I’m delighted to report that the third of our research-led networks has now launched! The is number 3 of 3 new peer-networks for researchers at The University of Sheffield (here’s a post about the first, the Emotionally Demanding Research Network, and the second, the Disabled & Ill Researchers’ Network). These new researcher communities come under the banner of the TUoS ResearchWell initiatives — ‘#ResearchWell’ — the Think Ahead team’s strategy for researcher wellbeing.
The Parent-PGR Network is a Google+ community for postgraduate researchers who are also parents, or about to be parents, or who are thinking about becoming parents. We aim to discuss issues, share strategies and resources, and campaign for greater awareness of the challenges of balancing doctoral study with parenthood. This network came about largely as a result of my years of work on Thesis Mentoring, which, because of it’s aim to help researchers manage their time and energy, attracts a lot of people with busy complicated lives.
The parent-PGR Network works in partnership with the broaderParents@TUoSnetwork which serves research staff and academic staff. The Parents@TUOS network is a fantastic resource, and I’m really glad to partner with them via the network Chair, Dr Louise Prestonwho was a key presence at our first meeting. We both consider that this partnership is really important in making sure we are working in joined up way and in everyone’s best interest.
Our online network is locked to Sheffield researchers so we can cultivate at least a semi-private space for researchers to discuss their experiences (so this link is accessible only to Sheffield people — all interested PGRs are welcome). I know interest in our network is wider than Sheffield though, and so this post is offered to help researchers and development staff at other universities see the approach we’ve taken and get their own network started.
So, what are the urgent and important matters this group wanted to discuss and resolve? In our first meeting we had several discussions, talking about experiences of balancing family life with study, moving to the UK with a family, and how to navigate the processes that support this, or make life more difficult.
Photographs of our whiteboard mapping are below (in the text below too for readability):
The issues postgraduate researchers who are parents/about to be parents identified are below. Different people in different circumstances and situations raised different issues. All are collated below:
- Feeling isolated from socialising with other PGRs due to having family commitments
- Some supervisors/Departments are not willing or able to advise on parental leave entitlements and processes
- Some supervisors/Departments are not willing or able to advise on how to transition to the UK with a family
- How can PGRs to support their spouses/partners who are in the UK but don’t work to meet and socialise with others
- Keeping up momentum/keeping in touch through parental leave
- Inappropriate contact/expectations/pestering during a period of leave, how to negotiate boundaries
- Consolidating your rights if you are both a staff member and a postgraduate student
- Taking shared parental leave is not permitted (?), or transparent
- Which funders allow students to change their registration status to part time? At which times of the PhD? And why is the transition back to full time so much more difficult?
- Lack of a University nursery
- Being geographically distant from family and friendship support networks
- Discriminatory language and narratives about parental leave, ‘lack of commitment/ambition’ and ‘ruined careers’ still persists
- A PhD is ’sold’ as the opportunity to work as hard and as much as possible, at odds with a sense of balance and family commitments
- Tier 4 Visas complicate the issues greatly due to the restrictions on being away from studies
And then we discussed how our new network could be used to best effect, what events/ways of interacting would be most useful, and what outputs or outcomes the group wanted to develop as a priority:
- An online Google+ network where people can ask questions, and share experiences ad hoc
- Informal coffee mornings / a targeted effort to include more PGRs in Parents@TUOS events
- Blog posts/profiles showing the diverse experiences of Parent-PGRs in order to ‘normalise’ having a family and studying for a PhD
- Sharing examples of good practice e.g. in parental leave/return/keeping in touch
- An international families buddying scheme to help new starters transition
- A place for families to buy/sell/swap/share equipment and supplies.
In terms of forward momentum, Step 1 was to create and launch the online network (a Google+ site), creating a place for researchers to ‘join’.
Step 2 is to collect and share stories, and examples of good practice and find outlets for these, e.g. in recruitment processes, at the point of induction. And also to keep talking about some of the bigger issues like transition buddying schemes and managing supervisors, through continuing to meet up.
And Step 3 will be to raise the profile of the network during Researcher Wellbeing Week (upcoming in June 2018) — which brings together everything we do to support the wellbeing and mental health of research staff and students.
I hope you are finding these details of our group discussions useful. We feel it’s very worthy of a discussion at your institution too. We think networks, led by researchers, and that respond to the real needs of researchers are the most important way to support self-care, peer-learning and healthy relationships with work and study. Your questions, comments and feedback are welcome as always.