Case studies

The College of Medical and Dental Sciences has a large and growing pool of talented women who have forged a successful career whilst managing a family life. The support of the University has played a key role in allowing the flexibility needed for these women to manage a healthy work/life balance. Below are case studies of women who have shared their experiences of working within the University during career breaks.

Dr Ceri Oldreive, Research Fellow
Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences

I am a Research Fellow working full-time with flexible hours in the group of Professor Tatjana Stankovic, Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences

I am a full-time working mother of two (5 and 8 years old) with an hour+ commute to and from work (as does my husband). I find that it has been essential to have the ability to work flexible hours along with support from both my husband and Principal Investigator (PI).

The flexible hours enable me to drop-off my children at 8am and then pick them up by 6pm four days a week (9:30-16:20 working day) and then a single long day (12+ hours) to make up the loss, when my husband looks after the children. This day varies depending both on my own and my husband’s work commitments. The availability of a good holiday club at the school is also very advantageous! 

Additionally, being able to work at home occasionally or alter my hours when necessary to look after ill children or enable them to attend Dr’s/hospital appointments is very helpful. When this occurs, I have three options (bearing in mind that I would have an extra two hours when I would usually be in the car commuting):

  1. Look after the children during the day and come into work to do essential experiments when my husband gets home
  2. Look after the children during the day, working whilst they are happy to play on their own and extend my working day into the evening when they’ve gone to bed
  3. Take them to school, work at home doing a few extra hours in the evening to cover the time it takes to pick them up, take them to their appointment and drop them back off again

The workload at home is also split between myself and my husband:

  • The majority of the time we split the task of getting the children ready in the morning and evening, with one ensuring they are washed and dressed whilst the other prepares breakfast/tea
  • My husband does all the cooking whilst I do the majority of the daily housework
  • My husband goes food shopping on the weekend whilst I ferry the children around to various clubs and then my husband keeps the children entertained giving me a chance to give the house a really thorough clean
  • We both pitch in to help with the children’s homework

It is possible to juggle all the responsibilities with some flexibility and good communication on all fronts.

Dr Liz Sapey, Clinical Lecturer : Institute of Inflammation and Ageing

IPhoto E Sapey 2014-cropped am a Clinical Lecturer, working full time in the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing.

Following the birth of my children after a having a career break of 20 months in total I completed my PhD part-time.

My PhD was well received, attracting six national and international prizes and gaining a number of publications in the highest-ranking Respiratory Journal (AJRCCM), but undoubtedly one of best awards for Respiratory researchers in the UK was the Young Investigator Award for the British Thoracic Society. Sadly, the exclusion criteria for this award was anyone over the age of 35. At the time I was 37, but would have been under the age limit if I had not had children or taken maternity leave. This was frustrating but I didn’t know what to do about it.

I attended the first ‘Women in Academic Medicine’ (WAM) group meeting and brought this up at the Q and A session with Baroness Greenfield. She was inspiring and encouraging, suggesting that I tackle this form of discrimination head on. The senior academics within the group (Dr Martin etc.) suggested writing a letter in the first instance.

I wrote quite a gentle letter to the BTS pointing out the potential unfairness of this age-based exclusion criteria but heard nothing. I then discussed matters with Professor Stewart, the then Dean of the Medical School, saying that I wanted to robustly challenge the BTS but didn’t want to do this without the support of the University.

Professor Stewart was very supportive, so I sent another letter to the BTS, more challenging in nature and suggested the cut-off was a form of discrimination. Also, (enthused by discussions at the WAM meeting) I wrote to all the female lecturers that I knew in Respiratory Medicine who would fall foul of this rule now or in a few years time due to family plans. Some other people offered to write in as well. Within 72 hours I heard back from the BTS, saying this award cut-off was being studied and would be changed on the basis of the concerns that I (and others) had raised.

I was told to submit my abstract for the award and it would be considered despite my age, as would two peers who had also raised this issue with the BTS (but were also above the age cut-off). The BTS said the definition of the award exclusion criteria would change on the website and this would be publicised, but this didn’t happen. I challenged the BTS again, saying that it was good that I was now being considered for the award, but without publicly changing its entry criteria, there would be many other people who would consider themselves ineligible through no fault of their own, and who would not know the award system had changed. I wanted to improve things for everyone – not just myself.

I said that I had the support of the Medical School Dean and this was an active issue at the WAM. By this time it was too late to change things for the annual meeting that year, but I was assured that next year the now called ‘Early Career Investigator Award’ will have no upper age limit.

Dr Melissa Grant, Senior Lecturer : School of Dentistry

I joined the School of Dentistry in 2005 as a postdoctoral fellow, and as part of flexible working conditions works between the School of Dentistry and School of Biosciences. This enabled me to form strong links between the Schools, giving rise to appointments of further joint staff and eliciting a number of joint, collaborative publications and projects.

In 2011 I was appointed as a Lecturer in the School of Dentistry, maintaining the flexible arrangement between the two Schools. I contribute to teaching undergraduate courses in the School of Dentistry and undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the School of Biosciences, as well as contributing research to both schools.

Participation in teaching is facilitated by always being on a fixed day in the week such that there is structure for both myself and my students. Although the two schools have been 4 miles (approximately 30 minute journey time) apart, for a large part of my appointment the new Dental Hospital and School being situated close to campus will increase flexibility and contribution. 

Dr Rachel Jordan, Senior Lecturer : Institute of Applied Health Research

JordanRachelheadshotcroppedI obtained a Cambridge Natural Sciences degree in 1993 then after two years in a lab post became a Research Fellow in Epidemiology in London. I joined the University of Birmingham in 1998 as a full-time Research Fellow. In 2002 I had taken maternity leave and returned to work part-time (0.6 fte).  I have continued with part-time work (0.8 from 2011) which included some seconded collaborative work with the Health Protection Agency but I remained located in and part of the School.

I was given time to complete my Masters in Public Health in 2000 and gained my PhD in 2007, both on a part-time basis. I was supported on ‘soft’ funding from 2006 to submit an NIHR post-doctoral fellowship, awarded in 2008 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2011. I consider that I have been well supported by the School in their positive approach to flexible working so that I could fit in with school times.

In addition, when my husband was re-located to London for two years the School supported me by working from home for part of each week. I feel that the personal (alongside academic) support of senior staff in the School concerning working mothers has allowed me to continue to work. This approach also benefits the institution as it leads to greater productivity and allows retention of high quality female staff.

As a result of the positive experiences I have received in my academic life so far, I also apply the same approach for the staff I now manage, thus helping to propagate flexibility and maximise productivity as well as reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction for working parents throughout the University.

Kate Jolly, Professor of Public Health 
Institute of Applied Health Research

Kate 2a-cropped

In 1999 I joined the Department as a part-time (0.6 fte) Clinical Lecturer. Initially, the post was funded by the West Midlands Deanery to support academic training in Public Health and continued after completion of my training in Public Health Medicine. Previously, I also qualified in Primary Care.

In 2004, I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and then to Professor in 2012. I worked part-time all the time my children were at school, increasing my hours from 0.8 fte to full-time in 2013. I became head of department in 2010, Deputy Head of School in 2014 and Acting Head of School for a period in 2015.

When I first joined the University of Birmingham I had two young children and the School/department supported me in flexible working so that I could fit in with school hours and holidays.

Following Deanery funded training, the School supported my continued employment as Lecturer then Senior Lecturer using various ‘soft monies’ (including salary earned from my grants) until in 2008 there was a HECF post vacancy which was allocated to me. I have welcomed the School’s flexible approach to working times without which I feel that my work/home life balance would have been more difficult and probably less productive.

I have also welcomed the career development and promotion advice provided in the School including a positive focus towards female part-time academics. On my part I have been flexible and worked increased hours when tasks have needed this.

Dr Zania Stamataki : Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy

I am a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow at the Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy. My fellowship is designed to accommodate flexible support and offers a pathway to research independence for scientists with caring responsibilities.

I had taken my first first maternity leave as a Postdoc at the University of Birmingham, and returned to work as an NIHR Research Fellow at the Centre for Liver Research. I was then awarded a 5-year Royal Society Fellowship which allowed me to set up my group as an independent investigator.

Over the past five years, I have taken two maternity leave periods. The flexibility of the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship has given me the confidence to work around raising a young family and coping with ailing parents, while “staying in the business” and putting together a successful research group.

 Weeks after being awarded my fellowship, I was successful in securing an academic position at the then School of Immunity and Infection. The School have deferred the start of my appointment, which would be at the level of Senior Lecturer, until the end of the Fellowship, allowing me job security as I pursue my programme of research.

Professor Deborah White, School of Dentistry

After many years working in the NHS, in 1994 I was seconded to the School of Dentistry to undertake part-time research work. During my secondment I was given the opportunity to undertake a PhD and following appointment as a Clinical Lecturer in 1999, I achieved my PhD in 2000. I was appointed to Senior Lecturer in 2003, Associate Professor in 2008 and Professor in 2012.

During my time at the University, I have been supported in developing my teaching and have taken on a variety of roles within the School including Director of Education and Senior Welfare Tutor, in parallel to an active research portfolio. In addition, I have mentored a number of female colleagues in the School and more widely across the University. As past Chair of the national organisation ‘Women in Dentistry’, I have supported female dentists through a number of activities, most recently being involved in a ‘Dentistry Networks’ project within the West Midlands being fully supported by the School in these activities.