Along with some other academic friends I am part of a week long experiment to chart my full workload. Everything. Emails, work related tweeting, union work, FWSA work, working lunches. The lot. This was sparked by the recent series of interviews with academic parents – many of whom were working evenings and weekends. Drawing some (gross?) generalisations, men said they worked evenings and weekends to do the work necessary for promotion. Women felt they had to do this additional work just to keep up with teaching related admin and maybe research. What was perhaps more interesting is that this out of hours work is framed as normal. Needed to do the job. We all work those hours don’t we?

In my own working life I am struck at the number of work related emails which I get at the weekend. I’m making a point of disabling my work email on my iPad on Friday nights through to Monday mornings. The weekends are my time. I could recount numerous anecdotes of being handed work on a Friday afternoon which is due on a Monday, or even receiving work on a Sunday which is due Monday. I can’t imagine I am unique in these experiences. Academia is not a 9-5 job! We have a vocation. We love our jobs. We do it for the love of the job/students/research. These are dangerous narratives. By saying academia is not a 9-5 job, we make it not a 9-5 job. Our care for students, enjoyment of research is used by institutions to stop us resisting these working patterns – never mind how it’s used to try and stop us taking industrial action!

Which then brings me to another observation from the data, the attitude towards women academics who don’t have children. These women don’t have the ‘valid excuse’ not to stay after work or research/email at the weekends. This led to an interesting discussion on Facebook on the ways in which organisations pit women against each other (non-parent women being given the work of women colleagues on leave etc) and how resentment can build up.

There are academics who work a regular working week. We need to hear more from them. How do they achieve this, how is it received by colleagues and managers?

The time experiment is ongoing. I will try and do it again when teaching starts. And yes, writing this blog post counts!

Letter to MEPs re mass death in the Med.

I am writing to express my concern and distress over the humanitarian crisis currently facing those migrants who, fleeing war, are willing to risk death to cross the Med to reach the relative safety of mainland Europe. After the EU refused to support Italy’s admirable Mare Nostrum efforts to rescue migrants, the numbers dying have risen. While any death is unacceptable, the loss of so many fellow human beings, young, old, woman and men, cannot be tolerated. The logic behind this refusal to support Italy was that no rescue would reduce migration, despite acknowledgement that this was based on anecdotal evidence (
Britain’s inability to effectively manage its role in other countries is at least partly responsible for this mass migration. We surely have a responsibility, as humans, and as a wealthy country help people who are in extreme suffering. Would we stand by as people drowned on our doorstep, or would we, like the brave civilians of Italy, Greece and Malta wade into the water to help. While British politicians have made noises about the evils of people smuggling, they have allowed our own culpability in this crisis to remain hidden.
The Guardian’s considered piece on the options is worth reading
It is clear that we must, if we have a conscience, work to help people in dire need. I hope you will consider pushing the EU to an effective solution to this crisis, including demanding an immediate restart to the rescue. The Med has become the most dangerous crossing point on earth for migrants. This is to our shame and it is within our power to do something about this.
I look forward to hearing from you with a positive response.

The geographies of academic life

The second week of interviews has come to an end, with over half of our data collection complete. I don’t think we’ve reached saturation point yet, although some trends are starting to emerge. One aspect which is particularly interesting is the physical location of academic work and how this is an influence in the working lives of academics.

We are familiar with the need for academics to travel to conferences, often overseas. This form of mobility is difficult for those with any kind of caring responsibilities. Conferences rarely provide childcare and I have yet to hear of any university or funder costing in childcare or other family costs which would be incurred if academics were to take their children to a conference. Our previous post suggested that attendance at events, such as conferences, is important for networking and the development of confidence in research skills.

There is another aspect to academic life which is emerging from the studies – where we live. For many academics, mobility is key – and this may include migrating to another country, or moving within home country. For those with children this mobility can mean moving away from support networks, such as grandparents, who can assist with childcare. Academics who do not live within easy reach of a broader family network must rely on other forms of childcare, including formal paid care and sometimes friends. Of course, there are cost implications of being reliant on formal childcare. In addition, the lack of informal childcare, such as grandparents, may have an effect on academics’ ability to maintain a life outside of work, for example, spending time with their partner.

The distance between home and work is also an important issue for academics. Those who live close to work may be able to make use of nearby childcare. For others, the working day is extended with considerable travel to different sites for example, one child at nursery and an older child at school. How this labour is managed within families can depend on a range of factors, including, working hours, flexibility of work and access to car/public transport.

The interviews are providing an insight into the dynamics of academic working life, parenting and the relationship to men and women’s careers. Looking forward to completing the interviews and becoming immersed in the data!


Being a parent and an academic: early thoughts.

We are a week into our interviews with academic parents working in Scottish universities. As with all research, I am grateful to those who are willing, not only to take the time to talk to us, but also to share their experiences with such openness. Just to recap, our study aims to understand how academics in Scotland navigate their lives as parents alongside their careers. There is considerable evidence that women are disadvantaged within the academic sector, with both vertical and horizontal segregation. As with other similar occupational groups, there is a persistent gender pay gap, with UCU recently calling for equality audits. Recently the Guardian’s series ‘Academics Anonymous’ published a piece on the perceived incompatibility of motherhood with ‘serious research’. Specifically the author, a recent PhD Grad, argues that mothers, due to time constraints and the flexibility of academic work, are able to produce high quality research. While we are not yet in a position to analyse our data, our early interview data suggests women in lecturing posts articulate a more bleak picture. The women we have spoken to so far describe their working lives in terms of keeping up with work, with little scope to do more than this. In part this is due to the structural aspects of university life including:

  • teaching – not simply the hours spent in the lecture hall, but also the administration associated with marking, updating materials (including virtual learning environments), and meetings with students.
  • Administrative roles – we see examples of part time workers (women) undertaking significant administrative tasks which do not take into account part time working.
  • Scheduling of research events, usually at the end of the working day or in the evening.

The timing of research seminars is tricky. They need to be at a time where a good turnout can be guaranteed and when a suitable room will be available. However, seminars at 4pm or evening inaugurals are not timely for those with responsibility for childcare, including, collection from nursery or school. In addition, conference attendance is difficult for those with primary child-care responsibilities. The importance of social networks for academic careers is well known (Brink and Benschop, 2014), and being unable to attend seminars and conferences limits opportunities to develop these resources. However, our early data suggests there may be a further impact – on academics’ confidence in their own research abilities. As a PhD supervisor I advise my students to attend all the seminars they can. It’s how we learn to play part of the game – namely how to talk about our work. How to articulate our ideas in ways which are appropriate to our disciplinary norms. This need does not disappear once the VIVA is over. For those academics who have been away from research, either due to extended leave or perhaps job roles which are teaching/admin focussed, confidence in designing and conducting research may be dented. WIthin in our study this appears to affect women to a greater extent, due to societal structures – namely the gendered household division of labour. This is not to say that for fathers there are not effects on career or day-to-day working life, but that the effects are different. The men we have interviewed so far have been able to dedicate time to their careers, including research, while their (female) partners have worked part-time.

Our recent interviews suggest that the flexibility of academic life is essential for at least keeping up with workloads, if not for undertaking the additional work perceived as necessary for advancement. However, there are then associated impacts on working hours – including working evenings and weekend. If workloads cannot be completed within the working week, then perhaps questions need to be asked about the allocation of work, particularly with increasing pressures?

Brink, M., & Benschop, Y. (2014). Gender in Academic Networking: The Role of Gatekeepers in Professorial Recruitment. Journal of Management Studies, 51(3), 460-492.