19 June, 2022
Being a new dad is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. As a postdoctoral research scientist in the Reik lab, I have nearly a decade of experience that I'm able to draw upon to perform experiments and think deeply about the exciting science that we do at the Babraham Institute. However, babies don’t come with a protocol to follow or years of training to ease you into the role of ‘parent’.
My wonderful daughter, Margot, was born at 10:11am on a chilly January morning. I’m excited for my first Father’s Day and feel like I’m starting to find my feet as her dad, but we did have a scary start in intensive care when Margot arrived. It was a worrying time that was made easier by the Institute’s flexible working policies and excellent roving researcher scheme.
The roving researcher scheme at the Babraham Institute allows staff to apply for cover to keep experiments going whilst on long-term leave. It’s a wonderful programme and I’m proud to be the first male employee to take advantage of it. Here are some reasons why it was so valuable:
One of the projects I’m working on involves an exciting collaboration with the lab of Honorary Group Leader Prof. Martin Howard.
We’re interested in how specific epigenetic marks (chemical modifications to DNA that do not alter the sequence) behave during and after a cell divides. I won’t get into the science here, but the project involves lots of DNA sequencing and mathematical modelling. I’m good at the sequencing bit and Prof. Howard's lab is excellent at the mathematical modelling part, so together we make a good team.
As Margot’s due date was approaching, I was in the middle of generating some exciting data to test a hypothesis that Prof. Howard’s lab had developed. The roving researcher scheme saved us from having to put this on hold for a month or two, and helped to keep the ball rolling.
We found out my wife was pregnant with Margot in April 2021. It was a dream come true and we were so excited, but also worried about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘high risk’ status of pregnant women.
Come December, the month that Margot was due, case numbers of the more transmissible Omicron variant were rapidly increasing. Our hospital had strict guidelines in place, which meant that if either of us tested positive for the virus, I would not be allowed to attend the birth. Therefore, we decided it best to self-isolate for the last few weeks of the pregnancy.
This worked out well. My line manager Wolf was incredibly supportive and I had plenty of data analysis to do at home (and ultimately we did avoid catching the dreaded virus). The downside was an early pause to my ongoing lab work, but the impact of this was minimised by the roving researcher scheme.
Being an engaged, supportive and present father is something that has been incredibly important to me from the outset. I planned to take my two weeks of paid paternity leave followed by two additional weeks of annual leave, so that I could be around during the notoriously difficult first month.
Our first few weeks with Margot were a whirlwind of ups and downs. Shortly after she was born, Margot was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was incredible, took the whole experience in her (tiny) stride, and thankfully made a speedy recovery. We were discharged when Margot was five days old, but the experience of being stuck in the hospital and sometimes separated from her was physically and emotionally taxing for all of us. It also consumed almost half of my official paternity leave.
It’s amazing how little sleep you can survive on, and during those first few weeks we really were running on empty (a few hours a day at times!). I’m so happy I decided to take a full month off work to be there for Margot and my wife - Margot started smiling at a couple of weeks old and babbling away a short time later. The roving researcher scheme made it easier for me to be there for those wonderful moments and to build a strong bond with my new daughter.
Melanie, our Roving Researcher, is a joy to work with. She’s been in the lab a few times already, covering experiments whilst colleagues have been on maternity leave. We met up before I went on paternity leave to make a plan, and decided that she would prepare some DNA samples that I had already generated for sequencing (a process called library preparation). She did a brilliant job of this and the samples were ready for sequencing when I got back - a huge time saver!
Back in the lab, experiments are going well and I’m (slowly) getting used to balancing my new home life with work. I’m very much enjoying this new adventure and I’m so grateful for the roving researcher scheme for making this transition to parenthood easier.
19 June 2022
By Aled Parry