We are the UK's leading organisation dedicated to realising the potential of scientists and engineers returning to research following a career break

Flexible working can be the key to a successful return

Dr Gillian Forrester returned to research with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship ('04-'07), She now has a tenured, full-time position as a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. For Gillian, a successful return to research has been made possible because she can work flexibly and maintain an acceptable work-life balance. 

Gillian finished her PhD in brain imaging at the University of Oxford in 2000, at which point  two major events changed the course of her career. She found out she was pregnant and at the same time realised brain imaging wasn’t her passion. She decided to take a career break to bring up her daughter, but after 2 and a half years was desperate to return to research. 
With her Daphne Jackson Fellowship, Gillian retrained as a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sussex. She successfully completed her Fellowship after having her second child. But finding another research post at the end of her fellowship wasn’t easy. Gillian  applied for posts and struggled until she realised that perhaps her expectations were unrealistic.

At a recent Work-Life Balance course, current Daphne Jackson Fellows asked Gillian about her return to research:

DJ Fellow: How did you find the transition from fellowship to getting your first job at the end of the fellowship?
Gillian: It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t very focused and applied for a variety of positions. I think I was unrealistic, expecting to secure a lectureship in a top-tier university. However, a position at the Open University gave me new skills and confidence. I wasn’t working as part of a research group even during my fellowship, so I didn’t have the joint publications that can help give you a ‘leg-up’. It does take time, and you need to be realistic about what the next step from the fellowship will be.

DJ Fellow:  Due to family commitments, I cannot move from my current location. Were you mobile and able to choose your location?
Gillian: No, that is a common problem and can put you at a disadvantage. I was offered a post at a university that would have required me to uproot my family, which was not possible. Again, be realistic about what is feasible for you and what length of commute you think is acceptable. 

DJ Fellow:
 Did you want to go back to work full-time?
Gillian: I only considered full-time positions once both my children were at school. I am fortunate that I can work flexibly and I have a supportive partner. I work in the evenings and at weekends when necessary, so I can still do some of the school runs. I was ready to make the transition, but wasn't sure how the family would cope. It would have been much more difficult if I had to be on-site 9-5 every day.

You can read further extracts from the Q&A session on our Events & Courses page by clicking on 'work life balance' in the course timetable.

You can find out more about Gillian's research at www.gillianforrester.com