Hello and welcome to my new research leadership blog! This first post has come out much later than I originally anticipated – the pandemic has created all sorts of challenges and pressures on my time and energy as an academic mum, but I am keen to get this started now. One thing I have been planning to do since I found out that I had been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship as part of Cohort 2 is to write a blog series that traces and records my journey and transition from a relatively independent early career researcher to a mid-career scholar gaining experience in research management and leadership. As far as I am aware, there isn’t much discussion or reflection out there about this process. I suppose it’s quite a niche area! However, afforded by the longitudinal timeframes of the Following Young Fathers Further study, I plan to write this blog to develop my own reflexivity about being a UK researcher and research manager in progress as part of a professional biographical record. I also hope that it offers some useful insights or even nuggets of advice about the process of research that are of wider application. This, the first post in my Research Leadership blog series, provides a brief bit of background about me, explains the rationale behind writing a reflexive blog, and notes the importance of good mentorship.
A little something about me first
In reading this post, you may already know me or you may not know much about me at all. In brief, I have now been a social researcher and academic for over ten years. I started my PhD at Lancaster University in 2007 and gained my doctorate in 2011. In the six years that followed, I had several teaching and research contracts, that enabled me to build my research career and interests, albeit underscored by the precarity and insecurity of multiple fixed term contracts that took me all over the UK (mainly Lancaster, Milton Keynes and Leeds). Through all of this insecurity, I worked as strategically as was possible to carve out a clear research narrative that coalesces around a feminist informed understanding of men’s care responsibilities across the lifecourse. I applied and was rejected for multiple pots of research funding and eventually, having briefly left academia to work in the charity sector, was awarded a Leverhulme Trust early career fellowship that brought me back into academia and proved to be career changing. I eventually secured a permanent Lectureship in Sociology at the University of Lincoln, an institution that for the first time, felt very much like ‘home’. At Lincoln, I was supported to develop the Future Leaders application on which this blog is based. I will reflect in more depth on aspects of this trajectory as my blog unfolds but for now I hope you have gained some sense of my challenging yet rewarding research trajectory.
Keeping a diary, being reflexive
To some extent I have always charted my career journey, albeit patchily. For me, this is not just about capturing the process but about carving out a space for being reflexive. Being reflexive entails more than describing what we do and what we observe. It involves the development of a critical awareness of self (and others) via reflection and analyses of key decision making. For my own personal use, I take regular and copious notes about my research and career progress, in what I call my ‘Academic Diary’. I use this to record and think through the decisions that I make and just occasionally this has even formed the basis of journal articles. My most recent publication for example makes reference to one of my past reflections in a blog. This paper, published in Sociological Research Online considers the ethics of camera choice in my Leverhulme Trust funded study ‘Men, Poverty and Lifetimes of Care’, which explored men’s care responsibilities in low-income families (please do contact me if you’d like access to a copy!). The blog post was originally written for my research blog, ‘Diary of an Early Career Academic‘ that I started many years ago, when I was early in my career. I still update this site occasionally but finding the time to nurture it and keep it dynamic as an individual who also has care responsibilities for two young children, has been no easy task. Nonetheless, it is interesting and even nostalgic to look back on this now, to see where I started, how far I’ve come and to look forward and think about where I still might be heading. I’m also convinced of the need to record, record, record! Sometimes what I think are just my ramblings, really do result in something useful!
The significance of strong mentorship
I also start this blog as an informal kind of mentorship for other aspiring researchers. Mentorship from senior colleagues has significantly influenced my own career trajectory. Support and investment from highly successful female academic leaders, like Prof. Brid Featherstone, Dr Kahryn Hughes and Prof. Bren Neale in particular, has been instrumental to my career progression and intellectual advance to date. My work with Brid Featherstone when we worked together at the Open University was undoubtedly the catalyst for my research career. Under Brid’s leadership, I had the opportunity to establish my own research narrative around contemporary grandparenting and fathering. The mentorship provided by Kahryn Hughes for my Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship award has also been transformative. What started as a mentoring relationship became a productive collegial relationship through which we have advanced methodological and substantive agendas through co-authored publications, conference presentations and bespoke training in qualitative secondary analysis. Emerita Professor Bren Neale, eminent in research about qualitative longitudinal methodologies and family sociology, has also mentored me into taking forward a number of intellectual projects, including the Following Young Fathers Further study.
The Fellowship also enables me to take these productive models of mentorship forward by investing in a strong network of new and emerging scholars in Family Sociology and building a critical mass of expertise in QL methodologies. I anticipate that this will enhance the quality of the outcomes from the study but also develop other emerging early research leaders in Laura and Linzi, under my leadership. My hope too is that Ben, as project administrator and research support for the project, will benefit from and be inspired by working with the team, by observing and contributing to the workings of an internationally significant research study.
I plan to post new blog posts in this series to the Following Young Fathers Further study website and will do so as regularly as possible as the study progresses. My first few blogs focus on my journey to securing the fellowship but I anticipate that the focus will evolve into reflections on the study as it progresses. I look forward to sharing this journey with you all, my readers.
“I know so many, so many people my age that have had, had kids and got married, you know, have a house and a family and everything and they’ve done it young, because they wanted to do it young and, you know, just people need to appreciate that, and the fact that, you know, the whole stay at home dad thing is not something to be ashamed of, you know, if you’re a dad and you wanna take your daughter out for the day, or you wanna take your kid out for the day on your own, well why is that frowned upon, why can’t you take your child out for the day ”
“ I definitely wasn’t.... How quick you can fall in love with a kid that you’ve only just met. Like, because obviously, like, you don’t, like, know it when it’s in the belly and stuff like that, but then, but when it’s out and you just, you sit there and your little lass, like that’s a little me. Like, you just fall in love straight away. ”
“I think both a mother and father combined, it’s communicating and both being on the same page of what’s best for your child or children, and for both, it’s just being there 100% for them and not, like, putting yourself first, it’s, you know, putting the child’s interests first... They’re essentially a blank slate really, they look up to you, they look up to you for, like, guidance on how to, how to behave and how to, you know, like grow and develop, and if you’re not putting their interests first, it can, you know, damage their social, emotional, mental health... ”
“Just the stigma, the fact that, you know, the, the judgemental looks me and my wife get when we go out with, you know, we go out with our daughter and we take the dog with us, and the judgey looks we get, you know, we’ve had, you know, we’ve heard comments from people and, you know, someone turned round and said, you know, ‘That’s obviously daddy’s money that’s bought that car,’ or, ‘Oh, he’s obviously only with her cause he’s got her knocked up and now he’s stuck with her and daddy’s paid for this, and daddy’s paid for that'.”
“It’s still the sense of judgement I get from other people when they find out that I have a child. And they say, ‘oh how old is she?’. I say, ‘oh she’s ten’. And they say, ‘oh how old are you?... And yeah so I think, I think my age, that has been a significant factor in it just because it is, it is outside the norm and I do recognise that but equally, as I said before, it’s, it’s not anyone’s business. You know?, it was a choice that I made to be involved in my child’s life”
“to talk about some of these topics that at times can get quite, you know, quite emotional, like it really wound me up that there was no, I went to a pub, or went to a restaurant and there was no baby changing in, I couldn’t change my daughter at all. I came out of there like, you know, like shaking, I was absolutely shaking, you know, quite upset by it... If the stigma can go or something about having, you know, male toilets, if you’ve got baby changing in the female toilets then you’ve gotta have it in the male toilets, you know. If it’s in the disabled toilet, it’s not a problem, it isn’t, you know, everyone can use them, but if it’s just in the female toilets, it’s wrong. It’s even borderline, you know, you could say it’s discriminating against you really, if you wanna go down that whole sort of 21st Century crap. ”
“I feel…like privileged to be, like, a part of it. Is that the right word I was looking for? I dunno if that’s the right word, but I feel good about being a part, and it’s good to know, like, people are actually interested in fathers or young fathers, rather than we’re being, like, kind of a minority. ”
“…it’s just lush watching her do little things, like there, she’s just took her dummy out of her mouth and stuff and, like, she’s learnt to put it back in her mouth and stuff and it’s little things, when she plays with her teething toys and all, she gets, you can just see her learning stuff every day and it’s lush, it’s a privilege.”
“I’ve got more confident as being a dad. Like, I’ll take my daughter out by myself and that to places now, like I would never like to when I was, like, younger. Just people would judge you, like look at you with your tracksuit bottoms and then your pink buggy and that, think the state of him, but now, like, I take her out on me own, I take her to the parks and that, I take her, like, soft play. I took her to the football match the other week as well. …dads don’t get any preparation for this, they’ve just gotta do it when the baby’s here and it’s difficult. And then for me, when, like, when I first gotta, like, change my daughter’s nappy and that, there was way too much pressure on us, I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing and there was somebody watching us with a notebook, like cause you know how we were both young, just to make sure that we can look after the baby and that, and it’s way too much pressure when you don’t know what you’re doing ”
“Big big big changes.”
“if I can help put my, you know, just help a little bit with the stigma, or try and get it made a little bit more looked upon to have baby changing in male toilets, or not having just in female toilets, just little things like that, if I can help, if I can help with that, then I’ve done my bit, you know, I can’t stand here and moan about it if I haven’t, if I haven’t tried my bit to help.”
“I think it’s one a’ the best times that you could have in your life... Having a bairn. ”
“Maybe be more, like, persistent with, like, contact with my daughter and, like, maybe have been, like, more stern with, like, my daughter’s family and been, like, to say to them, like, this situation that has been going on isn’t right, like, there needs to be, like, improvements. Cause I feel like I definitely took a backseat and I didn’t say anything to them for, like, quite a while, when things were, like, not going my way, and I was just kind of, like, letting it slide. On some level I wish, like, I’d, like, stood my ground and, like, stood up for myself and my daughter and just said this isn’t right, needs to be a change. But obviously, that did end up happening eventually, cause I ended up taking them to court, so there is only, like people say, there is only so much a person can take, so.”
“I hope that my child grows up knowing that both her mam and her dad love her more than anything in the world and that we don’t hate each other and we’re glad that she’s here, like in the world. Yeah”
“…I’ve been told several times they don’t like separating a child from their mother, even social workers have told us that they don’t feel comfortable separating a child from their mother, but the way it is, it’s like they were comfortable separating a child from their father when they separated me for two year, and there was no dangers, there was no police records… …a woman can do everything a man can do, but mothers, they get a lot more rights when it comes to their kids than what fathers do. As I say, the courts, it makes a man feel like, I even said the other day when I rang a solicitor, I was really annoyed, to me, they look at us as I’m a father so I mean less to me kids. That’s the way a lot of this stuff works, they look at a father means less to his kids, a mother’s a lot more important in that sense. To me, I feel like a dad. I’ve never really looked at it specifically as a young dad. Obviously, when you’re talking about age wise then yeah, I am a young dad, yes. To me, a dad’s a dad. ”
“I was walking down the street and she says, ‘Who’s baby is that?’ And I says, ‘It’s mine,’ and then she literally eughed at us and threw them faces, ‘I wouldn’t dare let my kid have a baby that young’, and all that”
“... all through, like, the pregnancy with the mother of my child , we hid, hid that she was, like, having a baby, because we were terrified, cause she was so young, what people were gonna say, so we, like, kind of hid it, so I think it’s gonna be like a totally different experience if I have, like, another baby with anyone or owt again, because I’ll be able to have a baby shower, I’ll be able to do these things and actually celebrate it, rather than, like, hide it as, like, something to be negative about. Cause I was young.”
“I wanna, even though I’m not with, with my child's mother anymore, I wanna, I still, I don’t wanna make her life difficult or anything like that, I wanna support both her and my child as much as I can ”
“I wasn’t prepared. It came out of nowhere. I knew why it happened obviously [laughs]. But no, I don’t think I was prepared... Yeah. I think, I think especially for young parents, young dads, most, 99.9% of the time they are gonna be unprepared... it’s so unexpected they’re not gonna be prepared, you know, and I think that’s why I like this job is cause I think we’re, we’re very unique in a way to help them prepare without bombarding them with, like, so much information that they’re just gonna, like, forget. But also be there for them if they need anything on that professional level... it could be that they’re not emotionally stable or ready, they’re just worried, they could be thinking about school, GCSEs, other things happening in their lives. And, and then they could be thinking well, where do I go to find this information out, what am I supposed to do? It’s a whole panic. Yeah. Yeah, I think, I think, I think emotional is a big one cause especially hearing that for the first time, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to act. Yeah, just didn’t know how to act at all [laughs].”
“I’m not the best at saving money, but when it comes to my daughter, I know I need to have money there for her, I need to be able to sustain her. ”
“Just as long as they’re happy. I’ve always said in life as long as they’re happy doing what they’re doing. It’s keeping them safe and it, that’s all I really want really. ”
“Just believe in yourself I think. That’s one a’ the ones I struggled with when I was younger cause I was always like, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this’. Everything was, ‘oh I can’t do this. Oh I’m not gonna be able to do that’. I think just having a bit of belief in yourself and actually engaging in stuff and that, you know, life’s about spending time with your children, not what you can give to them. Just as long as they’re happy. I’ve always said in life as long as they’re happy doing what they’re doing. It’s keeping them safe and it, that’s all I really want really. ”
“…dads get rewarded for doing the general things. Say the mother takes them to school, it’s just a general thing, but a guy takes their kids to school, and they get praise for it, it’s like that’s wrong. Do you know what I mean? It’s like it’s 50/50, you both do what you can. And yeah, like guys do get praised for doing more of the sort of housework thing now and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem fair to women really in general, because I mean, they still do it and they don’t get any more praise or any less praise for doing what the guys do, if you know what I mean. …there is also a bit of a stigma around it, I mean you see some parents, like males, going to school, and a lot of women or a lot of people think they haven’t got a clue, so they’ll try and sort of explain what you have to do, where you have to go, even though say you’ve been doing it for ten years. ”
“ I think being, being present and seeing your child for who they are I think is the most important. Like, not necessarily being present, but when you are with your child at least being present and also just to, when I say see your child for who they are, I think I mean you don’t, cause a lot of parents expect their child to be certain things or like, ‘Oh, I react like this, or my spouse, or their parent reacts like this, so they’re gonna react like it,’ but actually try to see what it is that you get from, like how, who they are, which is super interesting cause they’re a mix of everything. But like to actually see that and not, not put expectations in that..”