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Jessica Royles

Dr Jessica Royles, Research Associate in Physical Ecology

Royles,Jessica.jpgI have had a long relationship with the Department of Plant Sciences, and have very happy memories of studying IB Plant and Microbial Sciences in this friendly and inclusive department in 2004. After Part II Zoology, an MSc and some time working, I re-joined the department as a PhD student in 2008, working on a collaborative project between Plant Sciences and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The Department was very supportive of my fieldwork to Antarctica, and I enjoyed being part of an international student community. During my PhD I was involved in lots of teaching: supervising first and second year undergraduates, supporting students during laboratory projects, and assisting on the annual field trip to Portugal. Being able to do teaching alongside my research was very rewarding, and allowed me to develop important transferable skills not available in a research institute.

After a three-year post-doctoral position at BAS, Professor Howard Griffiths and I applied for a NERC research grant. I was supported as a Researcher Co-Investigator on the project and was heavily involved in the grant writing process. This grant application was successful, with the start date in 2015, coinciding with my pregnancy. I went on maternity leave six months after the start of the project and the Department and my PI were very supportive. Despite only being a very recent university employee I was eligible for full maternity benefits, and took maternity leave of 10 months. My PI and the Department fully supported my application to extend the NERC grant which enabled me to take maternity leave and return to work part-time. My PI was happy for the work to go on hold, rather than appoint another post-doc as maternity cover (which could mean some loss of ownership in the project). My application to work flexibly was approved and I returned to work at 0.6FTE in April 2016.

I found returning to work difficult, and my research output and progress has been slow, both because my time in the Department is limited and I was having problems with key experiments. However, I am fortunate to be able to work flexibly and to have developed an experimental strategy that should yield interesting results and is feasible to complete within my available time, so the situation has improved with the help of supportive lab colleagues. The Department supported my application for a Returning Carers grant (a University scheme to support career development following a career break or period of leave for caring responsibilities) to provide me with some technical support, unfortunately this has not yet been successful.

I am a member of the Department's Equality and Diversity Committee, and am pleased at how seriously the work of the committee is taken, and how supportive the Department is to equality and diversity in their widest definitions. Alongside the NERC grant, I am Co-investigator on a Leverhulme grant with collaborators in Exeter and New Zealand, and an Associate Editor for the Methods in Ecology and Evolution journal: both these roles allow me to contribute to more scientific projects and expand my experience without requiring me to travel extensively, which is difficult with a toddler, as does the shift in field work from Antarctica to East Anglia!