“You’ve both got to want that balance, and to have similar ambitions… and it depends on having the right people above you to make a job share happen.”
Dr Ann Gaitonde is an Associate Professor in Aerospace Engineering, and joint Head of the Aerodynamics and Fluid Dynamics Research Group. She has been part of a long-standing job share in her academic role and gives us an insight here into how she and her job share partner, Dorian Jones, make it work.
How did you start out in your career?
I did my PhD here after studying Pure and Applied Maths at Exeter University. My undergraduate course included Fluid Dynamics units that are similar to those taught in Aerospace Engineering, but with a more mathematical approach. Moving to an engineering department for a PhD was thus a natural next step. I originally envisaged working in industry, rather than academia. However an interesting postdoctoral position kept me here. My career so far has been a series of fortunate decisions and moments, and I’m happy with how things have turned out.
When did you decide to go for a job share?
I went part-time after having children in the late 1990s, I wouldn’t have wanted to come back full-time. I went on maternity leave in 1996 and was fortunate to have my contract extended so that I had a position to return to. I came back one day a week and was working with Dorian who had started as a Research Associate. I continued to work one day a week after my second maternity leave in 1998. After working together on a series of research contracts, we were drafting research proposals for future work. I think we both enjoyed the fact we were entirely research focussed, but realised that in order for our contributions to be recognised we needed to apply for a lectureship. Since we both wanted to keep working part-time a job share was the obvious solution.
How did you make the case for a job share?
Dorian and I had already worked together on papers and proposals as Research Associates before we applied for the lecturer role. We both were part-time Research Associates and then when the role came up we looked at the university’s policies, which said you could do a job share and they didn’t say that you couldn’t be an academic. We got shortlisted for an interview, and then were both offered it full-time afterwards and both turned it down. We basically said that we wouldn’t do it unless we could do it on a job share basis! It was 2003, and it just hadn’t been done in an academic role before, so we had to push it a bit.
People were perhaps a bit more open to the idea of women doing job shares, some people were more surprised by Dorian being part-time and doing a job share as man. I think some people are even today still surprised that we were appointed to a lectureship on a job share basis, they usually assume we were both full time academics first.
Part-time is a good thing and allows for a better work/life balance. I think if it was more accepted and people didn’t fear it will impact their career, then more people would want to do it. But personally, I think job shares are even better, as you have someone to talk things through with.
How do you make it work?
Mutual respect, we get on well, though I’m sure we annoy each other at times! But I really don’t think you could artificially create a job share. For us, we had that basis of knowing each other well, knowing we could talk to each other. I work Monday and Tuesday mornings and all day on Thursdays. On Thursdays we are both in and work together on our research projects. Occasionally one of us is flexible on our timings in order to help the other.
We share an office together, which means we can discuss and chat. This means we know what the other is doing, even if not directly involved in that task. For example, when thinking ‘how do I start this?’ you get help from the other person through that discussion so you get started quicker, as you’re more confident in what you are doing. There’s a real benefit in having two minds to solve a problem rather than one. Even when writing a proposal, we will sit and go through it together and edit it in the moment reducing substantially the need for multiple iterations.
We have to be prepared to cover for each other when needed and to be flexible to get done what needs to be done. Sometimes we leave a note for each other saying ‘Sorry I didn’t finish it’…! We’re not precious about covering for each other, but to do this we need to know enough about what each other is doing. Technically I do two days a week but there are times when I do more like 50 percent rather than 40 percent but that’s because I care, for example when a student has a problem. We are allocated a FTE work load and decide ourselves how to split the work. For example Dorian looks after first year tutees and I look after them when they move to the second year. The reason for this was that for a long time I ran the Study Abroad Programme for outgoing Aerospace students, which was a lot of work, whereas first year tutees are usually more work than second years.
Now my children are at university or in work, I use that time when I’m not in work for myself and for looking after my mum. I can get the household admin jobs done, rather than having to use evenings or weekends, and have free time to see friends, go out for lunch or go to the gym, that kind of thing. Also my husband has Friday afternoons off, so we spend that time together. I do check my email in my time off, but by not installing certain software, for example to run codes, on my home computer it prevents me from doing that kind of work outside of work hours.
How did promotion work?
I don’t think the process has considered people in our situation, probably because it is so rare. To get to Associate Professor/Reader, we had to each submit three separate letters from referees. Dorian and I work together in a niche research area and so it was really hard to get six separate reviewers whom we hadn’t collaborated with who would be willing to provide a review. As we have joint papers and research funding, what if they’d come back with different opinions on our research? It would have created a very awkward situation. We agreed either we should both get promotion or neither of us should. If we had very different research this policy would have made more sense. The fact our research is the same area should have been accounted for and we should have been assessed for promotion together. Whilst we are 0.4 and 0.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles, we have a good record in terms of funding and publications. Thus fortunately despite the challenge we posed to the system, we did get promoted. It was the first time a job share was promoted to Reader at the University of Bristol! Hopefully it means we’ve forged the way for others and processes are updated to make it easier in future.
I think we’re both happy to continue job sharing until we retire or die!
What advice would you give people considering a similar career?
You can’t artificially create a job share, for us it was important that we got on well first, and then the job share came second. It’s beneficial to have a job share partner, as solutions to complex issues often come through discussions. Having someone on hand that you can talk to, who understands and complements your thinking, can help to arrive at solutions more quickly and efficiently. Also it means there’s someone there when you’re not in. This is really good for students when they have an emergency. For example recently I covered an issue that Dorian’s tutee had on a Monday when he wasn’t in. As I dealt with it, this helped the student get the quick resolution they needed.
Fight the people who say you’re two people…get them to understand that you are not both doing a full-time allocation of workload each. This is one of the biggest issues and still crops up from time to time especially when there’s a new staff member who hasn’t been told you’re a job share e.g. getting allocated double the amount of tutees or project students. You have to stand your ground otherwise you will be overwhelmed.