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What support should I get from my department after return from maternity leave?

(15 Posts)
dodi1978 Sun 30-Apr-17 21:02:06

I am due to return from my second maternity leave in the middle of July after almost 10 months off (although more than one month in the end was annual leave). I basically missed the stressful part of the academic year (give birth in induction week) and will be back in the calmer summer.

I was wondering what support I can expect from my department when I return? I am currently a lecturer in Humanities subject, full-time. Have been a lecturer for 11! years now :-(!

1) career generally in the dumps (applied for promotion once, was rejected, had a crap year last year with low module evaluation scores. This was partly due to some modules being new and me having to find my feet still, modules being offered on programmes on which they shouldn't be offered and students complaining about the module rather than me, and partly due to the fact that the first trimester coincided directly with the main part of Semester 2... I felt shit!)

2) Institution has a lot of emphasis on MEQs - appraisal / promotion linked to getting MEQ scores above 4.1 (it may even have risen now).

3) I taught half a module module in the year before my mat leave - let's call it module A - on the understanding that I would teach the half there is within my expertise, whereas the other sessions would be covered by a member of staff in another department. The module was particularly badly received, mostly because it was offered within a programme in which it didn't fit. Of course, with the emphasis on MEQs being as they are, this won't matter. During my maternity leave, my maternity cover taught the whole module and, because the other member of staff from the other department has now left the university, I guess I will be asked to teach the whole module, bearing the danger of even lower MEQs.

4) Oh yes - after my first maternity leave I had a semester of research leave first (nice), swiftly followed by a semester of teaching four hours more than normally in modules that I didn't know because the dean refused to employ cover for a member of staff who was sick. Had teaching until 6 o clock 3 evenings a week with a year and a half old toddler. Nice.

I am now thinking about how to 'negotiate' with the department possible support after returning from mat leave. It has come to my attention that the department wants to apply for Athena Swan, so this may be relevant. Before I went on leave, it was suggested that it may be possible to employ a 0.5 research assistant for a few months to help me kick-start my research. This was done for another member of staff who returned from maternity leave about a year and a half ago. I could certainly make use of such a RA, although the other member of staff said that she'd have profited more from having some teaching relief as line-managing the RA took a lot of time.

Some of my modules were not taught by my maternity cover, but by another member of staff. I am still checking my e-mail (I know, I should not, but...), but there was an e-mail last week by our Learning and Teaching coordinator about which of these two modules I would like to take back, mentioning also that this staff member particularly liked module B. The problem is, that I like module B, too, and I feel very comfortable with it. Module C - the other option - is the far more risky option in terms of MEQs.

So I may now end up teaching the whole of module A, module C and loose the safe option of module B.

I really don't know what to do with this one and how to negotiate a good deal for myself.

dodi1978 Sun 30-Apr-17 21:02:34

Sorry for the novel! :-)!

lovecreameggs Mon 01-May-17 02:05:36

In my experience don't expect anything hmm but I think what you might want is

- a back to work interview covering all teaching and admin changes while you were away (I have found they've implemented small changes like module booklet changes and it's really hard to catch up on it all when back if you don't know it's happened!

- reduction in teaching hours e.g. 25% or increase in time allocated for research

- increase in your conference/research budget so you can employ an RA on short term contract

They may well want to see applications for funding to cover these things though. My dept didn't offer me anything and I had no acknowledgement that I was even back from anyone.

user7214743615 Mon 01-May-17 08:22:42

Realistically it will be easier to get things that don't cost money.

There would be no chance at all of funding for an RA or of a reduction from teaching in my area, since there is simply no money in budgets to cover this. If your department can fund this, then you would be very lucky - Athena SWAN would not expect this.

Some universities (e.g. Cambridge) have a central pot of money that those returning from maternity leave can apply to, but I think very few universities can afford to put aside such a fund.

GoatsFeet Mon 01-May-17 10:36:42

Do you want support because you've got two children hmm or for your career generally?

Frankly, if it's the former - well, I don't think that's a reasonable reason for extra support than anyone else, whatever their personal life circumstances. We all make choices (or not) about our lives.

But, if you are asking about looking for more general support for what you describe as a career in the doldrums, then yes, that is reasonable. But frankly, your opening post sounds a bit dependent and passive. So tough love coming up.

Why do you feel your career is in the doldrums? Many of us have periods of "lower" productivity, and annoying antsy teaching. They often lead to much more productive periods where we realise that the "doldrums" were actually a period of enrichment. Can you see this period as that?

As for higher teaching loads because of covering for sick colleagues: we've all done that. Your colleagues probably did it for you on your maternity leaves. I once took no sick leave for something fairly disabling because there was no sick cover, and my colleagues were already stretched, and just last year a whole team of us had to cover for a colleague wit severe unacknowledged MH problems. It happens - it's collegiality. In an ideal world, or even a decently funded HE system, we wouldn't have to do it, but it is what it is. I don't think you can complain too much - in a permanent post, our jobs are not exactly front line zero hours factory work, are they?

In my view, you need to approach this from multiple perspectives/action plans. Your OP is about other people/institutions giving you support. If you came to me (as HoD) at the end of a maternity leave, putting it as you do, I would be tactfully & gently trying to stop you from seeing it as something other people have to do for you. I would be asking you about your existing networks: within the department, the institution & in your research area. Wat are the conferences you go to regularly, or the work you do with your rel;evant scholarly association? How could you use your networks to help you develop publications or projects? In the situation with 2 small children, networks and collaborations are going to be your way to a renewed sense of ownership & agency over your career.

I might also - depending on our personal relationship as colleagues - suggest that they years with young children cam n be a kind of "doldrums" and that we could plan together how you can do the minimum of teaching & research to keep things going, but to give you headspace. Small children take up a lot of emotional energy & that head space. But IME, colleagues come through this and get a new burst of energy when their toddlers turn into pre-schoolers, and kindergarteners. But some colleagues don't like this way of thinking ... I can see both "sides" on this. The university workplace is designed around the heterosexual married white man.

If you were really bowed down & intellectually paralysed, I might suggest a temporary period of a fractional appointment. At my place you can negotiate that for up to 5 years. Again, it's an option that not all people want to use.

I think you need to do some negotiation around modules you teach, and the RA to kick start research (that is a really jammy investment in you) - take up your colleague's feedback about a slightly reduced teaching load. But then SHUT UP about having to cover for a sick colleague. Please. Really try to think that through in terms of reasonable negotiations. At my place, we're all expected to contribute to (SL & above to run/convene) big core modules. We know that these get lower evaluations, as students always moan about core modules & we all share that pain!

However, you could point out that there needs to be a sharing of those big core modules which the department feels are necessary for its curriculum but are not popular to teach or study in.

You might also look at the research that's swilling around about the gender bias - well, let's call it what it is: sexism - in students' module evaluations. Gather your evidence, and perhaps caucus with other female colleagues to present a reasoned case about this. I always argue that on a 5 point scale, male academics should start at -3 grin

Perhaps present that case at a departmental meeting, where teaching allocations etc are discussed. If they are (I've always run a very democratic department where workloads, admin roles, and teaching allocations are tabled and made transparent, and I will answer to my decisions).

If there are other colleagues in your position with young children, can you meet for a writing session each month or so? I've seen this work really well: it's support from & to each other in similar situations, and works socially & intellectually.

Humanities academics don't work only as solitary researcher/writers - we need to collaborate. This is one of those situations.

It sounds as though your department/university is aware of the extra pressures on academic mothers of young children - you're lucky. And you should use this support & make it grow, by adding your own energy through collaboration & networking. It sounds as though there's good will - I think you need to take a bit of agency. That may feel difficult with a new baby, but maybe set one task every fortnight (or whatever works for you) to build/rebuild/re-energise your network and collaborations.

Think of the long game. At the moment, I expect it's hard to think past tomorrow, but can you think about the next 5 years? Where do you want to be in 2022? Concretely, that is. Then do what we all do in a big piece of research & writing: chunk it. Break it down into doable chunks.

And - I'm saying this to ALL my colleagues - DON'T overpromise! As a race, we academics tend to overpromise. we are overachieving girly swots. It's how we got to where we are. But look rationally at what you need to do - the minimum. Because the minimum is OK. Not the skiving minimum, but a high quality minimum - getting the job done well, but no more than that.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Mon 01-May-17 10:37:58

I would be booking an appointment with my Head of Department to discuss a) my return and b) my career progression.

I think you need to find out what is possible (and this isn't something that would be standard necessarily) and what you need to do to get promoted as well.

That way you can make a plan of what to prioritise. So, at my institution, they vastly prioritise grant income, so even if you have papers with bells and whistles on or organized a prestigious conference or have the best teaching scores in the dep't, this does not matter- they have a set amount that is needed to be your grants and that's that. Knowing that helped me prioritise grant writing over papers, yes, I looked a bit sparse in the paper department for a year or two as a result, but it was a sensible decision.

At our institutions, if we left a module for one year for mat/research leave, we would get it back, no questions asked. I am quite rutheless about that as it is my intellectual property and I've developed these modules a lot over time- so I don't want to hand them over. I'd get this clarified immediately- under a discussion called 'what am I teaching next year?'

As for an RA, could be helpful, but teaching relief such as a teaching assistant could be more useful? Can you get a PhD to do some seminar for you? Find out again what is typical in your institution and make sure you get that.

Low scores on teaching wouldn't be ideal but wouldn't prevent promotion in our dep't, some courses are always quite low and as long as they were strong on other courses, this would be not noteworthy.

GoatsFeet Mon 01-May-17 10:39:27

I would be tactfully & gently trying to stop you from seeing it as something other people have to do for you.

sorry, missing the nuance - I would be tactfully & gently trying to stop you from seeing it ONLY as something other people have to do for you.

I'd be trying to help you reclaim agency and ownership of your career.

dodi1978 Mon 01-May-17 20:44:08

Thanks everyone for your answers!

GoatsFeet, I was sort of hoping a HoD would come onto this thread! Just to clarify a few things:

I would like some help for my career generally, not just because I have children, although maternity leave does put you on the back foot with things I think.

I realise that my opening post comes across as dependent and passive. It wasn't meant to come across that way, and I am confident I don't come across like that in real life - but, yes, I am quite despondent about my career at the moment, and that's probably what's coming across here.

I just feel that everything I have done in the last few years has failed (haven't published for two years - I can't seem to get an article accepted any more, I still haven't published from the only externally funded project I had because the research team has fallen apart etc.). There are things that I have done well - I have established relations with industry within my department, I have been PGR director for a bit more than a year and significantly raised the PGR intake etc. by making processes more efficient etc. But these are not the things that count it seems. I applied for promotion two years ago and was rejected on grounds of something that wasn't even in my appraisal targets - I should have appealed at the time, but I didn't.

Just to clarify about the extra teaching: these were two modules in a cross-institutional programme that I am not normally involved in. The sick colleague was an hourly paid part-timer, not a full-time colleague. The Dean refused to pay for cover (another part-timer would have been happy to do it) not because of finances, but because there was a university-wide drive to keep the number of part-timers down.

I did take the teaching on without moaning (so I don't think I can be accused of being non-collegial), but what annoys me is that the university gives nothing back. That semester, despite the extra teaching, I had excellent MEQs across the board. Last year it all went to pots. And that is all that will count. I agree that most institutions take MEQs with a pinch of salt, but mine has put colleagues in special measures when MEQs didn't measure up. The 4.1 average is explicitly stated on appraisal documents. There is some wiggle-room, but it is limited.

Yes, I agree that I need to take more agency - That's exactly why I don't just want to accept that this module is taken off me. In the past, I have been far too complacent and just accepted things. At least, I want to know what is behind that drive. It might actually mean that I have less teaching (good), but I don't want to lose that particular module, really!

I have got one good research collaboration going at the moment, but it is in its early stages (I have done lots of work on this as part of KIT days whilst I was off). We are now starting to prepare publications.

I have also recently been approached by someone from Belgium with regards to the externally funded project, which, in the age of Brexit-Britain, has excellent potential for a follow up.

I will have a good think about what I need to progress my career and finally get promotion and approach things from there, you are right!

I am really hoping that my confidence will return at some point soon - but I really will need a few successes for that!

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Tue 02-May-17 20:13:03

I applied for promotion two years ago and was rejected on grounds of something that wasn't even in my appraisal targets - I should have appealed at the time, but I didn't

You probably should have appealed, but definitely go now and ask what your targets are for promotion. Just be really blatant- say you didn't get it last time, what do you have to do next time? This isn't dealt with by our Head of Department, though, best to go to HR/the decision-makers or as near to them as you can, otherwise you end up with mixed messages about what you need to do.

I have had career 'lulls' and you just have to keep plodding through them, it's awful. I had a terrible lull and recently a real upswing, it was hard to keep going through when nothing was hitting home...I feel your pain! I don't think there is any huge secret though, except keep targeting the most important stuff for you and minimise the rest as GoatsFeet suggests.

ifigoup Tue 02-May-17 20:25:35

GoatsFeet, this wasn't my thread but I just wanted to thank you on my own behalf for your excellent advice. Your colleagues are lucky to have you as HoD.

dodi1978 Tue 02-May-17 21:06:22

Foureyesarebetter - thanks, yes, that's exactly what I will do - ask very explicitly what I need to do to be promoted. Good for you for overcoming your career lull. I just hope this will be me soon, as I feel a bit like threading water. Plus, next April I am out of increments on lecturer level, so with nursery fees rising my salary will actually drop....

Some good news from today. I met up briefly, with DS2 in tow, with our L&T coordinator, and assured me that I won't lose module B unless I want to, but that the other staff member would be taking over module C. I don't actually know explicitly what drives this, but if it results in less teaching for me - great!

Module A is still in question. Despite me being module leader, I am actually not the one making decisions about it because it is associated with particular programmes. Programme leader for one of these programmes is on research leave, the other on long term sick leave, so nobody has a clue what's happening. Good news is though that it has been taken off the programme of the students who where the worst complainers last year, so even if I end up teaching the whole module, it will hopefully be more palatable.

I will book a meeting with my HoD in a few weeks time and will approach it very proactively in terms of what resources do I need to further my research and teaching. Having thought about it in terms of short-term goals and resources (time / money) needed to achieve these goals, I think that it is actually money rather than time (although money might actually be able to buy me some time). The most useful thing for me would be a small pot of money through which I could employ a temporary RA and / or fund transcription etc., and this is what I will suggest.

Thanks everyone again, I will keep you updated!

murmuration Thu 04-May-17 20:59:01

OP, does your Dept have an Athena Swan head? I'm wondering if you could talk to that person as well, and get an idea of what people are considering and what is reasonable (and if they might want to write you up as a case-study...MIne asked me and I suggested it might not paint our dept in the best light smile , but with some foresight they could have that in mind).

I totally get the 'dumps' feeling and sympathise (I had a post a good 9 months ago about being disheartened and my further progress since my mat leave return 5 years ago hasn't taken up again yet). Good luck.

dodi1978 Thu 04-May-17 21:38:35

Yes, we have someone involved in Athena Swan, and I am meeting her for a coffee on Monday! I wills see what she has to say!

Closetlibrarian Sun 14-May-17 22:35:42

Haven't read the whole thread, but your OP makes me wonder whether you're at my institution (the MEQ thing in particular).

Anyway, have a read of the fine print of your maternity policy. In mine was buried a rather vague clause that states that those returning from mat leave are entitled to reduced teaching load, or similar, so they can get their research back on track. I had no idea about it, but it was brought to my attention by our Athena Swan lead when I contacted her on an entirely unrelated matter. Turned out my HoD was also unaware of it, but, once I brought it to his attention, I ended up getting my teaching load reduced by 50% for my first semester back after mat leave.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 15-May-17 20:00:35

I once took no sick leave for something fairly disabling because there was no sick cover

Ok, tough love on my end. That is not clever or good professional behaviour. That is masochism, which cumulatively works to deny people with real needs the support they deserve - because, if you did without it, clearly, others can and should too.

It's bad practice and you shouldn't defend it, let alone recommend it.

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