UCL Earth Sciences


Being a scientist-mum.

12 February 2021

A report for UN Women and Girls in Science Day by Dr Rosemary Willatt, article and testimony about being a mother and a scientist.

Rosie Willatt Ready for a day on the ice at SERF
It took me a while to realise that, broadly, when I’m happy my children are happy. When I’m proud of myself, they are too. The more fulfilled I am, the more love I have to give them.

A year ago today I was standing at the University of Manitoba bus stop in -10°C with my colleague Robbie Mallett. We had just finished an experiment on artificial sea ice at SERF — an outdoor ice tank. I’d returned to science a few months before after a long career break during which I had a family, and I was revelling in being part of this intensive experimental work and the non-stop scientific discussion that came with it. My husband, who supports me endlessly and is the most hands-on and caring dad anyone could hope for as well as working full time, was taking care of our children. I felt I had it all — I was a mum working as a scientist. I’d just read about the UN’s Women and Girls in Science Day and I was telling Robbie I’d like to write about my experience in future.

R. Williatt - Arctic expedition as a PhD student

Image: Rosie Willatt on CryoVEx Arctic Fieldwork. Credit Seymour Laxon.

There are many challenges. Academic work requires huge energy and determination, a commitment to trying as hard as you can in the knowledge that you may never get a permanent job and (usually) periods away from home for conferences and fieldwork. It is detailed, innovative, difficult work and aspects of family life like being woken up at unusual times (sometimes lots of them) can make having a clear head and boundless energy quite challenging. A lot of people hold up the flexibility of academic work as an advantage when having children. I’m on the fence — yes, but it also means you have the flexibility to work a lot of hours, it’s fun so it gets late… and then you realise that the kids will be waking up soon…Read the full blog