Case studies, written by staff and students, from the department, describe their experiences of using some of these schemes to enable flexible working for a range of reasons. These first-hand experiences may offer you some addition insights, tips and advice to help you to navigate around flexible working decisions. Additionally, everyone listed is happy to be contacted if you have any unanswered questions.
These case studies were last updated in Spring 2021.
Angie Cass - Research Operations Manager
As Research Operations Manager for the department of Chemistry, I manage of a team of 3 administrators and am responsible for overseeing the costing of research bids as well as the post award budget management for the research portfolio for the department.
I have three young children, aged 3, 5 and 9. My 9 year old has Cystic Fibrosis, so as well as normal childcare duties it is vital that I have the flexibility to ensure that my eldest daughter can be active by attending after school activities. In addition, there are times when I need to be available to administer additional medication when she has an exacerbation, supervise her twice daily physio or attend hospital appointments.
Having three children, one of whom requires additional care, makes juggling a healthy work / life balance difficult, so on days when I can work from home and not have to face a 3-hour return commute, it is less stressful and often far more productive.
Prior to Covid 19 I worked from home two days a week. During the pandemic home schooling and continuing to work has been excruciating and there were days when I just wasn’t sure I could do it anymore. The HoD and DoM have shown nothing but support and understanding whilst acknowledging my ability to do my job well. I made adjustments and found ways to juggle the situation and made it clear to my line manager that whilst I may not be available constantly through my core hours because of other responsibilities the work would be done. This flexibility, trust and freedom to be honest helped me through.
I think there can be a misconception that working from home is a way of ‘slacking’. Whilst in some instances this may be the case, if managed properly and expectations are set I do believe it can be a recipe for success. I would be happy to talk to others about organising workload and the importance of communication when working flexibly.
Top tips include
- Be Honest and transparent in your situation.
- Be self-motivated and organised.
- Keep lines of communication open, be accessible when working flexibly and make sure people know when they can contact you.
Clotilde Cucinotta - EPSRC research fellow
As an EPSRC research fellow I lead a group of 13 people (2 postdocs, 4 PhD students, 1 visiting PhD student, 5 MRes students, 1 MSci student). I am working on developing novel methodologies and applications in computational nano-electrochemistry. I have a daughter who is currently attending many extracurricular activities, and involved in various exams associated to transition to senior school. I have never experienced any issues with working flexibly. Essentially for me this translated into flexible working hours, which in other words meant extending to working weekends and evenings.
I would be happy to talk to others about maintaining a proportion of remote working post-Covid, as well as helping children in their transition to senior school, flexible deadlines and time management.
Top tips include
- Try to prioritise what is important;
- Try not to feel too guilty;
- Take some time for yourself and your health;
- Have a day when you only (or mostly) work on what you like/find useful.
That said, I have to admit that I am not always able to follow my own advice.
Tom Welton - Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and elected president of the Royal Society of Chemistry
I joined Imperial in 1993 and served as Head of the Department of Chemistry from 2007 to 2014, followed by Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and am now RSC president. My research interests are focused on ionic liquids and their practical applications which include for example dissolving textiles to make them more readily recyclable and dissolving wood to create biofuels.
Following chemo-radiotherapy for cancer, I had a phased return to work, starting part time and slowly increasing hours until I was back to full time, over an approximately 6 month period. The department was very supportive throughout my illness. I was allowed to control my own work patterns through my recovery and to decide my own priorities. My teaching and considerable administrative duties (as DUGS) were covered immediately.
I spoke with the HoD (Richard Templer) and said that I wanted to focus on future-orientated activities, such as writing research grant applications, because it helped me to imagine a future with me in it. He replied ‘I get that’ and offered to support me in that decision.
My colleagues were supportive, helpful and understanding throughout my period of flexible working.
I would be happy to talk with colleagues on any aspect of flexible working.
Top tips include
- Ask for help.
- Be clear on what it is that you need.
- Be public about what it is that you need.
- Remember to say thank you.
Rashi Kahan - PhD student
As a PhD student in the Chemistry department, I am based in the Molecular Science Research Hub at the White City campus. My research involves the characterisation and targeting of proteins involved in bacterial persistence and dormancy.
I had a little girl in 2020, and returned to my PhD (full time) after 6 months leave. My daughter is looked after by a local childcare provider when I am working, and thankfully she absolutely loves it there! I’m still very new to the working parent life, and so far I don’t think I have mastered any of it yet. At the moment with Covid-19 the chemistry department is operating a cohort model, which has been a godsend, as I am working one week at home one week in college. As a PhD student one is not entitled to tax free childcare, so sending full time to childcare is not financially viable. I am still working out how I will balance work and life once we go back to ‘normal’. I imagine lots of creativity, juggling and a hefty dose of mum-guilt.
I still doubt myself every day and I am by no means an expert, but I would love to lend a listening ear and empathise with fellow PhD students about the following:
- Taking maternity leave (and letting people know you are expecting).
- Returning from maternity leave and picking up where you left off.
- Managing yours and your supervisors’ expectations now that you have other priorities.
- I am also happy for anyone to reach out and offer me advice or encouragement!
- Give yourself time and empathy.
- Don’t compare yourself to others, especially people without children.
- Lab-based research can often seem family-unfriendly, change this for you. Just because others work late or appear to always be in the lab does not mean that you must too.
This is advice for myself too, I’m still learning.
Nazila Kamaly - Lecturer
I am a lecturer within the chemistry department and my multidisciplinary research group focuses on developing novel nanoparticle drug delivery systems that are capable of triggered and targeted release of therapeutics. We also develop biomimetic models to better model disease and nanoparticle interaction.
I have a 10-month-old and a 2-year-old, and life certainly is a complete juggling act on a daily basis when attempting to balance work and home obligations. It is very challenging to reach a work-life-balance with two very young children and especially whilst establishing a new lab. I am lucky to have a supportive partner who equally shares childcare and helps to keep our household afloat. Having flexibility to work from home one day a week for childcare is a huge help.
The award of an Elsie Widdowson fellowship has been an immense help to me where I was able to recruit the extra help I needed to manage the lab and supervise my students on a day-to-day basis, both whilst I was on maternity leave and also when I returned back to work. The fellowship also allowed me to take a sabbatical from teaching which further helped me to get back on my feet upon returning to work.
I would be happy to talk about my experience of having applied for the Elsie Widdowson Fellowship and offer advice on some of the challenges of having 2 young children close in age and balancing it all.
- Unless you are superhuman, balancing parenthood and young children, with that of maintaining a growing research lab is extremely challenging. My top tips to avoid burn-out would be:
- Make sure you have a support network and speak to colleagues about your childcare experiences as you can learn a lot talking to those who have been there and done it before.
- Apply for the Elsie Widdowson Fellowship.
- Learn to say no occasionally.
- Keep a positive and open mindset as plans can change constantly due to last minute work deadlines, children becoming ill and pandemics!
James Wilton-Ely - Reader in Inorganic Chemistry
As a Reader in Inorganic Chemistry, I lead a Research Group of 14 researchers working on medical imaging, biological sensing and sustainable catalysis. In addition, I am a Co-Director of the MRes in Green Chemistry as well as DPS for the Department of Chemistry.
I have joint caring responsibilities for two young children (aged 6 and 11). This includes school drop off and pick up as well as help with study, which was particularly significant during the pandemic.
The flexibility shown by the Department, including working away from College 1-2 days a week (e.g., at home or in the British Library) has allowed me to be more productive and focus on writing major pieces of work (proposals, papers, strategy documents). The understanding shown by my Line Manager has helped me to achieve a healthy work/life balance.
I would be happy to share my experiences of managing the transition from childcare to primary school, and then to senior school, as well as discussions with line manager over flexible working, and how I managed departmental responsibilities and career progression as a parent.
- Don’t miss out on the many positive aspects of having children and the events in their lives as you don’t want to regret it later!
- Find time to relax without the children, seeing friends and going out once children are old enough for a babysitter. This is more important in a good work/life balance than you might imagine.
- Talk to others in a similar situation at work and feel free to contact your Line Manager or other senior members of Department if you are struggling.
- Mention/explain if you are unlikely to make a deadline – people are happy to know in advance if there are likely to be difficulties delivering.
Agi Brandt-Talbot - Imperial College Research Fellow
As an Imperial College Research Fellow, I lead the Sustainable Carbon Solutions research team. In addition, I am also Director of the MRes in Green Chemistry and the Environment
My primary need for flexible working arises from childcaring responsibilities. My children attend full time nursery, which is open on normal working days from 8:00-18:00, however, there are instances when they will need to be home, sometimes with little or no notice, often illness related, due to Covid-19 isolation or showing symptoms that exclude their attendance, such as a fever, impetigo, chickenpox etc. There are also routine doctor’s appointments to be attended during the day, for example check-ups and immunisations.
When my children start attending school, my husband and I will also need to organise and cover childcare during school holidays. When I am in charge of picking up the children and physically on campus, I need to leave at 4:30 pm to make sure I arrive in Reading before 6 pm, and when I am in charge of dropping the children off, the earliest I can be at College is 9:30 am due to the >1h long commute.
I used to need a later start-time on some days due to severe sleep deprivation when my twins where babies/young toddlers. There is however also a benefit of arriving at work later, because the train is not as full after 8-9 am rush hour.
I am happy to share my experience of working flexible hours, shared parental leave, the transition from childcare to primary school, being pregnant/on parental leave while being a postdoc, having twins, being a parent of young children while being a research fellow, being a commuting parent and breastfeeding while working.
- As a parent, sleep deprivation is commonplace. It is more productive to work a shorter day but be more rested. Consider taking naps on days when you can.
- Shared parental leave is great and has long-term benefits for working family - go for it.
- Do not schedule meetings before 11 am when possible.
- If you struggle with your workload, ask for help.
- Get the chickenpox vaccine for your children, this way you don’t have to wait for them to catch it and then stay home with them.
- Get the seasonal flu vaccine for the children (and possibly yourself), your children will catch it at nursery. Having the flu wile caring for young children is horrible!
Laura Barter - Senior Lecturer
As a senior lecturer, I run a research group with 14 members developing chemical biology tools and technologies aimed at enhancing photosynthesis and increasing crop yields. I am a mother of two children aged 4 and 2, and on a daily basis find myself in a juggling act, attempting to balance work and looking after my kids. My eldest started primary school last September, and my youngest is still at nursery.
I was incredibly grateful for the support I received from the department when I returned from both of my year-long maternity leaves. The Elsie Widdowson Fellowship enabled me to focus on my research and relieved me of most of my teaching duties. There is a great network of parents working in the department, and I have found their support and advice invaluable!
I like to be able to plan, and I think one of the things I have found hardest is that your plans can be changed in a matter of seconds. You can be in the middle of writing a grant for a rapidly approaching deadline, and then receive a call from nursery/school to say that one of the boys is poorly, which changes everything!
I am happy to share my experience of applying for an Elsie Widdowson Fellowship, running a research group when on maternity leave, balancing work and home life and managing the transition from nursery to primary school.
- Always ask for help if you need it.
- Apply for an Elsie Widdowson Fellowship
- Talk to other parents in the department / college, as it will make things feel less daunting.
Emma Pallett - Institute of Chemical Biology EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training Project Manager
As Project manager for the Institute of Chemical Biology’s Centre for doctoral training, I am responsible for the day to day running of the centre and support > 200 staff and students. I have two children, one in Infant School in Kent, near to where we live and one at Imperial’s nursery in South Kensington (EYEC).
After returning from Maternity Leave following the birth of my eldest child, my line manager (within the Faculty of Natural Sciences) was extremely supportive of my request to work from home two days a week, which I continued to do until I was promoted within my team.
After returning from Maternity Leave for the second time with a new line manager, my request to return to working from home for two days a week was not initially supported but was eventually granted for a trial period of 1 year following my return to work.
Currently, owing to the Government enforced lockdown I work from home full time and have not been in the office since March 2020. I changed roles and moved to working within the Department of Chemistry in June 2020. My current line manager is extremely supportive of my working flexibly, for example around home schooling or other childcare commitments, and providing further support and guidance where I need it.
When we are eventually allowed to return to the office, I hope to continue to work from home for part of the week.
I would be to share my experience of maternity leave, returning to work, the College nursery provision including the Salary Sacrifice Scheme, as well as the transition from childcare to primary school
- Make your requests for flexible working well in advance of requiring them
- Consider the College nursery, which is excellent
Kim Jelfs - Research Fellow and Reader
As a research fellow and Reader in the Chemistry Department, I run a research group developing computational methods to accelerate the discovery of materials. I teach materials chemistry and computational modelling at the undergraduate level, and am also Co-Director of EDI in Chemistry.
I have one daughter who was born in 2017 when I was a research fellow. My husband and I took up shared parental leave, so after 6 months of maternity leave, my husband looked after our daughter for 2 months before I then looked after her for another month. She then started childcare at 9 months at a nursery close to where we live.
During late pregnancy when my train and cycle commute was no longer viable, I was able to have on-site parking for days when I wanted to come in to the department. Support from the department allowed a final year PhD student in my group to stay on as a research associate for an extra year, and that person took on many of my teaching commitments.
The department removed teaching and administrative commitments from me in the academic year of my return to work so that I could focus on research and my fellowship was extended for the 7-month period of my leave by the funding body.
Flexible working hours have been key to juggling childcare and work. It has been incredibly helpful to be able to request that teaching commitments are not late in the day for me, so that I can pick up my daughter from nursery on time, and to avoid certain days where feasible. I have also made use of funding for childcare-related travel costs from both the RSC and the Royal Society to help me juggle childcare commitments with attending international conferences.
I would be happy to share my experiences of managing maternity leave as an academic, returning to work following maternity leave, shared parental leave, career progression with children and making flexible working hours work for you.
- Talk to people – discussions with colleagues about how they had managed things were incredibly helpful to take away some of the fear of the unknown and to discover there were perhaps simple solutions to some things I (wrongly) saw as big problems.
- Look into the RSC’s grants for carers, they’re very easy to apply for.
- Working flexible hours has been key to balancing home and work commitments - talk to colleagues about what’s worked for them.
Marina Kuimova - Reader
As a reader in the Department of Chemistry, I run a research group at the interface of Chemistry, Physics and Biology, using spectroscopic methods and microscopy to study biological processes. I also teach Spectroscopy and Imaging at the undergraduate level.
I have two children who were born in 2015 and 2018. I took 6 months’ maternity leave with each child, after which they started childcare at a nursery close to where we live. My eldest child now attends a local primary school.
I received Elsie Widdowson fellowships following my return to work with both of my children. This meant that I was mainly free from administrative and teaching commitments during the first academic year after each maternity leave. I was on an EPSRC CAF Fellowship during my first maternity leave and this was extended for 12 months by the funder (as a no cost extension) to allow me to productively focus on research. I received support from the department, which allowed a final year PhD student in my group to stay on as a research associate for extra 6 months (in 2016) and an experienced postdoc for a year (in 2018), and these people took on day to day running of my research group during my return to work. This was particularly valuable as I often had to work flexibly.
Flexible working hours have been key to juggling childcare and work, especially concerning sick leave with small children, wrap-around afterschool care and school holidays, as well as travelling for conferences etc. It has also been incredibly helpful to be able to request that teaching commitments are not late in the day and I also requested to keep one day per week teaching-free. This was not always possible, especially during my busy teaching term with two lecture courses running, but was extremely useful, so that I can pick up my son from school on days when no after school club was available.
I would be happy to talk to people about managing maternity leave as an academic, returning to work, career progression with children, making flexible working hours work for you, the transition from childcare to primary school and applying for the Elsie Widdowson Fellowship.
- Talk to people – discussions with colleagues about how they had managed things were incredibly helpful to discover there were simple solutions to some things I saw as big problems.
- Don’t assume that flexible working is not possible and/or will restrict your career progression – figure out the way of working that is most productive for you
Jennie Hutton - Research Associate and Lab manager
As a research associate and Lab manager in the Tate group, my role involves lab-based training and supervision of students from the MRes in Drug Discovery and Development course along with general lab management for our large research group.
I have three young children aged 5, 3 and 1 and have been working flexibly since I returned to work after my eldest daughter was born. I chose to work at 0.8 FTE so that I can spend one day a week at home with my children.
I was already working part time in my previous job elsewhere when I applied for this role at Imperial. I discussed the possibility of working flexibly during my interview and after I was offered the position, I agreed with my line manager to try 0.8 FTE. Usually this means that I work four days a week, with Wednesdays at home with my children. I have also had two periods of maternity leave whilst in this role when my second and third children were born.
I would be happy to discuss returning to work after parental leave, managing a part time role and the transition from childcare to primary school.
- Returning to work after a period of maternity leave is challenging, so be kind to yourself and take time to adjust to your new life as a working parent.
- If you are working flexibly, communicate your working hours to colleagues to manage their expectations of your availability. For me, setting an automatic reply when I’m unavailable helps me avoid the temptation to keep checking emails on my days at home with the children.
- Try to find others in your situation to talk to. It’s reassuring to learn that almost all other working parents are experiencing the same challenges, even if from a distance they seem to have everything under control!