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Women in Science

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Video clip: Helen thinks she has a ‘lovely balance’ that is very grounding, even though she has a lot to ‘juggle’. The hardest parts are the overseas travel and the workload.

Could you say a little bit more about work-life balance now? You have three children…?

I do. Yes so I, what I do now is; most of my time I run a research laboratory. I have a group of about twenty people, which is sort of divided into a pre-clinical programme and a clinical programme. The clinical programme is divided into a UK based clinical programme where we test very early vaccines in, in early clinical trials and a big overseas programme. We collaborate with different countries in Africa. We’re currently collaborating with South Africa, Senegal, Uganda and the Gambia. We’re doing clinical trials there. So that’s a lot to juggle.

Mm.

And I have a fantastic team of people who, who help me with that. I have PhD students, postdoctoral scientists, a very good project manager, who helped me hold that show together really. Then about fifteen per cent of the time, I’m still a practicing clinician. So I do a HIV clinic one day a week, which I love, and it keeps my feet on the ground. You see life at its rawest in a HIV clinic.

Mm.

But I think it’s a lovely balance actually. It is very grounding and it is what I trained to do and what I started off life as and it’s, I wouldn’t want to stop that. And then I have three children who are now, my eldest son is, is fourteen, my daughter is twelve and my youngest son is nine. So there’s a lot of juggling. I’m very lucky in that I very much have the support of, of my family, my husband and my children in what I do, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to do what I do without that support actually. And if my husband hadn’t signed up to me having as big a career as I do then it just wouldn’t be possible, particularly with all the overseas travel I think. I think, if you were to ask me, ‘What is it that’s really the hardest?’ it’s the overseas travel. It’s two things; it’s the overseas travel and it’s the workload, and you know, I have different ways of managing both those things.

Do you want to say more about the ways you manage it?

Well travel, I mean, I love travel and it’s lovely to, to go to these places. I mean, it’s particularly lovely to collaborate with teams in Africa. And I’ve built up some really lasting relationships, friends, collaborations with amazing groups and amazing people in Africa, in South Africa and in Senegal, the Gambia and Uganda, and, and that’s a fabulously rewarding part of what I do. But every trip I do is a trip away from home and, and the children and that was hard when they were small because they were small and they didn’t understand. It’s now hard when they’re older because actually they’re becoming adolescents and it’s useful to be around. But I clip the trips as short as I can. I’m very good at flying in at the last minute…

Mm.

...doing lots of work and then flying out at the first minute. Sometimes I take the children with me. So we’ve had family holidays in Africa and that’s been wonderful and, you know, Skype is a wonderful invention. We do homework on Skype and violin practice on Skype. I think the workload is the other thing that’s challenging. I mean, I’m trying to do two things essentially and, and you know there are times when there’s lots of things to do. But again I think having control over my time, having that autonomy really helps. So actually you know, I’m judged by my outputs not by the hours I put in. So actually it doesn’t really matter if I work a 9-5 day or actually if I take the afternoon off to go to the school play and catch up in the evening. You know, most academics I know spend their evening doing email, and that, that’s just how it is. But it’s the price I pay for having a very full life and three wonderful children and, and a fascinating job that I love.

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