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Returning to work after a career break? The four things you should know

Posted by on February 23, 2017

By Dr Ruth Griffin, lecturer in biochemistry and genetics at Kingston University

Being a parent, I have come across many professionally accomplished full-time mums at school, yet so few have returned to their career. Particularly in science, there is a misconception that it is impossible to get back in if you’ve taken a career break, as the sector is very competitive. My advice is: if you are considering returning, please know that research today is suffering without you, and the contribution you can make is much needed.

When, out of the blue, I was struck with illness; I thought my career was over. Six years later, however, I returned to academia and I now work as a full time lecturer at Kingston University, where I run my own research group in medical molecular microbiology.

For those who are contemplating returning to a career in science, here are some of the things this experience has taught me:

Firstly, don’t listen to the negative talk around you that says: “it is impossible to go back, science has moved on”. I found universities to be accepting of my career break and it didn’t stop me from being invited to interviews for positions at the same level as when I took my break.

Don’t be put off if you’ve lost all your confidence. I had certainly lost mine, but you can push through and surprisingly quickly re-gain it; whether by getting your head back into the field, reviving your technical competence, or reminding yourself of your ability to work with others, and so on.

If you can write your own research proposal, take advantage of career re-entry fellowship schemes (some of which are targeted specifically for women). There are regular calls and you just need the backing of a university. It was my application for a re-entry fellowship that opened the door to a position at my local university, Kingston, which was supporting my application. If you are writing a proposal, one way to quickly get up to speed with research is to skim read abstracts from a recent conference in your field. A file or book of abstracts can be provided by the academic supporting your application, and this is what enabled me to work out what I wanted to research and allowed me to write a proposal that was current.

If you are concerned about coping physically with returning to work, or coping logistically if you have a family, I would recommend negotiating with your employer to work part time. Universities are becoming much more accommodating and supportive of part time positions and I found that working on a 0.5 FTE contract for the first 2 and half years at Kingston allowed me enough time to get my research done and to be there for my kids at school pick-up. I also found my previous employer, Imperial College London, very amenable to my request to reduce my days after my maternity breaks. You can always build up your hours when you feel ready.

From my personal experience I am really glad that, once I felt ready to return to research, I plucked up the courage to come back. Not only am I putting my qualifications and post-doctoral years to good use, but I’m now living my dream! I’d like to encourage you, too, to follow your dreams. The buzz you’ll get will carry you through the hurdles and propel you towards what you are destined for!

The Royal Society of Biology has established the Returners to Bioscience Group to examine experiences of those who face difficulties in returning to a career in the biosciences as well as those who achieve success.

Listen to interviews with BioReturners
Read more on our blog:
Returners to Bioscience – a neglected pool of talented workers
Choosing between ‘life’ or research – survey data shows the outlook is good for returners
Join the conversation on social media with #BioReturners

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