Work-life balance for academics

I’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist. Growing up outdoors in the New Caledonian bush, I felt surrounded by the materiality of the past – ancient Kanak villages and ruins of the penitentiary.

I went on to study archaeology at the Sorbonne in France and when I discovered how little was known about the history of human-environment relations in the Pacific, I became determined to help pioneer archaeobotany in that region.

All the while, I also aspired to be a mother. I wanted to experience helping a person to grow and the unique chance – some say power – we have as women to bring a human being into life. After I met my partner, this also became a desire to build a family together.

As many from my generation were, I was convinced women were now free to ‘do it all’. Feminists had won equality (so I thought) and we had supportive fathers as well as inspiring mothers.

I remember a picture of my own mother: her medical degree in one hand, a five-year-old me and my baby sister clinging to the other.

So it was that I presented my PhD in Pacific archaeology while pregnant with my first child, just after having resettled in Australia (where my husband, also a researcher, had been offered a job). After six months of maternity leave, I accepted a part-time professional position at a university, to balance caring duties and a progressive return to academia.

I still wanted to be an archaeologist, so I kept working towards this aim. When a special opportunity to get a postdoc with ANU arose five years later, I seized it. But the challenges didn’t stop there – I learnt to juggle seminars and meetings that clashed with school start and end times, evening lectures that ate into family time, overseas conferences and fieldwork trips that I either couldn’t attend so as not to leave my children behind or which I did attend only through contending with a range of logistical and financial struggles.

Then there’s the nature of academia, a blessing and a curse – there isn’t really a time of day when you start and stop working. The more work you do, the better you can make it.