Sharing the caring: Senior Lecturer Sebastian Sobek

Sebastian Sobek with his child.

Nature of your work.

Senior Lecturer at Uppsala University. Research and teaching. Leading a research team of about 10 persons, and supervising their work. Administration.

Career as a researcher.

  • 2005 PhD in Sweden (Uppsala University).
  • 2006-2009 Post-doc in Switzerland (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), and Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)).
  • 2009 Researcher at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
  • 2010-2014 Assistant Professor, Uppsala University.
  • Since 2014 Senior Lecturer, Uppsala University.
  • Several major grants as PI since 2010, most notably an ERC starting grant in 2013.

Your family commitments.

3 children (born 2004, 2007 and 2010). Family duties shared with my wife (also a scientist). Since my wife is commuting for work to another city, I am taking care of day-to-day family routines 4 days per week (delivering and picking up kids at school, preparing dinner, coordination of afternoon activities, etc).

How do you balance your work and family commitments?

This is very difficult and was so particularly before I got a permanent position. Since my working day finishes early (at 16) on 4 of 5 days, I compensate by working in evenings. Most importantly, however, I was working 80% since the birth of the first child (2004) and until 2015; now, children are big enough to take own responsibility, but also evening working has increased since then. My wife is also working 80% but is stuck in a similar dilemma of evening work.

I was also on full-time parental leave with each of the three kids when they were small, for a total of 1.5 years. This time was shared quite equally between my wife and me. In total, I have spent corresponding to 33 months full-time on parental leave.

What has helped you?

Personal choices

  • Family first.
  • Part-time work (80%).

Policies

  • Parental leave possible for men in Sweden.
  • Child care system very well-developed.
  • Part-time work for family reasons was possible because of an understanding professor (Switzerland) or national laws (Sweden).
  • Parental leave is discounted when scientific productivity is calculated, for grant applications, position eligibilities, etc.
  • Nothing important (meetings, lectures etc) before 8 and after 16 (in Sweden).

Informal support

  • Academic leadership: encouragement from professors to take family responsibilities
  • Senior male scientists as role models.
  • Understanding and tolerance from colleagues (meetings, sick leaves, etc).
  • My wife’s determination.

What has hindered you?

Apparently, nothing has hindered me directly, I have been successful in combining a research career with taking family responsibility and developing good relationships with my children. But of course, the absence of any of the points mentioned at the previous point would have hindered me.

The culture in Switzerland was less open to allowing men to take family responsibility (according to national law, fathers get only 2 days off from work when they get a child), so there could have been many hinders on my way, if I wouldn’t have a had such an understanding and supportive boss (professor). He said: children are important and take time. This was a very important case of academic leadership towards equal opportunities (meaning that also men get the opportunity to spend time with their children).

What have been the most difficult moments in your career considering family and work life balance?

There are many. Whenever work load culminates, or family duties culminate. I try then to remember my first decision when deciding to have kids (family first, work second) and juggle my way through. Difficult of course, but I profit also from my partner being in the same business and recognizing these situations, so we generally support each other well during peaks.

Very difficult in general are also job transitions because the uncertainty they involve is not really compatible with the family (e.g. moves). And all difficulties are enlarged by being on temporary employments, i.e. under permanent pressure to perform and out-compete others.

What is your experience of sharing family-care: (a) in your everyday life, (b) during field works, and (c) during secondments?

  • It works quite alright unless routines are failing because of sickness, special events, culminating work load etc.
  • Someone (e.g. grandparents) need to replace me when I go on extended field trips. Short field campaigns can be backed up by my wife stepping in and taking 100% responsibilities for these days.
  • The postdoc period in Switzerland was a common family project (my wife also did her post-doc there). I spent two months with a research group in Brazil, and the family followed me there for this period.

Your advice for others.

For more men to take more responsibilities for their families, and thereby allow for better career opportunities for their female partners, the female partners should be clear with what they want from the beginning. My wife’s determination and support has been very important for me.

Also: there are great benefits with combining family and a scientific career!

  • Increased time efficiency, better capacity to prioritize and manage time.
  • The time I spent with the children has helped me tremendously to improve my social and group leading skills, which have turned out to be very important in my professional life. This skill (typically called a soft skill) is absolutely key to leading my research team, and there is no better school for group leadership than running a family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *