February 2017: Open Access – Sharing experiences on a life in science
Danny told us about her early career in Australia, including anecdotes about writing her honours thesis in the mid-90’s, an analysis of the ‘debate on [using] electronic journals in science communication’. “Scientists publish in print journals - using the internet to share information and publish data is a fad, it’ll never catch on” was a frequently heard opinion, something the intervening 20 years have proven very wrong.
The knowledge and expertise Danny developed during her PhD enabled her to undertake various roles in the Open Access arena in Australia, culminating in establishing the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group. To start with, working in a relatively new field, often as the lone voice (and a young, female one at that), brought many challenges and. “It was often a struggle to change the hearts and minds of people who were set in their ways”. However, Danny talked about how she dealt with these trials and championed the concept of having a mentor, someone who will provide you with unbiased advice and advocate on your behalf.
Are you interested to become engaged with open access, open data and want to increase your expertise with research data management? The Office of Scholarly Communication does offer considerable support and an overview on their extensive resources can be found under http://osc.cam.ac.uk/training.
January 2017: Circus Skills in Science - can we learn the balancing act?by Cheryl Smythe
Andrea Handsteiner from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna began the challenge by looking at institutional approaches to work-life-balance. She highlighted evidence demonstrating that employers with family friendly policies have lower levels of sick leave, less staff turnover, less time taken as parental leave and increased numbers of highly motivated staff. We were asked to consider whether our employer understands employee needs, whether measures put in place by the employer are communicated effectively, and whether the employer has changed in its attitude over the last 5 years. This was a useful exercise and I came to the conclusion that with the advent of the Athena SWAN and LIBRA projects, BI has been listening to its staff’s needs through consultations which has resulted for example in the promotion of flexible working and job-sharing. A little more work promoting a cohesive community with effective internal communication would work well alongside this.
Moving on to consider individual approaches to work-life-balance, we were encouraged to self-reflect. I am really not one for naval gazing. However, I had to admit that it was useful to identify the aspects of my job that I really enjoy, to think about what my life goals are and to consider whether any adjustments are needed.
What resonated for me was a discussion on how work goes through cycles of being “crazy busy” - putting outside life completely on hold - and then returning to “normal busy”; but the habits developed during the crazy period are maintained. So emails still get checked first thing in the morning and last thing at night, even when the workload doesn’t require it.
Finally, it was emphasised that a “good” balance is different for different people and there needs to be visible institutional recognition that those who choose to work part time or work flexibly are equally passionate and exceptional at their job as those with more traditional working patterns – perhaps even more so.
So my thinking still stands that work-life-balance can’t be taught. However, there are useful and interesting lessons that both senior management and individuals should have in the back of their busy minds as they manage their own circus skills.
December 2016: Your Life, Your Science: Getting the balance right for you
What does “Life” actually mean and how do you integrate it with your work?
This is a very personal decision which strongly depends on your values, your personality and the circumstances that you are in. To provide inspiration from scientists who have successfully negotiated ‘life’ challenges in their careers, The Babraham Institute hosts a “My Life in Science“ seminar series as part of the LIBRA project.
How do you recharge and where do you get your motivation from? What is balance for you?
Of course answers to these questions will be highly diverse. For example, life can mean caring about other people and indeed yourself. It may be the joy of parenthood balanced with exciting research, as Adrian Liston from the Translational Immunology Lab at the VIB in Leuven, Belgium tells us. The title of his story - “Baby and me, plus an ERC”- already points to two of his strongest values: gender equality and work-life-balance. Projected onto parenthood this means equality between parents from day one onwards. “It will be good for you, good for them, good for your child, good for your relationship.”
The role model you provide to your children will influence how they will perceive gender equality later in life. In Adrian’s case, both he and his wife are working full time. The arrival of a baby suddenly changes the perceived roles of partners “from love of your life to logistics co-manager”. This does not need to be a bad thing. It requires a brushing up of time management skills and the ability to prioritise strictly. Avoiding perfectionism and “saying no” are valuable skills, as they enable priorities to be put into practice. Adrian also stresses the mutual benefit of delegating to staff. In addition, one often neglected priority should be your own well-being. “Do things for you. Being a parent should not mean being miserable.”
Factors that help to achieve a good work-life-balance should be a consideration when applying for positions. After doing his PhD in Australia and a postdoc in the US, Adrian moved to Belgium. This decision was not only based on the scientific excellence of the new work place, but also on factors that would support the whole family. Examples are childcare, education and appropriate sick leave (education of the child’s immune system comes at a cost…).
Being a parent even inspired Adrian to carry out some intriguing research
“How hard is parenting? Harder than severe gastroenteritis....“
“For 3 years I had a baby with me at every [working] dinner and the reactions were polarised.”
So setting the right priorities while sticking to your values might not always be appreciated and for sure is hard work, but it can pay off.
This seminar series at the Babraham Institute together with those held at the LIBRA partner institutes provide a unique set of perspectives on this complex topic. Feelings about work-life-balance impact on intrinsic motivation - the driver of creativity, an essential factor for scientific progress.
If we understand a healthy work-life-balance as an inner attitude, we might be surprised what it can do for our career.
November 2016: International Man’s Day… Men and Gender Equality at Babraham Institute.
19th November marks International Man's Day. November is recognised as a month to highlight men’s issues, in past years many men at the institute have grown their moustaches to raise funds for men’s health charities.
This year, the Athena SWAN team are challenging institute staff to ‘Move’ for Movember; to get up, walk and speak to the person we need to instead of sitting at our desks and sending another email. Not only will this increase the number of steps we take in a day, and hence improve our health, but it will improve internal communication and relationships amongst colleagues.
In this spirit, the Human Resource and Athena SWAN teams are releasing updated policies on shared parental leave and improving awareness of work life balance (WLB). Men and women being able to take shared responsibility for all aspects of family life leads to benefits for the entire family.
In our recent LIBRA survey (2016) 78% of male researchers at the institute strongly agreed or agreed that the institute has the facilities to enable them to achieve a good WLB.
Dan, a technician in our Biological Support Unit (BSU) said that ‘BSU have always been supportive when I have required time off with my children if they are ill and have also allowed me a little bit of time in lieu to attend events special to my children. I feel that it is important for both my partner and I to share this responsibility. Being available to share those duties with my partner now has taken some stress off of her. BSU management has also been very good in allowing me to be flexible on my start/finish time, which has enabled my partner to get a new job. The benefit of this support is excellent and is one less stress for our family.’
Our internal Athena SWAN consultations (2016) have shown that a few members of staff have concerns that the project is focussed on women. Indeed, a lot of the work that has been done, especially within the LIBRA project, has been with the aim of improving the number of females and hence gender balance in senior roles in science. However, the Athena SWAN team are very concerned with the progression of everyone’s careers and areas of the institute that currently have low male representation. By improving equality, we hope to improve institute life for everyone.
I spoke to Benjamin Smith from Babraham Nursery
‘Ben, what is it like to work in an area of the institute that is heavily dominated by female staff’
“I have found that working at Babraham Nursery, a predominantly female environment, has been met with great enthusiasm, not only from staff but from parents of the children who attend. l find that I leave the more typical ‘male’ attitude at the door; this may be what hinders some others from considering a role, it’s not really considered a macho, stereotypically male role."
‘Do you have any ideas on how the institute could improve the number of men applying for roles similar to yours?’
"I think this is a grey area because of the times we live in with regards to gender biased jobs and discrimination acts – I feel that the way to attract men to these kinds of roles may be to think about the role specification and to highlight more stereotypically male activities e.g. forestry courses, building and fixing - teaching these things to the children, that may appeal to more men."
‘How important do you feel that it is for children of nursery age to receive care from both males and females and in their child care setting?’
"I feel this is of utmost importance. This is how most children are typically brought up i.e. with a father and mother. Why should it be different within the Nursery and/or the teaching field because of outdated views on what a male or female should do?"
‘What do you feel Babraham does well to support staff with family and/or caring responsibilities?’
"I have 2 young boys (Oli 5 and Zach 6) who I take to and from School on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – I then work at the Nursery on a Thursday and Friday to accommodate this. I have also been reassured that if at any point I needed the time off for a genuine reason relating to the care of my children, this would be accommodated."
October 2016: What Are Your Unconscious Biases?
Implicit or unconscious bias occurs when our brains make incredibly quick judgements and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.
From birth we begin social learning: babies imitate facial expressions, adults aspire to be like those ahead of them in their careers. This isn’t good for our science, we don’t want everyone to be the same, think in the same way, or take the same level of scientific risk in their experiments. We need to give conscious attention to improving the distribution and diversity in science in order to improve the quality of our science.
Implicit association tests (IATs) can reveal your unconscious attitudes and beliefs towards a variety of topics such as race, gender and age.
At the end of September the Babraham Institute launched the LIBRA IAT. This test was specifically designed by Project Implicit for the LIBRA project and identifies your biases related to gender and STEM/art disciplines and gender and family/career.
On October 10th Femi Otitoju from Challenge Consultancy came to address unconscious bias at the institute. Femi provided a general seminar for all staff where she revealed what unconscious bias is and provided us with many every day examples. This was followed by a focussed discussion with group leaders, line managers and committee chairs to talk about what we can do to reduce the impact of our unconscious biases on recruitment, promotion and staff support at Babraham. By being consciously aware that these biases exist we can reduce their impact.
The Royal Society have produced this video to help explain unconscious bias.
Nicolas LeNovere, Group Leader at Babraham attended the seminar. "As scientists, we strive to stick to relevant facts and correct for all known biases. What the IAT and the seminar showed me was that no-one, and in particular not me, was immune against unconscious biased, engraved in us during all our life by family, peers and society. I think unconscious biases are therefore potentially more damaging than conscious ones, since they are very hard to detect and to correct for. We must not underestimate the effort needed to infer their existence and minimise their impact."
September 2016: Job Sharing at Babraham InstituteJob sharing is less common in science than many other professions and work places. On 27th September Babraham held an event about job sharing to address why this is and to hear about the benefits and challenges of job sharing in science from our post-doctoral job sharers Dr Claire Senner and Dr Sarah Burge.
We opened the event by addressing the need for opportunities that allow people to enjoy and improve their careers whilst also balancing their home lives. 43% of male and 51% of female researchers at Babraham believe that work life balance is the biggest challenge to their personal progression in science when compared with competition and required mobility (LIBRA, 2016 staff survey).
Penny Coggill from CamAWiSE steering group joined us for the event, she introduced CamAWiSE and its aims. Penny discussed the value of networking in support for women in science and engineering.
Sara Horsfall, the founder of Ginibee a job sharing platform, defined job sharing as a ‘partnership in a full time role’. She discussed the importance of communication, handover and shared ownership. Sara addressed the importance of maintaining a career while dealing with whatever is going on in life. This seems particularly relevant at a time when many scientific institutes, like ourselves (see our current Daphne Jackson Fellowship vacancy), are introducing measures such as career re-entry fellowships to enable scientists to return to research after a career break. However, creating job sharing opportunities could prevent a skilled and talented pool of individuals from leaving their career in the first place. Sara discussed potential benefits to the employer: two brains instead of one; continuity; diverse experiences and skills; increased loyalty and commitment from more content employees; and improved productivity.
Dr Claire Senner and Dr Sarah Burge, our current post-doctoral job sharers (see our June 2016 blog), shared their thoughts on aiming to be successful scientists and successful mothers. Claire said ‘I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t doing either of my jobs well – as a mummy or a scientist’. Sarah discussed how in her family the 2 body problem was solvable, still felt possible with 3, but with 4 the solutions just weren’t coming together - until she found and began her job share post doc.
August 2016: The Importance of Annual LeaveIt’s summer holiday season; the time of year when many of us take a break away from work.
Babraham Institute employees are entitled to 25 working days plus bank holidays and 3 Christmas closure days.
In our recent LIBRA staff and student survey only 54% of BI researchers either strongly agreed or agreed that they use their annual leave entitlement. Interestingly, 66% of women who answered strongly agreed or agreed, while only 36% of men felt the same.
Why is it that many of us struggle to let go and take a break?
The way in which many of us now work means that leaving the lab or office doesn’t mean that we leave our work behind: popping into the lab to feed cells before heading off to the beach; checking emails on our phone or laptop by the pool; skyping from the hotel en suite bathroom. It’s hard to avoid checking the inbox to ensure nothing important has come in or that there won’t be too much to do when we return. Some of us feel more comfortable when we are working. However the benefits of changing our daily routine and shutting off from work can be great both personally and professionally.
How important is annual leave?
We all experience some stress in our lives, whether that is stress that we feel from work, from our personal lives or from the constant juggle of both. Following the same routine day in day out can lead to tiredness and boredom. Holidays break this cycle, whether it’s a few days at home or a trip abroad; holidays rejuvenate, relax and recharge us. They allow us to feel better about ourselves, spend time with our families, form happy memories for the future and increase our productivity upon our return to work.
Research from the Family Holiday Association, a charity that helps families struggling financially to have a break shows that 91% of the families they have helped had reduced stress and worries after their break and 90% got on better as a family. The benefits last much longer than the break itself (www.familyholidayassociation.org.uk).
What are your favourite holiday memories from this year?
Here are a few from Babraham...
‘I’ve relaxed and had fun with my family, I spent quality time with them without looking at the time’ Cris Cruz, Post Doc, Epigenetics.
‘I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family and getting outdoors’ Michael Wakelam, Institute Director
‘The pure excitement our 5 year old and 3 year old experienced sleeping in a tent after roasting and enjoying marshmallows by the campfire’ Laura Norton, Athena SWAN Manager.
‘Singing along to the Gruffalo song in the car. We bought some audio CDs to see us through the long drive to Cornwall and back. Our three year old daughter is now word perfect!’ Louisa Wood, Communications Manager.
July 2016: Daphne Jackson Trust/Babraham Institute
Career Re-entry Fellowship
This month we are advertising an opportunity for a scientist to return to a career in research after a break of two or more years. Applications are invited for a Daphne Jackson Fellowship that will be hosted and half sponsored by the Babraham Institute. The fellow is welcome to work within any of the institute’s four main areas: Epigenetics, Signalling, Lymphocyte Signalling and Nuclear Dynamics .
Career re-entry fellowships offer professionals wishing to return to research after a career break the opportunity to re start their research career with full support.
Diane Proudfoot is currently a British Heart Foundation Career Re-entry Fellow at Babraham. Diane says 'I have been very well supported by the BHF throughout my career. The BHF Career Re-entry Fellowship gave me the opportunity to return to work after a 4-year break, once my 3 children were all at school. I am passionate about my research area; why bone-like particles in our arteries increase the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. I found that returning to research after a break was not such a huge leap as I had kept up with science through publishing papers, reviewing for international journals and attending conferences. I had always planned to come back. The biggest challenge in my experience is that high quality publications are expected in a very short time after returning. This is not easy after a fresh start but I have been fortunate to have a research assistant and good collaborators.’
Diane has been very happy at Babraham ‘My research at BI has gone well, mostly due to excellent facilities and helpfulness of Babraham staff. I have been working full-time and this has been possible for me as I live only 10 minutes away from home/school.’
Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowships offer a unique combination of support, mentoring, and career development to give Fellows the confidence and skills they need to return to their career and to compete for research positions.
July 2016: Jo Durgan - Work-Life BalanceJo Durgan is a post doctoral researcher in the Signalling ISP at the Babraham Institute. Jo’s position is supported by a Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Commission and last year she received the L’Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science Award.
‘I’m married with two young children, Jack aged 5 and Lily aged 2. Lily spends time at the lovely institute nursery and Jack attends the fantastic village school. Currently, I work part-time with a flexible schedule, to get the most out of family life while continuing to develop my research. Most days I come to the lab between 9.30-3.30, working around Jack’s school hours. However, I really appreciate having the flexibility to choose the hours that suit me best on any given day.’
As part of our LIBRA project a recent survey on work life balance was carried out at the institute. When asked ‘What does your institute do well to promote a healthy work life balance’ over 85% of researchers answered Babraham’s family friendly facilities and social atmosphere.
Jo believes that ‘the key to achieving a happy and productive work-life balance is flexibility. We are extremely lucky at the Babraham Institute to have a supportive environment and a collection of helpful facilities that make striking this balance achievable.’
Jo and her family benefit from her flexible schedule, part time hours, the on-site nursery, after school, holiday club and on-site housing. ‘The institute nursery is fantastic. If you need to be away from your child for some part of the day, it’s essential that you trust they are happy and well cared for. We are extremely lucky to have a nursery where the kids are looked after by warm and friendly staff, with access to lots of interesting activities. The onsite housing offered at Babraham is quite unique and can be a great benefit, especially for those here temporarily or with kids. Living so close to work means that if I really need to return to the lab to finish an experiment, I can wait until after the kids’ bedtime and be here in minutes.’
‘I really enjoy my work as a scientist and feel quite strongly that doing a job I love is an important part of living a happy life. We’re lucky to have found a home where great science comes with so much support for family life and look forward to continuing work here.’
Read the full article (pdf)
Watch Jo’s L’Oreal video at www.womeninscience.co.uk/news/Meet-a-2015-fellow-Jo
June 2016: Job Sharing at the Babraham InstituteDr Myriam Hemberger’s lab is the first group at the Babraham Institute to have set up a unique post-doctoral job share opportunity. Job sharing is more common in other professions and work places, however in science and in particular in lab-based work this is a novel and huge step forwards in good practice and the advancement of diversity in STEM.
Dr Claire Senner has been a post-doctoral scientist in Dr Hemberger’s laboratory for 7 years:
‘While I was on my second maternity leave I started to worry about how thinly stretched I would be when I returned to work. My eldest child was about to start school adding another degree of complexity to our daily routine. My husband works long hours in London which means I am entirely responsible for dropping off, picking up in the evening, and being the primary contact when either child falls ill.
I love my children and caring for them is not a burden to me but I was beginning to feel like I wasn't doing either of my jobs well- as a mummy or a scientist.
Many friends suggested working part time but at first I was sceptical. I had never heard of a postdoc working three days a week or doing a job share. Faced with the possibility of having to leave my job and possibly forfeit my career I decided to ask Myriam if I could work three days a week. She agreed and recruited a bioinformatician to work two days a week to job share with me.’
As a silver Athena SWAN award holder Babraham is proud of this initiative, which began in April 2015. We are highlighting this as good practice, it is transformative to put measures in place that prevent women from leaving the workplace at this stage of their careers and family life, which has the highest rate of attrition.
Many institutions are working on measures, such as career re-entry fellowships, to re-introduce women into the work place but this opportunity allows scientists to maintain their careers and not feel that they need to leave the workplace at all. This in turn prevents science losing invaluable ‘brainpower’ as well as significant levels of training and accomplishment.
‘From a family point of view this job share is fantastic. I am at home on Mondays and Tuesdays so I can pick up my eldest son from school and have plenty of one-to-one time with the baby- now toddler. I try to schedule hospital appointments on these days and do any extra shopping, cooking, or other errands, so that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, our three hectic days run a bit more smoothly.
From a work point of view I am delighted that I have been able to keep being a postdoc which I love! I didn't want to leave Myriam's lab or the Babraham Institute and I am so grateful that this has all been possible. I enjoy working with Sarah, my job share partner, very much.
When we started this our main motivation was being able to give more to our children but now we are doing it we feel very strongly that we want to be able to show how successful a post-doc job share can be so that others can also benefit from such an arrangement.’
April 2016: Athena SWAN consultationsAs part of the Athena SWAN project the team are carrying out one to one consultations with all staff and students throughout April and May 2016. This is a repeat of a consultation process that was carried out in 2014 with research staff and PhD students. This year we are expanding this to include representation from all Babraham Institute staff with equal representation of women and men.
Participants are given a list of questions covering their experiences of working at the institute, career progression and their management and supervision and then they meet with a member of the Athena SWAN team to discuss their thoughts on these topics. All data will be anonymised, collated and analysed to understand and appreciate everyone’s views. Many of the initiatives that we are currently working on have come from ideas or opinions that were expressed in the previous set of consultations. We would like to thank all staff for their participation.
March 2016: International Women’s DayOn 8th March 2016 the Institute held an event to celebrate International Women's Day, with the theme of Pledge for Parity. In 2015 The World Economic Forum predicted that it will take until 2133 to close the gender parity gap. Everyone - men and women- can pledge to take steps to help achieve gender parity more quickly. The Institute event brought together current staff with five female alumni to celebrate success and discuss how to develop more inclusive and flexible cultures, remove workplace bias and provide inspirational role models. Our returning alumni discussed their careers and perspectives on life in science:
Our celebrations also included the inaugural award of the Institute’s Athena SWAN Best Practice Award. This award will be given annually to a group or individual who has shown great commitment to supporting women in their careers. Examples of such support include enabling and supporting flexible working patterns; mentoring and supporting individuals through their careers at the Institute and beyond; or setting up an initiative to support scientists in their career development.