Carer stories

Carer stories

Employees share their stories about managing caring and careers.

What is your role as a carer and who do you care for?

My wife and I care for two of our grandchildren and we share responsibility for the care of key members within our very large families on both sides. I am the oldest of five and my siblings and I each rotate taking turns to look after my Mum and Dad over a five-week period to ensure we can all maintain our work commitments. My wife and I also have carer responsibilities that are not confined to our immediate families, and in fact extend out in to our wider community. We are both in positions of status as respected persons within our communities and we honour that by looking after many people through mentoring, giving support, and showing up when it counts.

What are some of the responsibilities of your role at the university? What does a typical day look like for you?

My day starts at 5:00am and this is usually with the granddaughters getting them breakfast and spending quality time with them, giving us a fantastic opportunity at home to listen to and learn from each other.

I am absolutely loving my role here at Macquarie University as Aboriginal Cultural Training Coordinator in Walanga Muru. I get to work with great people, particularly younger Aboriginal people who are on their own journeys of discovery and have their own desire to make a difference. Part of my role is about giving people an opportunity to learn something new and think outside the box. I have such a strong drive to make sure that people feel included and valued and to encourage them to go on a journey together with me to explore our ethics and values and celebrate our diversity. I have a very trusting and supporting Team Leader who affords me the opportunity to use my initiative while always being there to provide support, advice and strategic direction.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

Being in such a supportive environment, I don’t believe it is so much challenging, but finding the “balance”. The balance between work, being a carer of others, and caring for yourself. I also value and appreciate the cultural sensitivities and understanding of our own cultural responsibilities to care for family members. Here in Walanga Muru, family does come first and supportive and flexible work practices are initiatives that are paramount in the mind of our Team Leader.

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome these challenges and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

Having a Team Leader that I trust and one who understands Aboriginal peoples responsibilities for family and community, through their own professional experiences, is very refreshing. Being able to approach these conversations knowing that I am supported makes all the difference. This really does help mitigate the emotional roller-coaster ride that we often have to navigate. So personally I feel very comfortable and the ripple effect is that I am comfortable professionally. Being happy knowing support is there is extremely comforting so that makes the professional aspects easier to manage.

Are there any benefits at MQ that you've taken advantage of, and if so, how have these helped you?

Flexible work practices and having someone I trust to talk to has benefited me greatly and helped me to feel like I belong here. This has enabled me to meet my work commitments and stay focused, knowing that if anything does happen I can act accordingly and will be supported by my team. I’ve found the Macquarie community on the whole to be very supportive and generous, and having the opportunity to learn new IT skills by working with wonderful people in the Learning Innovation Hub has added to the tools that I can use moving forward in my career. It’s great that we have such a diverse community here where each person can add their own unique perspective and learn from others.

What are your top tips for other employees who have caring responsibilities and also want to have fulfilling and rewarding careers?

Trust the people around you and trust your own judgement. Honour your commitments to family and make sure that you are talking about the commitments as it will help you stay focused. Most of all find how you can achieve balance between work and life and make time for yourself and your partner. You need to have some downtime and self-care, so that you can be the best version of yourself. To be the best for others, I have to be the best for myself too.

Who do you care for and what is the best part for you about being a carer?

We have two daughters – Evelyn just turned four and Clara is one – so life is pretty crazy and we’re pretty sleep deprived! But we also get to spend our days with two amazing little people, who make us laugh and give us smooshy-cheek cuddles on tap. Being with them as they discover the world helps me appreciate the little joys – ladybugs, dancing in the loungeroom at 7am and of course, the seemingly infinite hilarity of toilet humour.

What are some of the responsibilities of your role at the university? What does a typical day look like for you?

I’ve recently returned from parental leave with Clara and am back to my much-loved role publishing the University’s This Week staff news, as part of Group Marketing’s Content team. I love being able to meet, and celebrate, all the wonderful people that do such incredible work at Macquarie, and help them stay informed and (hopefully!) inspired.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

The most obvious, of course, is constantly feeling time-poor and like you’re not able to give 100% of yourself to either aspect. But at the moment, my particular challenge is staying mentally focused on limited or interrupted sleep. Without a strong morning dose of coffee I’d have very little chance of recalling my colleagues names!

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome these and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

Aside from the coffee, I am much more reliant now on digital tools that allow me to schedule both my personal and professional life and be able to see everything at a glance on my phone, which is now pretty much surgically attached to my person. Macquarie’s Microsoft Office apps have been very useful for keeping my work world organised, especially when I’m working from home.

How has Macquarie University supported you?

Macquarie’s excellent parental leave, family-friendly policies and quality on-campus childcare were significant factors in my choosing to accept a job here seven years ago. But the best policy-on-paper means little if you have a manager or team that is not actively supportive of it in practice. Luckily, I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive Director, who also has small children and models flexible work practices herself (which unfortunately can still be rare at Director level). Our whole team are encouraged put their family and personal wellbeing first, without question, and I was able to return from my first parental leave in a three-day-per week job share arrangement, with flexible hours that (somewhat!) lessened the pain of a long commute from the Eastern Suburbs. My job-share partner and I also had an overlap day, which technically qualified as additional resourcing, but made all the difference as we didn’t have to waste hours each week writing up handover notes and could focus our energy on our doing the job well.  I had been apprehensive about my return to work at Macquarie after having my first child, but I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable year of my professional life, thanks to my flexible work arrangements and the attitude and support of my manager and team colleagues.

What are your top tips for other employees who have caring responsibilities and also want to have fulfilling and rewarding careers?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is don’t feel like you need to hold yourself back professionally because you equate seniority at work with less work/life balance. There are many senior staff at Macquarie modelling excellent flexible work practices, and the culture is slowly but surely moving away from people feeling like they have to be in the office for long hours every day.  Don’t be afraid to be upfront about your family responsibilities and say no to those 8am meetings if you need to. Also, be sure to recognise colleagues that inevitably will need to cover for you on occasion because of your commitments as a carer. And of course, do what you can to return the favour when a colleague is in need.

Who do you care for, and what is the best part for you about being a carer?

Like many families today, permanent childcare arrangements are hard to obtain, therefore we chose a blended care arrangement, whereby my son attended childcare for the two days we were able to obtain and I assumed the role of primary carer for him on the other three days. I commenced my parental leave when my son was 5 months old.

What are some of the responsibilities of your role at the university? What does a typical day look like for you?

My role at the university is Manager, Allied Health, which is responsible for the delivery of clinical interventions and supports for students by practitioners at Campus Wellbeing. Essentially, my day has multiple components: meeting with and supporting students directly to provide intervention (1:1), supporting students via supervising and training practitioners who meet with them independently, or by designing/advocating for changes in university policies, procedures and systems in order to create better student experiences.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

Managing expectations and email. Choosing to be a part time carer means that you value family and have set times to care directly for them, it does not mean that you are not engaged or with your work role.

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome these and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

Email management is a key strategy. I managed my email account for approx. one hour a day when not on campus. This enabled me to keep integrated in my role and on top of (potential) crises. My role as a manager required this accessibility and ability to delegate in a timely fashion, but I can understand why others would require a strict clock on, clock off arrangement.

How has Macquarie University supported you?

Post and during my parental leave period I have been on a flexible work arrangement which has allowed me to have a combination of long and short days. This has a been beneficial for my family as it has meant that I have been able to participate in childcare drop off and pick up. Additionally, I think the longer work days allow me to accommodate a greater focus on projects and innovation of services for our teams.

What are your top tips for other employees who have caring responsibilities and also want to have fulfilling and rewarding careers?

From my experience, a flexible work arrangement is worth it. You allow the business to be open longer hours and allow yourself to be available to your family when they are needing you most.

Have child, will travel

Dr Joanne Dawson is a DECRA Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Astronomy and Astrophysics. She’s also mum to her 3-year old son, Finley, whom she enjoys hanging out with, teaching him about the world and watching him grow.

As an academic, her work responsibilities involve undergraduate and HDR teaching, HDR student supervision, her own research, and a lot of varied committee and service roles, both within her discipline and the University more broadly. Her work days are variable and her hours are flexible, but Jo, like many working parents, has found it a challenge at times to find the right balance between caring for her son with meeting the needs of her role, particularly as it does involve travel.

Getting access to carer support funds as part of her internal Macquarie Research Development Grant (MQRDG) has been highly beneficial for Jo, as it has allowed her to take her child with her to three international workshops and a national meeting. Jo’s partner works casual shifts and when he takes time to do the day care drop off and pick up, it impacts them financially.

“Travelling with a small child is often hard for academic parents, but thanks to conference travel support from Macquarie, and the fact that conference childcare is fast becoming the norm in my field, this has been quite manageable so far for me,” Jo says. “I may not be around in the evenings when I travel due to my childcare duties, but I get to participate in my discipline, network and keep my knowledge current as a working parent.”

Can be both a mum and a scientist

Jo has recently mentored her first PhD student through his first paper, regularly participates in workshops and conferences and is working to make a difference to women and minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), as well as in Astronomy and Astrophysics, through contributions to various Diversity Committees.

Being able to travel with Finley has had many positive consequences for Jo, including for her students. For example, travelling overseas has allowed her to forge new collaborations with experts in Paris, one of is whom is now an adjunct supervisor for one of her students, and has hosted him on extended visits.

“The Macquarie University travel support has enabled me to be both a mum and a scientist without having to sacrifice the important aspects of either role,” Jo says.

“Perhaps one of the most important benefits is a mental one, since it removes the guilt and stress, either of leaving Finley behind for weeks while I travel, or of missing meetings I feel I need to attend to stay competitive. Taking him travelling has also strengthened the bond between us through shared experiences of seeing different places and meeting lots of new people. I believe that Finley has become quite a resilient child who is comfortable with change, which makes me proud as his mum”.

Who do you care for and what do you find most rewarding about it?

I am a first time mum to our daughter Emilia, who is a year and a half. I love just hanging out with her - she is so much fun! I love watching her grow and develop new skills - it is actually quite amazing to see your own child learn a new skill.

What does your role involve?

I work in Future Students and I look after student experiential events - so events that involve students coming on to campus to get a taste of University life. My biggest project last year was project managing Open Day (followed by Info Day!), from concept to execution.  Each day varies and that's what I love about my job - from designing and structuring an event, developing marketing tactical plans and event briefs, reviewing artwork and communications, and meeting with various stakeholders across campus. My focus is always the student experience and how I can make it exceptional.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

Juggling the time hasn't been a problem so far - I think I have been able to use the skills I have developed over the years working in events to manage my time effectively. The struggle I find can be the broken sleeps and then getting up and driving to work - those days can feel pretty long. At times, it can feel a little overwhelming.

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome these challenges and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

When the broken sleeps got really bad, I had to take a sick day - I was so physically exhausted, I felt sick. Even though my husband and I try to share the monitor at night, a crying baby usually wakes up the entire household anyway. I have learnt that your own health is extremely important. The day off allowed me to recharge my batteries. I also told my husband how I was feeling, so for the next few evenings after work I literally put my feet up- no housework or cooking. I was able to relax. It was amazing! I like to be organised and I find this makes the best use of my time. I usually pack and prepare what we need for the day the night before. Our mornings are like clock-work - my husband feeds the dogs and cleans the backyard while I get ready. I do a quick clean of the house (our dogs sleep inside so we usually vacuum before we leave) then I get Emilia up for breakfast, I make our coffees and we are out the door for day-care drop off. My husband works at Macquarie University Sport and Recreation, so most mornings we drive in together. If we are working different hours, I wake up 20 minutes earlier to manage the mornings on my own.

How has Macquarie University supported you?

The managers in the Future Students team are amazing, I am very lucky to be part of a team that is so supportive of my commitments as a carer. I have been working from home one day a week since I came back from maternity leave in April. My managers are approachable which is so important - when Emilia was sick with the flu, they made me feel it was OK to take carers leave - I know this might sound silly, but as a first-time mum, I was so worried about what people would think. It feels so reassuring to be in an environment that is supportive and understanding.

What are your top tips for other employees who have caring responsibilities and also want to have fulfilling and rewarding careers?

Read up on your entitlements as a carer and speak with HR if you have questions. Make sure to chat to your manager and explain your situation and what flexible work arrangement would work for you both. Plan your workload for your work from home days. I always plan out my tasks for my work from home day in advance so I am making the most out of my time. My outlook calendar is my go-to task list and deadline reminder. Be organised. Having a prepared morning means you are less likely to be flustered and stressed when you walk into the office. Take your lunch break. You need it. I never use to take a lunch break, now I go to the gym and my energy levels have improved so much.

Who do you care for and what do you find most rewarding about being a carer?

My partner and I have two children - a ‘pigeon pair’. Our 6-year-old boy is in year one, and our 4-year-old girl is in daycare. I’d say we share the load about 50:50 (including cooking, cleaning, etc.), the kids are pretty happy to go to either one of us for whatever they need. The best part about being a carer is watching the kids develop on a day-by-day basis. I’ve worked with plenty of children as part of my research and I love the interaction but it’s only ever a snap-shot of the kid. There’s something extra satisfying or intriguing about watching it all unfold, seeing connections being made, and possibly even shaping some of this.

What does your role involve?

I’m currently a postdoc with a 40:60 service/teaching:research load. As part of the service I lead a couple of neurophysiology labs, I’m developing a capstone and PACE unit for Cognitive Science, and I collaborate with a number of ECRs in a mentoring/supervisory role: two honours students, one MRes, five PhD students, and a couple of postdocs. This is the part of my work I like best - working with earlier career researchers and students - closely followed by the research, novel problem solving and learning new things. I’m also a member of the Ally Network and the University’s Gender Equity Self-Assessment Team.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There are a couple of starts to my day. The ‘early start’ - of a weekday, I’m usually up before 5 am, doing my best to keep fit so I can comfortably sit at a desk for most of the day! We manage to keep our kids in bed until 6am with a visual alarm clock and then it’s breakfast, making lunches, getting them dressed, cleaning teeth, and attempting to keep them happy. Depending on the day, we split the drop-off, I catch the train to uni and I’ll be in the office between 7 and 8.30. The ‘next start’ - then it’s work. Various activities with a constant presence of grant writing. It would be good if there were similar deadlines for writing papers… I attempt to pack my meetings into a single day but inevitably they’re spread across the week. Other than that, I rotate between revising collaborator/student papers, my own papers, managing the labs, and dealing with email. I head home by 4.30, typically picking up the kids Monday to Wednesday. Then it’s a bit of a scramble to cook dinner, bath the kids, read to the kids, and pack them off to bed. It’s about 7 pm by this stage and then I might catch some personal emails, work emails if I’m feeling under the pump, and clean up the kitchen. If I’m still awake at 9 pm, it’s a late night! Sometimes I even manage a conversation or two with my partner :)

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

One of the troubles (or maybe good things) I find about being a researcher is that the work doesn’t end when I leave the office – there’s usually something ticking over in my head. Before having kids, it was easy to work longer hours and feel like I was making more progress (though I’m not sure this was really true!). Obviously, I could choose to still do this but then I’d miss out on knowing my family and them knowing me. So, the challenge has been to adjust my expectations based on this priority. I still aim for excellence but I’ve made peace that I’ll be doing this within office hours and accept that someone with different priorities may see more success, more quickly. On a related note, my career continues to be a series of contracts. I appreciate that this is the case in lots of industries but the knowledge that there are ongoing positions in academia has me optimistic that there might be one for me. There’s a psychological game in this - like standing on the train tracks and jumping out of the way at the last minute. I love what I do and where I’m doing it so there’s a constant pressure to keep this going. There have been opportunities to jump off the tracks for longer-term-employment but they haven’t quite matched with what we (the family) want to do, so we’re holding out for the time being.

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome the challenges and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

I’ve talked to a lot of people about work-life balance. There’s heaps of pressure on earlier career researchers to be publishing and bringing in grants but most people recognise how little control we have over these, especially the grants. So, I guess people have counselled and consoled me into setting my expectations to work towards goals within my control. The papers get published, eventually, but it can be a long road so the goals are more about submission. And grants feel more like a lottery so I try to keep them turning over in the hope of a break but keep the supervision, papers, and conference presentations as staples. I’ve found yoga, meditation, and exercise useful for keeping the stress and worries in check.

The major personal impact of my coping strategies is time and perhaps some sleep. I’m pretty involved in my kids’ lives and once they’re up, especially on the weekends, there isn’t a lot of time or quiet for meditation. My partner and I try to watch a movie together each week but there isn’t much spare time for hobbies. I do try to fit in sharing a few pictures with friends and family, many of whom are interstate or overseas.

How has Macquarie university supported you?

Not having set working hours and being able to work from home makes life much easier. This has allowed me to coordinate the school/daycare run without any fuss but even better, I’ve been in a position to volunteer to help out at school. This has been fun and a really eye-opening experience in terms of helping kids with their reading. My son’s pretty stoked that I get to hangout in his class as well - it’s allowed me to get to know his teachers and friends much better than I otherwise would. I think it’s good for his teachers to have a little extra insight into the people at home as well.

I received advice that it was easiest to take Partner’s Leave as a block (4 weeks straight) but again, due to the flexibility at Macquarie and in my department, I was able to work a couple of days a week and stretch this out, making the timing of the leave much more beneficial to us.

What are your top tips for other parents?

Being organised feels like the main thing. By far the best ECR/academic advice session I’ve ever been to was Andy Barron talking about his 5-year-plan. I’ve by no means mastered the art of this but it allows me to put my various priorities in place and make peace with what I can realistically achieve given the balance I’m happy to strike.

Who do you care for and what do you find most rewarding about it?

I have two little boys aged 5 and 21/2 years old. Looking after two little angels is the best part of being a carer. The love that I receive from them is priceless.

What does your role involve?

I collaborate and communicate with most of the areas within the university such as HR, Payroll, IT, Finance, Faculties and Research office. I have to make sure HR systems are aligned with the university needs and strategies. What I enjoy about my job is that it is not too much IT focus and not too much people focus but in between. I make sure people and systems can talk to each other.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a carer and also having a career?

Me and my husband don’t have any family members in Australia therefore we don’t have the family support. When it comes to looking after our kids as well as committed to have a successful career the challenge begins.

After my first kid I returned to work full time, I remember I felt guilty that he had to go to childcare from 8 am to 6 pm every day. I could see how tired and miserable he was when I picked him up. Also, the first year he used to get sick a lot and my husband and I had to take time off from work almost every week to look after him. On the other hand being away from work for a year during the parental leave and coming back to work felt like I was a new starter. Some restructures and other changes happened during the time I was off. A few new systems and processes were introduced. I felt like I needed to start to build my relationship with my colleagues again. I also felt I had missed opportunities for my career development because I was not present at the organisation when the changes happened.

What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to overcome these challenges and what have the impacts for you been both personally and professionally?

After my second child I could not imagine working full time with two little kids. I couldn’t accept the fact that my kids are growing up and I am missing this precious time with them. I decided to come back to work part time. But the childcare fees for two kids and me working part time made me think about becoming a stay at home mum. The other option was to look for a job with higher salary. I applied for few jobs and I had an offer. The office location was in the city. That meant I had to spend 3 hours every day in the traffic commuting to the city. At the same time I reached ten years of service at Macquarie University which meant I was eligible for long service leave. I contacted my manger to ask if I can work 3 days a week and take 2 days long service leave, and my manager kindly agreed to this.

How has Macquarie University supported you?

When I joined Macquarie I had six years of service from another Australian university. The first benefit that Macquarie offered me was to recognise my previous service. The second benefit was Macquarie’s generous parental leave. This gives the new parents peace of mind to enjoy their time with their little ones. The most benefit that Macquarie offered me was letting me to use my long service leave 2 days per week. I get to spend more time with my family, and also get the financial benefit. I also have noticed that my second child doesn’t get sick as much as my first child used to. I think it is because he goes to childcare only 3 days per week. He may catch a bug from child care but because he spends 4 days at home he has time to recover. Therefore I have not taken much time off from work to look after him. On the other hand career wise, when I came back from parental leave, I have asked to attend few training courses to refresh my skills. I also asked to participate in the conferences, which were kindly accepted by my manager.

What are your top tips for other employees who have caring responsibilities and also want to have fulfilling and rewarding careers?

I guess one tip is while on parental leave keep contact with their colleagues. Keeping the connection and relationship will help them to know what is happening at the workplace while they are on leave. Second tip is to read the Enterprise Agreement to know their rights and obligations. This will help them to plan their family responsibilities and career development properly. Third tip is once they are back to work, they need to work harder to fill the gap. They were absence from the workplace and things might have changed. They need to adopt the changes.

Share your story

If you are a carer for an elderly or ill family member, or someone with disability and would like to share your story here, please contact Izzy de Allende on 9850 1975 or at izzy.deallende@mq.edu.au.

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