing could be done PT now. Look at their dept. research output, what angles would you like to build on? most of all, who is NICE to work with up there?

You're getting interviews, that's not bad at all.

I live in a low skill job area, too.

Not crazy difficult for me to get back to academia after 7 yr break (1st academic job I applied for actually, in an discipline I never worked in b4). I bring nothing special, honest. The trick was redefining my skill set (I know it sounds pants). You already know you can do project management... research design and methods, evidence analysis? Writing, what else?

I guess your last FTC was at Uni now far away?
If you commute by train you might be able to use commuting time as work time.

geekaMaxima Wed 13-Jan-16 08:52:42

Would you consider research support as a side-step? As in the role where you work with academics to cost grants, highlight funding opportunities, collate research data for faculties / departments, sort out contracts with research funders, assist with REF preparations, etc.

It's fairly common for people in this role to have a PhD (in my recent universities, at least) as it's seen as a bonus that they can speak "academic".

The name of the role seems to vary a lot, though, and I've heard it described as research support, research business management, research and contracts, research administration, etc.

MarasmeAbsolu Wed 13-Jan-16 20:02:37

I totally second Maxima's suggestion.

My other suggestion is academic consultancy - in my discipline, there is a big need for this. My uni is outsourcing staff training to academic consultants, and there is one area for which there never seems to be enough support: help with academic coaching, project management, and (from the PhD students perspective) - proper English / scientific writing skills help. Sadly, some go to very dubious agencies, when in fact they would benefit from coaching / training. The unis won't pay for it, but the students would!

possiblefutures Thu 14-Jan-16 13:53:52

Have you thought about freelancing for research organisations / consultancies? A lot use associate researchers, and you may be able to work at home (eg if doing analysis / lit review / etc).

HPsauciness Fri 22-Jan-16 12:18:14

Sorry to state the obvious, but if you are not that near any universities, this will massively limit the amount of university jobs you can apply for. I don't mean this in a bad way- my husband has had a similar problem in that we are not near (as in commutable distance) many unis, and once you start travelling 2/3 hours a day, your quality of life and bank balance goes down (as you have to pay for childcare and travel).

I think working, say, as a research fellow is only doable if you are prepared to move to a suitable location- so don't rule it out forever, but you do have to apply for a lot sometimes (we have a huge amount of candidates for every academic job including in admin). Those support roles are good, but wouldn't you have to travel for them as well?

Offering academic skills/consultancy is a good way to keep your hand in, it is often tiring finding clients though, as students move on- but editing PhDs etc, or tutoring might be more flexible (perhaps A/GCSE level, I've done it!)

I also think there's often a natural ceiling on research fellow posts if you don't move upwards in a few years- I have known people like Medschoolrat keep working in research for a long time, but you already had six years, and after that, rightly or wrongly, I think people sometimes suppose there's a competency reason you aren't, say, becoming a lecturer/getting promoted. I don't actually think that's fair and know quite a few women who work part-time long-term in RA jobs but I think that gets harder, not easier over time, and they are often short contracts/others' maternity leave so it can feel like you are on a treadmill.

Sorry I don't have better advice, it's hard when you are not in an area with lots of unis and you do have fewer choices, I have definitely put up with things that I would not have otherwise due to inability to move.

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