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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Case Studies

Marilyn Jenkins
Marilyn Jenkins

Marilyn Jenkins research laboratory technician 2B

I joined the University of Southampton in 2008 as a 1B laboratory assistant on a temporary full time 10-month contract to cover maternity leave. 

I had various tasks within my role, including setting up practical classes for undergraduate teaching.  

As my contract was coming to an end my personal life started to change. My daughter had a baby, and my mother became very frail and needed help with her day to day living. I realised at that time I would have to work part time so I could share my responsibilities with other family members. 

However, I was offered a permanent full-time position as a 1B research technician. The Biological Sciences building 62 was being demolished and everyone was being relocated to the new Life Sciences building 85 on the main Highfield campus. A new structure was taking place within the technical team, so they needed to recruit more staff to fulfil the new roles. I was very pleased to be offered the position, but at that time I was torn between working full time and my personal life. I explained my situation to my line manager. 

The support I was given to my situation was brilliant. After some discussion, the outcome was for me to work 4 days a week. The contract that I have is for 28.8 hours a week with Wednesdays off.  

The agreement was that both I and my line manager can be very flexible with my working week which suits us both as I can swap days off if needed to benefit both sides. It has worked so well for me as I do have that “work/life balance”. 

I work in the research laboratory with a team of technicians to support a wide range of research interests. My main duties include managing a media kitchen, laboratory consumables store, ordering consumables and maintenance of the School’s Tissue Culture facilities. 

Overall, the work/life balance that I have, has helped me to continue with my career and being promoted to a 2B research technician. I strongly believe that the support I was given at the very beginning helped me stay working at the university.   

 

Ben Clark
Ben Clark

Ben Clark – Laboratory Technician (Research) 

I started at the School of Biological Sciences (SoBS) in 2007 as a level 1b Laboratory Assistant supporting the Invertebrate facility as maternity cover. At the end of the contract, I was successful at gaining a permanent position within the technical team supporting SoBS teaching laboratories - with a focus on physiology, pharmacology and neuroscience practical classes.

I have been employed within the technical team during times of restructuring and change - and took part in the move from B62 to B85 in 2010, for which the teaching technical team were given a Vice-Chancellors Teaching award. By taking opportunities that have arisen throughout my time at the University, I have been able to move up the grades and further my technical career whilst remaining within the school.  

In 2014 I applied, interviewed and was successful in moving to the role of level 3 laboratory technician within the teaching labs. This role included line manager responsibilities and day-to-day management of the teaching lab equipment base. In 2018 I transferred to the SoBS research laboratories – working as part of the technical team to provide support across the b85 research laboratories, with a focus on managing and maintaining specified ‘Biomolecular Core’ laboratory equipment. 

In 2019 I was successful in applying for the technician’s summer project “Expression and Purification of recombinant alpha-synuclein”– supervised by Dr Phil Williamson.  

This project gave me fantastic opportunities to utilise a range of existing skills that were out of practice and gain a multitude of new technical, scientific and organisational skills - opportunities that I would not otherwise have in my day-to-day work. 

It also equipped me with a deeper understanding of the scientific theory and principles underpinning a variety of techniques, assays and equipment. I have been able utilise these skills and understanding in my day-to-day working to; better comprehend user requirements, avoid common errors/faults, offer informed suggestions of how laboratories and systems could work more efficiently and effectively for everyone, and continue to provide high quality technical support as part of the technical team. 

Taking part in this project has also greatly increased my self-confidence; has enabled me to cultivate positive working relationships with academics, researchers, and support staff; and has only further solidified my desire to continue to progress my technical career within the University. 

My line managers and the school have always been supportive of flexible working around core hours - to enable my partner, who works night shifts as an auxiliary nurse, and myself, to juggle the challenges of raising a young family alongside our passion for our work. 

For instance, the ability to work flexibly around core hours has been invaluable in managing the logistics of dropping my daughter to nursery after my partner has returned from a night shift - before I am expected at work in the morning. I then stay later in the evening which meshes nicely with working hours of the other members of the technical team – to ensure technical support and assistance is available across the full working day. 

 After nearly 13 years at SoBS I have forged some fantastic working relationships, as well as enduring friendships with colleagues at all levels and very much feel part of both the school and wider University community. 

Fabrizia Ratto
Fabrizia Ratto

Fabrizia Ratto (Postgraduate Research Student)

After a few years working as an ecologist for local authorities, I applied for a PhD studentship in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton. Soon after accepting the offer for this position, I found out that I was expecting my second child. The University was accommodating and offered me the opportunity to delay the start of my PhD until after the end of my maternity leave.

Even though part of me was wondering whether I would be able to cope with the demands of a PhD and those of two children under five, I was determined to take this opportunity. I wanted to be an example to my children that women do not have to choose between a fulfilling career and a family.

My working hours are flexible enough so that I can organise my days in a way that fits the needs of my young family. The University provides a day care centre, which is of great help as it enables parents to have an early start if they wish and make the most of a full day in the office.

Although doing a PhD is a demanding undertaking, I find that it allows more flexibility than many jobs, and I would confidently advise anyone, male or female, not to be discouraged from following this path because they have children. 

Even though I believe a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure equal career opportunities, especially in science, I find the University of Southampton a supportive environment, committed to address gender and other types of inequalities.

Dr Felix Eigenbrod
Dr Felix Eigenbrod

Dr Felix Eigenbrod (Associate Professor Ecology)

I have been an academic in Biology at Southampton since 2010 and feel our department is now a genuinely family-friendly work environment both for males and females. I say this as the father of two small children (1 and 5) with a partner who also works outside of the home on a near-full time basis. It is now simply normal practice that all key meetings and all seminars will take during core working hours, and that some staff (like myself) will need to leave early or arrive late due to child care responsibilities. Furthermore, very strong support at the highest levels in the Department enabled me to move to working 4 days a week in January 2015 (I look after my one-year old son on Mondays) through concrete reductions in workload that still enabled me to remain research active.

While there is clearly more work to be done on ensuring equal career opportunities for everyone (female or male) at all levels in academia in general, I do feel that Biology at Southampton is very much moving in the right direction to achieve this through policies that make a genuine difference to enabling such a change. 

Dr Anna Crisford
Dr Anna Crisford

Dr Anna Crisford (Research Fellow in Neuroscience)

When I started my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Pharmacology at University of Southampton in 2004 my son was one year old. I live in Bournemouth and commute to Southampton on everyday basis as well. My husband also works full time. However, his employer is very flexible with arranging work hours to fit with the child care. My parents live in Ukraine and they could help me with the babysitting only when they were visiting us.

The University lecturers were really helpful and understanding. During my third year project I was able to complete my work in the days when I also had lectures and had a couple of days with my son at home. I had to work hard at home on my assignments, but it enabled me to reduce child care. During my final exam period my son was ill and I could not sit one of the exams. The course coordinator telephoned me and organised oral examination instead so that I could complete my degree that year. Of course, it was possible because that mark would not have changed my final mark largely. Recently implemented recorded lectures would have been very useful at the times when my son was ill and I could not attend.

I started my PhD in 2007 at the University of Southampton when my son has just started Reception year at school. The first term school lessons were finishing at midday and my husband had to race during his lunch break to take our son from school to the nursery. Unfortunately, that caused a lot of colds and we both had to take turns to stay at home with him. That is where my PhD supervisor bought for me a laptop with the grant money to allow me to do a lot of work at home. The University serviced laptop was synchronised with my desktop computer at University which enabled me to keep track of my work.

I have been a postdoctoral research fellow with the University of Southampton for four years. My son is now 12 years old and much more independent. During my PhD and postdoctoral work I have always been able to take holidays during school term times. The school seminars and conferences are organised during work hours. Project meetings and conferences I attended took place during term times.

You have to be very organised and driven if you chose a career in science and have little children, but with the right balance of work and understandable employer it is possible to achieve.

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