Dr Chloe Bloom, Senior Clinical Research Fellow
I joined NHLI following the birth of my third daughter and I was awarded an NHLI Fellowship which was an invaluable assistance in smoothing the return to work. Indeed, for the first two and half years I was working part-time, three days a week. Because of this great start as a woman with caring responsibilities, I was able to stay in research. I have a long commute to work and with a husband who works long hours I benefited from this flexibility in my working hours. I was able to increase to working four days a week, once all my children were attending school, with informally arranged flexible hours; again very much supported within NHLI. The flexibility in my working pattern allowed me to fully engage at work while still taking care of my young family.
I think encouraging young people to do science at school is important and I have enjoyed helping in the annual Bring Your Child to Work Day and other outreach activities for school children - in fact my two older daughters are really keen to be scientists! I think these kinds of initiatives the department run highlight the importance of, and are crucial in developing, a positive atmosphere. I was eager to contribute towards Athena Swan and excited when the opportunity to join as the postdoc representative on the EDI committee arose, where I can contribute a lot of practical insights as a member of the 'Flexible Working' sub-group.
NHLI is extremely encouraging of post-docs, for example, offering travel awards for conferences and pilot awards to provide seed funding from the NHLI Foundation to carry out the pilot research that increases the chance of fellowship success. I was very pleased to receive both. This was positively commented on in my NIHR fellowship application. I was also fortunate to become a member of the postdoc and fellows group, and subsequently voted to be the Deputy Chair. The Postdoc and Fellows Centre at Imperial have been another incredible resource; I have attended several of their group and one-to-one sessions to help postdoc career choices and grant writing. In addition, I use the NHLI mentoring scheme which was invaluable when some aspects of work and career choices were becoming particularly challenging.
As a clinical academic I have had an unusual career path but have been very well supported by senior people within NHLI, who have understood the requirement for flexible working pattern and recognised that working part-time is not detrimental to scientific progress. There is further to go in making sure the female half of the work force can make a full contribution but, in my case, I have greatly benefited from the progress so far.
Dr Adam Byrne, Senior Lecturer in Chronic Lung Disease
I started my lectureship in 2016, shortly after the birth of my first child who is now four years old. Starting a new lab whilst battling sleep-deprivation and the constant urge to be at home was difficult, but the flexibility that was afforded to me by Imperial made things much easier. In particular, it was really important that in practice, flexible working was not just tolerated, but actively encouraged; this support from Imperial and my colleagues made things much easier. In 2019, my son began attending nursery at the early years education centre (EYEC). The EYEC is a fantastic resource available to staff (at supplemented cost, which is most welcome) and provides really high-quality childcare. It was really nice to have my son close by and you could see the jump in his development after a couple of weeks of attendance - suddenly wanting to discuss climate change and all sorts of interesting topics! My daughter was born in 2020 (just before COVID-19 changed everything) and I have elected to take shared parental leave. Again, the flexibility was really nice; I have taken my leave over ‘discontinuous blocks’ which fits nicely into my partner’s work pattern. I obviously didn’t know that a pandemic was on the horizon when I planned leave, but the extra time to focus on family life has been a welcome relief during lockdown. Working at home with two kids can induce copious amounts of guilt (why can’t Daddy play now?) and can be incredibly stressful; but my leave has allowed me to strike the right balance.
One incredible resource that I have been able to avail of is Imperial's Elsie Widdowson Fellowship Award. This is available to academic staff returning to work following maternity, adoption and/or shared parental leave. The fellowship provides flexible funding which will allow me to hire one of my graduating PhD students as a postdoctoral researcher to complete an ongoing project. It is well established that parental/maternity/caring leave can adversely impact careers. It is very hard to correct for this in science, but the Elsie Widdowson Fellowship is an excellent approach to begin to correct for any impact these periods of leave can have on career trajectory.
All in all, I have to say that Imperial have been extremely supportive and have allowed me to balance my family and work life. EDI initiatives, particularly Athena Swan, have begun to normalise work patterns which facilitate family life and have given me the freedom to work hard, without compromising time at home.
Eleanor Tucker, Divisional Manager
I joined NHLI in May 2008 as a Section Manager based at the South Kensington Campus, before this I had been working as an Administrative Assistant elsewhere in the Faculty of Medicine. In 2011, I applied to the Division Manager role covering the support for all the Respiratory groups in the department and continued in this position until October 2015 when I applied for the, then vacant, Education Manager position.
This post gave me the opportunity to understand the teaching and educational mission of the department. This was a very different role from the research support I provided in my Division Manager post. These varied positions have given me the opportunity to understand most aspects of administration in a large and highly productive university department.
In October 2018, I went on maternity leave for a year. This was my first child and I don’t think anything can prepare you for how much this changes your life. I really didn’t know how I was going to be able to find my work-life balance when I returned. I wanted to be able to work part-time on my return so I could spend time with my son, but the quick turnaround nature of my fulltime Education Manager job would not necessarily have accommodated this. My manager worked with me to think creatively and find a solution.
I had wanted the opportunity to be able to return to Division management at some point and felt this role would better suit my new work/life balance. During my maternity leave a new Division Manager position in NHLI had been created. The successful candidate had also recently had a baby and had a preference for working part-time which meant there was an opportunity for us to pursue a job share. It must be said that part-time roles at the managerial level are uncommon - which made this such an amazing opportunity! Our roles have a one day overlap so we can handover and make sure we can catch up. This does cost the department a little more than employing just one person, but short term investment in staff has enabled both of us to continue working at the same level.
In professional service roles, in order to progress your career, it is necessary to apply for different positions. The structure does not allow you to shape your career in-post, in the way a researcher or academic might. Despite this, I have been lucky enough to be able to stay within NHLI where I have built relationships over time, the Head of Department and Institute Manager have facilitated this and been supportive of this route for my development.
I have worked on four different campuses during my time in the College which has also helped me understand the challenges the department faces when trying to build a community and shape the culture in such a disparate department. I am grateful for the career I have been able to forge in the NHLI and though it might be beneficial for your development to work in different institutions I have, overall, been happy in NHLI and at this point I am trying to find that elusive work-life balance and my current job is helping with that.
Women in STEM podcast - Uta Griesenbach
This is the first in a series of podcast interviews which aims to celebrate and promote the brilliant female academics and researchers at NHLI, and to highlight Athena SWAN issues.
Uta Griesenbach is Professor of Molecular Medicine and she also co-leads the Gene Therapy Group of the Genetic Medicine & Population Health Division of NHLI.