The burden of caring

September 11, 2014

While the article “Home truths” (Features, 4 September), which explored the struggle to balance an academic career and parenthood, was interesting, a great many words have already been devoted to the topic.

Perhaps a more neglected event that will affect many (more?) of us is how to balance an academic career with increased caring responsibilities for an ageing parent? I’m sure I would not be the only person interested in hearing the views of this oft neglected group, particularly given that the responsibility typically falls to women. For many women, it would seem that just as childcare issues begin to wane, the issue of caring for an ageing parent comes to the fore.

Advice and views would be welcome, as would the inclusion of such a policy in university guidelines.

Jo Saunders
Senior lecturer
School of Psychological Sciences and Health
University of Strathclyde


I was already a professor by the time we had children. We did not plan it that way, it was determined by the time in our lives when we met. Before children arrived, my partner and I routinely worked evenings and at least one day of the weekend (my wife was then a lawyer), so the change [in our lives] was fairly sudden.

I think that having children made me more focused. I’m not claiming that I had the same level of commitment as my wife, but I think I did my bit. This is still the case now – when I am working I am focused and I don’t waste time at work, or when I’m working at home. I suspect I may be slightly shorter with colleagues as a result, but rather that than missing time with my family.

The first time the work-life balance became an issue was when I became one of the people that first my dean and then the vice-chancellor wanted to wheel out in front of “suits”. I also spent a short time as interim dean, and during this period agreed to “miss no more than one bathtime a week”. This was largely adhered to, but with European deans’ meetings, accreditation visits, plus my usual conferences, I was away more than I would have wanted.

Nigel Driffield

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