Let’s talk about…Work-life balance in research
The fourth seminar in our ‘Let’s Talk About…’ EDI seminar series, in partnership with the Cancer Research UK Barts Centre, focused on work-life balance in research. We heard from Dr Rifca Le Dieu, Clinical Reader at Barts Cancer Institute (BCI), Queen Mary University of London, and Honorary Haemato-oncology Consultant at Barts Health NHS Trust.
Professor John Gribben (Professor of Medical Oncology at BCI) chaired the seminar, and Dr Andrew Porter (Research Integrity and Training Adviser, CRUK Manchester Institute) and Dr Rita Pedrosa (CRUK RadNet Postdoctoral Researcher, BCI) joined the discussion panel to share their experiences.
Dr Rifca Le Dieu, Clinical Reader and Honorary Haemato-oncology Consultant
Rifca’s talk covered her career in academic medicine, and how being able to work part time and flexibly has allowed her to stay on this career path.
Balancing multiple professional and personal roles
A healthy work-life balance will mean something different to everyone, whether it be leaving work on time, having more time to exercise, leading a healthier lifestyle or having a flexible working pattern. Achieving the work-life balance that we want can often be difficult when balancing multiple roles in our professional and personal lives.
Dr Le Dieu shared her clinical and academic journeys to becoming a Haemato-oncology Consultant and moving from a research to a teaching role at Queen Mary, as well as the roles she plays outside of work.
In 2011, as a mother of three, Dr Le Dieu opted to work less than full time, which has allowed her to provide the support that her family has needed whilst continuing with her teaching responsibilities at Queen Mary and maintaining an outpatient lymphoma practice.
Dr Le Dieu is a passionate advocate for flexible working for medical staff. During the seminar, Dr Le Dieu spoke about her role as Barts Health Champion of Flexible Training, in which she supports medical trainees who are working less than full time. As part of this role, Dr Le Dieu has set up a course for Educational and Clinical Supervisors on how to support less-than-full-time trainees and is working on guidance for managers to support these trainees.
Experiences in research and academia
Dr Le Dieu highlighted that traditionally academia has been an ideal career path for those who need flexibility, as many have the autonomy to control the way in which they work. However, the pressure to achieve success through publishing papers and gaining new research grants means that many researchers work extended hours.
Dr Andrew Porter, Research Integrity and Training Adviser
Andrew highlighted that funding bodies have a responsibility to ensure that funding schemes do not exclude those who need to work flexibly or who have taken time away from work. In the past, some schemes have imposed time limits on applying for funding, i.e. within 5 years of completing PhD studies, however more funders are now starting to recognise that not all productivity comes at the same time for everyone.
Dr Rita Pedrosa, CRUK RadNet Postdoctoral Researcher
Rita shared her experiences of being a postdoctoral researcher and a mother. When applying for postdoctoral fellowships, Rita came across some that had allowances for flexible working, even though a minority. She is happy that we are beginning to see a shift in attitude in support of flexible working within academia, but recognises there is still a long way to go in changing mentalities.
Work-life balance looks different to all
To close the seminar, Dr Le Dieu encouraged the audience to think about one thing that would improve their work-life balance, highlighting that this might be something different for everyone.
Thoughts that audience members shared included:
- Switching off when on leave/away from work
- Clearer flexible working policies
- Working part time
- Improving own self-discipline
- Reducing self-imposed pressure
Take home messages
- Work-life balance means something different to each individual
- There are lots of different ways of working that may help your work-life balance, and no one solution will suit everyone
- Attitudes need to change – those who work less than full time are not ‘less than’ anything
- There needs to be a level of trust, as well as honest and open discussion between employees and line managers
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