Juggling research and fatherhood

 19 November 2019   Features

For International Men’s Day, we wanted to share the perspectives of two of our Group Heads, André Brown & Toby Warnecke, on balancing becoming a father with running their own research groups.

How have your working patterns changed since becoming a father?

“My working patterns have completely changed. Before I used to work late evenings, especially if there was a deadline coming up. I am not a morning person, so it takes me some time to get into a task, and if it is going well I will carry on. Now, I have to be more of a morning person, as working late isn’t feasible. I am also more selective with the conferences I go to as I am reticent to travel and leave the full burden on my partner.”

“I agree. I used to work more at nights and weekends, but I don’t do that anymore. I was very keen to make family time protected time, so when my daughter is awake I am not working. I travel less also, but it is picking up again now that my daughter is a little bit older.”

From chatting to both André and Toby, it was very clear that the flexibility of a career in science was crucial to helping them balance fatherhood with running their lab groups. Being able to work from home more often was beneficial so they could divide their time between work and parenting. However, both shared how privileged they felt that they had the option to be able to work flexibly as careers with stricter constraints wouldn’t have that possibility and would need to seek alternative solutions.

What could the Institute or society do to help balancing parenthood with a research career?

“One of the first things I noticed was how expensive childcare was. For some, childcare is more than their salary, so they would actually lose money by working, which could really affect someone’s ability to come back to work. For me, that factor of flexibility again is key, particularly in academia, when it comes to childcare. I guess employers could choose to do something about that. It wouldn’t be easy to become a society wide thing due to the nature of different careers, but the flexibility in academia makes the balance easier to manage.”

“My thoughts are also along the lines of childcare provisions. You would have thought that institutions the size of Imperial should be providing high quality subsidised childcare across campuses. There was a nursery onsite at Hammersmith until 3 years ago. It closed but no replacement, relief or alternative solutions were offered. This should become key to any future planning and expansion projects to facilitate the life of both mothers and fathers.”

Looking to the future what do you think you would feed forward?

“I think more men need to officially take parental leave. That way it will become ‘the norm’ to ask not only the mother but the father-to-be, about arrangements. You will also receive a lot of unsolicited advice from your peers, but you will also get offers for help and I would always say take someone up on it. As for the progression of my group, I will need to be a bit stricter with projects we take on and choosing not to do things, at least for the foreseeable future.”

“Again, I am just incredibly grateful for the flexibility I have in my career that allows me to balance both aspects as it is not standard. As for feeding forward, I have had three pregnancies in my group since I started so I try to pass that on and make things as flexible for my colleagues as I can.”