Mums in Science: Olga Kotik, research technician

For the first in our new series about mums working in science, we speak to Olga Kotik from Russia. She has a PhD in Structural Biology, three kids and a good work-life balance but has had to put her career dreams on hold, for now…

Olga Kotik, 41, lives in Thames Ditton, Surrey, with her three kids: Nisan, 14 Ilan, 12, Ben, six. She has a PhD in Structural Biology and has worked as a research technician for the past three years but has worked in science for 20 years.

“At school I never thought I would get PhD in Structural Biology. It’s only when I got to university to study medicine that I realised I am more interested in the actual biological processes occurring in the body rather than trying to fix it if something is going wrong. So I changed department, to Biological Sciences.

I grew up in Russia but was living in Israel when I was at university – where it seemed easier to have kids, study and make progress in a career. Also, I was surrounded by family and friends.

I would say that it was easier to have kids in Israel than it is in the UK. I had my third child while I was a postdoc at Imperial College and found the whole experience much harder than with the other two. After I came back from maternity leave, I tried different routes with more flexible working hours. For a short period of time I worked in the research office but my scientific training dragged me back to the lab.

I know for sure that you do sacrifice your family/time with the kids for your big dreams

Therefore, after one year of thinking at home I have decided to come back to science but in different role as a technician and not to pursue an academic career. I now work full-time but flexible hours.

I took a year’s maternity leave with each of my children and returning to work was extremely hard – with baby brain and sleepless nights I hardly could concentrate on the tasks and also I missed my baby terribly.

Fortunately, my colleagues are very supportive and understanding. Many of them have children as well. I work in a mixed environment of men and women – it isn’t dominated by one sex.

Flexible working is important for mums in science

I think flexible working hours are a very good approach if we want to keep women with kids working in science. But having said. that I understand that sometimes in different areas of science it’s just not possible. Like, for me, there are very long experiments and incubation time when I need to stay in the lab for more than eight hours and also some experiments require nighttime shifts.

I have a good work-life balance. My career dreams are not on agenda at this point. I want to stay in science in an academic environment but as far as I can see, there are no such positions in UK universities. There are no staff scientist roles available.

I went to some seminars where very successful women gave uplifting talks about how you can have it all. I don’t feel like that and know for sure that you do sacrifice your family/time with the kids for your big dreams.

Aside from my career, I just to be with my family; to spend more time with them – to go on different adventures and explore world together.”

Picture credit: Images from Designspiration