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October 2021
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Returning from a career break with help from the Daphne Jackson Trust

There is nothing that knocks an individual’s self-confidence quite like taking a career break and it is easy to lose one’s identity and simply become someone else’s -carer”, -Mummy” or -Daddy”. Those on a career break are often unaware that the skills gained during their time away from work, including multi-tasking, time management and -people skills” are valued in the workplace and so for all too many, memories of that interesting job they once held can begin to seem like fiction.

This is a problem experienced by many professionals who take a career break but is particularly acute for those with a background in science, engineering and technology. The fast pace of development in technological areas means that knowledge and skills soon become outdated. For many, returning to education to refresh their skills is often out of reach for financial reasons and as a result many find it impossible to return.

The Daphne Jackson Trust is an independent charity which provides tailored retraining programmes for scientists, engineers and technologists who have taken a career break for family, caring or health reasons. The trust offers flexible, two year part-time fellowships, comprising of a retraining program and research project in their chosen research area.

Rebecca Ward is a Daphne Jackson Fellow researching how buildings interact with their environment, particularly in terms of passive thermal and ventilation strategies. Rebecca is working for the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, using data from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Kew is a World Heritage Site which contains more than 50 buildings, including a range of different and large biomes to house and preserve plants from all over the world, so finding ways to reduce the carbon foot-print of such a varied and historic site is a challenge.

Rebecca has now developed computer simulations for a group of buildings, including the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and has modified an existing analytical model of the greenhouse. The analytical model is a set of numerical equations which together simulate the heat flow through the greenhouse. It is a complex model because plants interact with their environment, altering the internal temperature and humidity of a greenhouse and this can have a significant effect on the energy required to maintain the temperature.

Rebecca’s project will move on to use the simulations to help identify improvements to operation strategies and possible building modifications, which may result in the reduction of energy use. In particular, it is hoped to harness heat lost from specific locations for use elsewhere, improving efficiency. Finally, her project will look at whether alternative energy generation methods might be sympathetically employed, taking into account the unique heritage of the site.

-Kew Gardens is an amazing place to work”, says Rebecca. -It’s such a great environment, and I feel invigorated every time I cycle through the gardens to the office. I’m thoroughly enjoying the work and the fellowship. It’s fantastic to be able to work on something I’m really interested in. It’s given me a great confidence boost as I can really see a positive future ahead.”

The fellowship scheme was started by Professor Daphne Jackson, the first female professor of Physics in the UK. Over the course of her career, she met many clever and highly-qualified scientists who were reduced to taking low-level jobs because they had taken a career break. Deciding that this was a waste of talent and investment, in 1985 Jackson began a pilot scheme that enabled women to return to their careers.

The Daphne Jackson Trust was set up in 1992 and has now worked with more than 200 returners, both men and women. Of these, 96% have returned to employment in science, engineering and technology. While a lot has changed in the UK working culture in the last 20 years, such as flexible working, people continue to take career breaks for family reasons and today’s returners face many of the same issues as those who took their career breaks a generation ago.

The scheme is still necessary, and the trust remains focused on returning talented scientists, engineers and technologists to their previous careers.

One Daphne Jackson Fellow recently wrote, -If anyone is wondering about whether to apply for a fellowship, I would say that you should do it, it’s a rare opportunity and you will rediscover your real self in the process.”

For more information, see the Trust’s website:

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