My Life, My Work: Michael Secker

My Life, My Work: Michael Secker

“It’s a really good thing for diversity and inclusion that the University has been such an easy place to make the transition to part time work so I can help look after my daughter.”.”

Michael Secker works in Engineering as the FARSCOPE CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) Administrator, supporting PhD researchers in the field of robotics and autonomous systems. He has recently gone from a full-time role to a part-time job share in order to look after his young child. He talks to us here about everything from bread baking to theology to how to keep a toddler amused in lockdown – and why being able to job share has brought a fresh perspective to his work and wider life.

Tell us about you – where are you from, who you are outside of work?

I work as the FARSCOPE CDT administrator, supporting students and the CDT management team to ensure the smooth running of the Centre. The CDT is split between University of Bristol and UWE (University of the West of England, based in north Bristol). In my day to day work I am mostly student facing and have the joy of seeing the CDT students, from their applications right through to their graduation.

Before I started at the University, I was administrator at a city centre church, which was a jack-of-all trades style of job, but with a similar community focus to a CDT. After I left that role, I wanted to be part of a larger organisation and started looking at the University of Bristol as I respect the ethos of an academic environment. If I’m honest the robotics CDT role particularly caught my eye due to the fact it involved Robots! Even on the admin side I’ve learnt a lot about the research going on in the CDT. Oddly enough despite coming from a theology background I have found there is some potential overlap on the fringes of robotics/theology, as they can both point us towards questions of what it is to be human, and what constitutes life.

Outside of work, most of my interests revolve around more “domestic” tasks. I love cooking, baking bread, making jams, foraging, homebrewing and exploring the world of tea. I also have an allotment and attempt to grow a good range of vegetables, though with limited success! I’ve found myself drawn to most of these interests over the years as I find they help me to slow down and appreciate some of the more basic things in life. Recently I have also become more interested in community supported agriculture projects and have become involved in Sims Hill in Bristol who grow vegetables in Bristol for around 100 weekly veg boxes.

Tell us about your life in terms of both home and work

I started in my role at UoB in May 2018, before my wife and I had our first child, and was initially working full time. I made the change to half-time to focus on childcare the other half of the week when my wife went back to work from maternity leave. We’d always known we wanted to share childcare, and it worked out well to go part-time and do 2.5 days of childcare a week, with my wife and mother-in-law covering the other 2.5 weekdays. The main snag in our plan so far has been ensuring our daughter gets enough interaction with other children as Covid resulted in most parent and toddler groups stopping. Luckily, they are picking up now and we have some good parks with friendly parents (and children) in the area.

When my current line manager started, I knew I had about six months till my wife’s maternity leave ended, and so I mooted the idea of going down to part-time. It’s been brilliant to have a very supportive manager and wider team through the process, and it actually ended up being easier than I expected. I think my manager also saw the value that two people job-sharing could bring, with each of us offering different perspectives and strengths to the role. Aneta, my job share partner and I started job sharing in July 2020 and have a half day overlap on a Wednesday to handover anything important.

Going part-time has been a really positive change for me but has also presented new challenges in the job. Having been full time in the role for 2 years before switching there has been a process of letting go of a lot of tasks and handing things over that I’m used to doing myself. I have also had to come to terms with not having the time to keep up with everything that’s going on within the University as much. Although both of these things have taken some getting used to, I am now in a place where I enjoy the job more than I did before the switch to part time, and if I have a bad week 2.5 days goes very quickly!

Outside of work, the changes have been brilliant, the majority of my time is focused on things outside of work. It’s been wonderful to have so much time with my daughter and to be able to see her change and develop as she grows. I was initially worried about how I would fare on the childcare days but they are now often the highlight of my week. Since Covid struck and the baby groups ended, we spend lots of time on walks and in parks, and make sure she is around other children there. Even early on we have tried to notice what she’s interested in and encourage it further. Now the challenge is getting her to focus on one activity for a good block of time!

It feels that splitting the childcare between my wife and me means our daughter gets the best of both worlds as we each bring different strengths and ideas to the table. The same can be said in the job share, as both Aneta and I bring new perspectives in the role.

How have you been supported, and how do you support others?

It’s been really important to have the support of my line manager and our wider management team within the CDT as I switched to part time to take on childcare. I’ve heard some pretty negative stories from other fathers in similar situations in other organisations who haven’t had the same support which is such a shame. I think it’s a really good thing for diversity and inclusion that the University has been such an easy place to make the transition to part time work so I can help look after my daughter.

What next?

In the long run we dream of setting up a sustainable community somewhere in the countryside, but that may be quite a way off… in the meantime, I am trying to find community groups that we can be part of here in Bristol around learning to grow food in a way that’s sustainable and more in tune with nature.

What advice would you give people considering a similar arrangement?

As is probably clear, I have really enjoyed the switch to part time to help with childcare so would definitely be an advocate of it if others were interested. Firstly, it’s a good idea to have conversations in your team to see what their thoughts are and to let them know that you want to make the switch, it’s good to start that conversation early if possible. When I initially switched being part time was done in a similar way to starting a new job, with a trial period. If either myself or my team had issues with the switch that came up only after having a go there was an easy route back again, though in my case the switch was not something I thought would be a problem.

The other bit of advice would be for people similar to me, I can be a bit of a work hoarder by nature and generally like to do things myself. Switching to part time has been challenging to this part of me, but letting go of a lot of tasks whether big or small has been really good for me and for the CDT in the long run. Hopefully, the new perspectives that being part time and having less focus on work bring and the calmer frame of mind I’m generally in can be beneficial in an environment where there is a lot of pressure and always something else to do.

How do you think Covid19 has affected your experience of the workplace?

While the past year has been really tough due to the disconnection that Covid has brought I am quite hopeful that the long term impact of Covid might lead to a more flexible approach to work practices, for me personally this would mean working a mix of home days and days in the office.