Royal Society campaign shows how scientists fit career and family life side by side

07 March 2016

The Royal Society launches a collection of 150 personal stories from scientists who are combining a career in research with their roles as parents and carers, each in their own way. The campaign #AndAScientist goes live with over 40 stories today – available either in the booklet Parent Carer Scientist or online – with the rest to follow throughout the year.

The idea is to increase the visibility of the many ways in which women and men who are parents, carers and scientists have grown their careers in research whilst nurturing family life. The campaign aims to show early career and future scientists that they don’t have to choose between research and their aspirations and commitments outside the lab. Their stories also highlight the vital role that a supportive employer, family friendly policies and funding play in enabling researchers to combine a vocation for science with family life.

Professor Ottoline Leyser FRS, who led the development of the project says, “There’s a troubling perception that balancing a career as a scientist with a happy, healthy life outside of work is near impossible. This project was inspired by the need to address the negativity that seems to characterise the advice many early career researchers receive about their prospects of combining a career in science with anything beyond breathing, eating and perhaps occasionally sleeping.

“This wonderful and inspiring collection of stories shows that there are lots of scientists out there juggling life in the lab with life at home in lots of different ways. Science works best when the community is full of diverse people with diverse approaches and diverse experiences. Raising the visibility of researchers who combine a career in science with family life and caring responsibilities is vital if we are to make sure a career in science is attractive to diverse, interesting and imaginative people.”

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, adds, “The pursuit of science is always challenging, but as can be seen from these stories, it is not only possible, but frequently the case that one can combine exciting science and also have other demands and passions in our lives. We need to include the best and brightest in science, so it is very important that we are as inclusive as possible. To enable this inclusion, we need to nurture the careers of young scientists as they proceed up the ladder by making it possible for them to succeed alongside family commitments and other interests.”

The scientists who share their stories are taking many different paths: Single parenting; a sharing of caring responsibilities at home; altering working patterns, or in some cases whole careers, to suit new life priorities; some built firm foundations in their profession before starting a family whilst others were ‘early starters’; some took an extensive career break when their children were young whilst others found childcare support from their partners, family, or professional childcare providers. The stories highlight how the autonomy and flexibility inherent in science careers mean research can fit around parenting and caring responsibilities.

Balancing family life and a career is a highly personal challenge and what works for some may not work for others. However, some common themes and advice emerged in the stories gathered for the project:

  • Find a supportive environment – Fulfilling the responsibilities of family life may require that researchers change the way they work. The importance of having colleagues and an employer that value and support staff that need to work flexibly is emphasised.
  • Time it right, for you – Is there an ideal time in a research career to start a family? These scientists prove that ‘the right time’ to add parenthood to the CV is different for everyone.
  • Learn to work smarter – When circumstances change, work habits may have to. This might feel awkward at first, but can have wide-ranging benefits. Researchers share how they altered their working day, or whole career, to suit new priorities.
  • Be adaptable – Researchers may change their scientific focus, or relocate between institutions or countries, more than once in a career. When the challenges and opportunities of life present themselves, these scientists reveal how they’ve had to adapt.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Juggling work and parenthood or caring responsibilities is tough, and sometimes impossible, without help. Whether it’s finding support from family, friends or paid help, these researchers share the diversity of solutions that work for them.
  • Be determined – Whether breaking new ground or battling personal hardship, you’ll need determination and resilience. These scientists describe how they’ve weathered tough times, juggled family life and continued to succeed in the career they love.