Career impact on relationships ‘worst for junior academics’

THE survey reveals how work pressures shape researchers’ decisions around relationships and family

February 8, 2018
Couple on bench
Source: Getty

The pressures of academic life on family and relationships are felt most keenly by junior researchers, Times Higher Education’s first global work-life balance survey reveals.

Among respondents who do not currently have a partner, more than half of doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers (51 per cent) said that their job gets in the way of their ability to conduct a successful relationship “a lot”, compared with 48 per cent of professors, 45 per cent of lecturers and 44 per cent of senior lecturers.

Just 3 per cent of postdoctoral researchers and 5 per cent of doctoral students and lecturers said that their job does not get in the way at all, compared with 13 per cent of professors and 18 per cent of senior lecturers.

The findings have been drawn from THE’s Work-Life Balance Survey, which received responses from 2,379 higher education staff, of whom 2,011 are academics, between October and November 2017. Among academic respondents, 62 per cent work in the UK, 10 per cent in another European country, 17 per cent in the US and 6 per cent in Australia. 

According to the results, junior academics who are parents were far more likely to say that their children hold back their career than their senior counterparts; 53 per cent of doctoral students and 46 per cent of postdocs said that their children hold back their career “significantly” or “a great deal”, compared with 38 per cent of lecturers, 35 per cent of senior lecturers, 29 per cent of department heads and 25 per cent of professors.

Among those who do not intend to have children, 38 per cent of PhD students and 37 per cent of postdocs said that this decision is “entirely” or “mostly” due to fears that doing so would be incompatible with their career. Just 27 per cent of lecturers, 22 per cent of senior lecturers and department heads, and 15 per cent of professors said the same.

Early career researchers were also twice as likely as professors to consider working elsewhere; almost half of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers (46 per cent) said that they “frequently” or “regularly” consider working in a different sector, compared with 23 per cent of professors.

The majority of academics (52 per cent) said that they would recommend their job to their children “with reservations”, but the most senior staff are most likely to fully endorse their career choice. More than one-fifth of professors (23 per cent) and department heads (22 per cent) said that they would “wholeheartedly” recommend their job, compared with just 8 per cent of postdoctoral researchers.  

Despite these findings, senior scholars typically work longer hours than their junior colleagues. Department heads and professors are most likely to work 10 hours per weekday on average, while lecturers and postdocs are most likely to work nine hours.

Roger Seifert, professor of human resource management and industrial relations at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, said that the findings reflect research on staff in other workplaces such as hospitals and schools, which “share the same context of harsher pension arrangements, falling relative pay, less job security, weaker career paths, and restricted job autonomy”.

“In particular, junior academics suffer from frustration over poor management of their universities coupled with excessive senior management pay; overworking, especially with the increased bureaucracy associated with student cadres paying their own fees; and a much tougher research environment,” he said.

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