Keeping the “part” in part-time

One of the main perks of working part time is, well… working part time.  My ideal schedule involves dropping the kids at school, working for a few hours, either prep-work at home or in-class time, maybe go for a run or work in the garden, and then pick my children up after school.

At a couple of institutions, this worked.  I went to campus, taught my class and came home.  Though…  this meant that I didn’t interact with other faculty and as a result I felt isolated from the rest of the department and a bit lonely professionally, and because my social network is made up primarily of non-scientists, something vital was missing for me.  At my current institution, I regularly interact with other faculty and a slew of support staff.  They are a dedicated and inspiring bunch, which means there is a lot of opportunity to get involved in community outreach events and co-developing new teaching modules or student research activities.

In terms of my area of research, I also fill a professional niche here that had been empty for several years, and students have caught on.  I get lots of requests for extra meetings to discuss material that doesn’t pertain to coursework – how to get involved in local research,  advice on graduate schools, or writing letters of recommendation for example.

This has been largely a positive change.  Being around passionate and motivated co-workers is inspiring and provides a positive and collaborative work environment.  I no longer feel isolated.  Talking to students about research and graduate school is great too – this is why I am here, right?

Problem is, I don’t get paid for any of this.

As adjunct faculty at my institution, there is a clear list of required “duties.”   These include the obvious components of developing and implementing a course – preparing a syllabus, writing and grading quizzes, homework, or exams, referring students to counselors or tutors, holding office hours, and actually holding class during the scheduled time.  There are other duties that full-time faculty members are responsible for, things like attending department meetings, evaluating tenure, serving on hiring committees, and serving as a faculty advisor.

But the less isolated I get (good), the more this extra work creeps in (bad).

I know that extra uncompensated duties are part of any career-track position.  However, I am not really on that track.  I chose to work part-time in order to spend more time at home.  The more of these extras I take on, the more I find myself working on the computer in the afternoon instead of playing with my kids, or having a friend pick them up from school because I have a work meeting, all defeating the purpose of working part-time.

However, these “extras” are things that help remind me of why I am in this field in the first place.   I love science, and being around other people who love science is inspiring.   If I just teach my class and come home, I don’t get the motivational boost of collaborating with colleagues and professional isolation sets in.

I have, for the most part, done these things willingly and happily.  I am here because I am committed to science education.  This is why I sought a career as a professor.  I earned a PhD in part because I love turning students on to biology and research, and these are the types of activities I envisioned myself doing as a full-time professor.  But I am not full-time.  At some point, I will have to become comfortable saying no to some of these requests.  Though as I write this, I am still saying yes.

6 thoughts on “Keeping the “part” in part-time

  1. I wish you all the best in continuing to make the most of your part-time work and your full-time job of being a mother (that latter job only comes with a full-time package). It certainly gives you more freedom, but – yes you are right – you have to carefully choose what to say ‘no’ to.

    After many years having various different ‘careers’, most of them part-time and all to do with Universities and science, I have developed the idea that we go through phases in our lives. What works during one phase may not be optimal for another phase. When we are part-time (for whatever reason), we are the ones who get to choose (good); but it means we don’t necessarily do what others expect as the norm (sometimes not so good, or a bit stressful).

    As your children grow older, their needs change as well as your own needs. I think it is fantastic that you are interacting professionally more and more – I found that was the reason I persevered with working at all – that was the important stuff, what was in my head. My kids were eventually old enough and responsible enough to be home by themselves (I called it ‘looking after each other’) for a couple of hours after school, a couple of days a week. Or else the got old enough to take themselves to after-school sports or music activities and I collected them from there. That freed me up to stay to complete a conversation, or attend a meeting, or start an experiment. But as i said, that was one thing that worked for us …. everyone will choose what is important … just empathising here, not trying to tell you what might work for you.

    For many years, I valued a comic that I saw which showed a woman all dressed up with a coat and handbag, going out the door and saying to her family “well, I’m off to my hobby now”. I used to think I got paid for my hobby (rather like sportspeople or musicians or artists do); but my real work started when i got home, for no pay.

    Once I got established at my latest institution and was seen as a valuable staff member, I was able to negotiate with the Head of School to increase the duties I was required to do (on paper) for some extra hours of pay (I think i went to 0.6 of a position instead of 0.5). This gave me more freedom to, for example, hold meetings with my teaching team (at one time there were 8 TAs taking lab classes for a large first-year cohort, and it was difficult to get them all together during normal times when classes were running). Would this be possible for you? Maybe in the future when your kids are a bit older?

    I always did a lot of ‘service’ stuff anyway because I loved doing it and I thought (and still think) it was important outreach for science and for the University – eg lab workshops for high school students – but this I never expected to get paid for, or to be within my registered hours. I love doing it so much, that I still do some of this as a volunteer now I am retired, Having the freedom of working part-time gave me the choices about how to allocate my family time and my volunteer service time, and I have been very satisfied with that. And these things certainly did change over time. What I was able to do when my kids were teenagers and able to start cooking dinner were totally different from what i was able to do when they were in elementary school and needed collecting at a certain time. At different stages, i chose different things to say ‘no’ to.

    But in the end, reflecting back to my various careers, I know that some people may judge me as not fulfilling my potential (with respect to research). But I feel I am happy that I have had a broader range of experiences than I would have had otherwise, even if I have not been so focussed on the deep science. I am happy to have spent time with my kids as they were growing up and take some responsibility at home (we have a small hobby farm). I think this has contributed to the fantastic relationship I now have with my children as adult professionals, in that they talk to me about professional stuff and know I will understand, more than they would have if i had either been more isolated from them as a full-time academic not worked at all. They have weathered ups and downs with me, and have seen that people do have to make choices in life – for whatever personal reasons are important at the time.

    It isn’t so much as having one’s cake and eating it; but being satisfied with half a cake in the first place. (Maybe, to continue the analogy, saying ‘no’ to the second slice).

    • Thank you for sharing your story! I often consider whether I would do some of these things, particularly the outreach, as a volunteer, and usually the answer is yes. It is important work, I enjoy it, and I hope it models the importance service and of valuing your work for my children.

      I identify so much with the comic who sees her paying “job” as her hobby and her parenting as the real work!

  2. “But the less isolated I get (good), the more this extra work creeps in (bad)” – This describes my feelings about being a part-time lecturer very well. My workload varies from “40-80%” full-time since I began teaching three semesters ago. I also value my professional interactions and want to be seen as a person who cares about improving her teaching and our department in general. But, I am also trying to walk a balance with ‘extra’ activities that aren’t part of my official duties. I’ll going to keep tabs and see what solutions you come up with!

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