My ECR Story
Academic life has many challenges, and I have felt a constant pressure to do things quicker than others because I am a bit older than my peers who are at a similar level to me.
Working life became even more pressurised when my daughter was born in 2019. Her birth was not straightforward and she spent her first weeks of life in intensive care, and we were initially not sure if everything would be ok. Against this backdrop, which most would find difficult under the best of circumstances, I was having to manage students in the lab in addition to trying to coordinate administrative work for my Fellowship.
In research it is difficult to pass work on to others – everyone works in their own narrow area and has such a unique skillset that it would simply not have been possible to pass all of my work to others, though my wonderful colleagues did help where they could. Now my daughter is completely fine, but balancing the time commitment expected of researchers with my important task of being a father remains a challenge.
“Job stability is also a major problem – when I finished my PhD I had to spend three months working for no pay as I awaited starting a postdoctoral position. This is simply not possible when I have a daughter who depends on me.”
I spent a lot of my early life in different jobs but always sought a career that would give my life meaning, something that would give me pride in my work.
In the context of sustained global ageing, dementia is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and it gives me a huge amount of pride to be able to work in this field. I am also really proud to dedicate my research to understanding Lewy body dementia, a condition we often describe as “the most common disease you’ve never heard of”.
“I love being a dementia researcher, and that is what makes it possible to deal with the difficulties associated with working in research whilst also trying to have some sort of life.”
Some strategies I have found effective include always ensuring I have an hour or so to play with my daughter before she goes to bed, and doing any work in the evenings after she has gone to bed, which is thankfully quite early.
Many would say that I shouldn’t have to just cope with the system as it is, and I agree that changes are required across all of medical research, where researchers are typically employed on fixed term contracts at the start of their careers.
That is why I am incredibly proud that ARUK has actively led an initiative to improve job security and working conditions for researchers, especially ECRs, and I am a member of the ECR Working Group that has discussed and planned these changes. Things are changing for the better in research and I look forward to the day when we can dedicate ourselves to trying to understand and treat dementia, without the baggage of the outdated academic system.