Hi everyone! I’m Gemma, a member of SIOP YI and a qualitative researcher in paediatric palliative care in the UK. Today I’m writing about something I’ve struggled with in the past: guilt. Since I completed my PhD in 2010, I have held five research posts in oncology, with contracts ranging in length from just a few months to three years. I have also had a little boy. The nature of being what is often termed a “contract researcher” is that I need to be constantly thinking about how I can obtain my next contract, and eventually much longed for job security. This means that unfortunately, my work life balance has at times suffered and left me struggling with feelings of guilt. I’ve been stuck in the bizarre situation of feeling guilty for spending time working when I could be spending it with my son, and likewise feeling bad for losing productive work time when I’m with my family. When I changed jobs last year I was adamant that I needed to do something about this. These are a few of the things I have found that have really helped me:
- Time tracking: I’ve tried using Laura Vanderkam’s method of tracking time and found it really useful. Although I don’t track my time constantly, just a few times a year, I find this method makes me more aware of exactly how I spend my time: how much I spend working and how much I spend with my son. I can also see exactly how much time I waste and when I am my most productive. Through tracking my time I get data, and as an academic I love data. This makes me feel less guilty. I can see the blocks of productive working as well as the Lego marathons.
- Taking my work emails off my phone: I had to remove my old email account when I changed institution and purposefully didn’t add my new account. I don’t miss it. I used to find myself responding to work emails while I was with my son, most memorably trying to organise a flight to Sweden while sat on a play train in the local park. I now only deal with work emails in the hours I am paid to work. It doesn’t creep into my weekends or evenings, unless I actively choose to check them. In just over a year I don’t think I’ve missed anything and by compartmentalising my time in this way, my feelings of guilt are kept in check.
And finally, I’ve learned to appreciate that my “compromise” isn’t a compromise at all – it’s actually an incredible opportunity. Having a child myself has given me so much more insight into what the families I work with go through, and so made be a much more effective researcher. And I hope that working in a tough but fulfilling role gives my son a role model, and gives me the ability to send him to send him to an incredible nursery which gives him so much more than I feel I could myself as a stay-at-home parent.
How do you manage your work life balance?