At exactly the time in life that you are establishing your research group and independent research career, it is possible that you will also be establishing a family or taking on eldercare responsibilities.  You may also have many other reasons to want to work flexibly or part time.  Even if you are not navigating these things yourself, it is possible that you will be managing people in your team who are. 
In this section we share reflections from researchers managing life and work, and advice from Kirstie Sneyd, an organisational psychologist and parent coach who specialises in supporting people to work flexibly and to manage work alongside family and caring responsibilities. 

Learn from other researchers with caring responsibilities 

We’ve curated a selection of blogs that share some personal stories of researchers juggling family and work, as well as researcher’s findings: 

General advice on managing flexible and part time work and caring responsibilities

Flexible approaches

Determine what’s important

Understanding your priorities, motivations and values can help you make the best decisions around how and when to work part-time and manage any potential guilt. Where do you want your career to be going, how much time do you want to commit to non-work/family, what feels the right balance for you.  There can be a temptation to compare to others; it’s helpful to think through what’s right for you. Your version of success does not have to look like anyone else’s.  

For more details see: 

Believe that it’s possible

Our limiting beliefs and our inner critic can hold us back from believing that we can make part-time work for us.  It can often be easier to think about the reasons it won’t work rather than believing it can.  Seek out role models, mentors or examples of where others have made it work, recognising we may have a confirmation bias for seeking out evidence for situations where it hasn’t worked as well.   Engage with the College Parents’ Network to hear about role models and ways of making things work.  There are a growing number of blogs from academics discussing how they experienced juggling family and research (see resources section below). 

For more details see: 

Aim for win-win

When planning and arranging part-time or flexible work, consider both what is going to work for the College and your research group and also what will work for you. For example, if you wanted to work four days and have one day non-work, can you be flexible in which day you have off that fits better with your group or teaching commitments?  Aim to have clear boundaries, with some flexibility – determining what are your needs or necessities around part-time, compared to what are your desirables/would like to have.  This can help make part-time working work for both you and the College.  

For more details see:  

  • Chapter 2: Keep in Touch and Ask for What you Want in Mothers Work! by Jessica Chivers 

Manage potential critics and sceptics

Sadly there will always be some that are critical of those working part-time, seeing part-time workers as less committed or career driven.  Understanding and reminding yourself of the benefits of part-time working, such as improved well-being, greater organisational commitment, higher engagement, greater workplace diversity and being a role model can help act as a counterbalance to any negative perceptions.   

For more details see: 

Communicate your working days/hours

Being clear on your working patterns can help others understand when they can and can’t get hold of you. Add your working times to your email footers, out of office and to your team and other stakeholders. This can also help others who work flexibly, particularly if you work non-standard hours e.g. “I work flexible hours, if you’re receiving this email outside of your standard working hours, please don’t respond until you’re back in work.” Hold firm and resist the temptation to email outside your set hours ‘just this once’. It will set a precedent and your team/colleagues may start to expect it.

Manage the guilt

Feeling guilty is a common trait for those working part-time, whether that’s guilt around our work, of letting down colleagues or our team, or guilt about leaving our children or those we’re caring for.  Setting service level agreements with yourself, where you set expectations for what is achievable (and no more), gives you the right balance can help offset guilt – if you operate within these expectations then there is less need to feel guilty.  Your inner critic will get noisy when dealing with this guilt.  You may find our resources on managing the inner critic useful in reframing your expectations of yourself as a working parent. 

For more details see:  

  • Chapter 5: Get a Grip on Guilt in Mothers Work! by Jessica Chivers 

Strengthen your assertiveness

Concerns about how we’re perceived, how working part-time impacts our career or not letting others down, can mean that sometimes we say yes to things that really, we should be saying no to e.g.  attending networking events in the evening or sitting on a departmental committee or recruitment panel on what should be our day off.  It can help to recognise that unless we have unlimited time, we’re always having to say no to something – saying yes to a work commitment means we’re saying no to family or out-of-work commitments.    You may find our video on ‘Making proactive choices’ helpful to think through how and why you might say no to some requests. 

For more details see: 

Get organised and focused

Feeling overwhelmed is a common stress factor for those managing multiple priorities e.g. being a working parent.  Determining which areas of your life you need to get more organised, and which projects, activities and meetings fit with your priorities, can help you focus and more efficiently use your time. Again, you may find our resources on time management and setting priorities helpful to think through how you might find ways to work smarter rather than longer.  Also take a look at our links to local support and resources to support your wellbeing

For more details see: 

Develop champions and allies

Developing champions within the organisation can help to manage potential sceptics and make it more likely to achieve the part-time working you desire.  Who is likely to be empathetic to your situation, can understand the benefits that working part-time can bring, and potentially champion your case?  Allies are those within the organisation that may not be in a position to champion you, but can act as an emotional and practical resource.  Find potential champions and allies via the College Parents’ Network

For more details see 

Act as a role model

To help develop part-time working as an accepted norm in a research career, think about examples of how you can demonstrate the benefits and practicality of working part-time.  One of the key reasons researchers are sceptical of part-time working, is the perceived impact it will have on productivity.  By demonstrating and publicising how you’ve made it work can act as a great example to more junior staff as well as helping to overcome any scepticism.   

For more details see 

Resources and guidance

Internal resources and guidance

  • Understand your leave entitlements and the support available to you as a parent at the College via the parents network pages 
  • Access the Parental Leave Portal which offers parents and managers access to tailored, self-directed learning to manage the parental transition. 
  • Child friendly perks for staff at Imperial College London 

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