A shared parental leave experience from Dr. David Riglar

Dr David Riglar

For many, welcoming a child and becoming a parent can be a daunting experience. Did you know that one of the benefits that Imperial College London provides is maternity/paternity, adoption or shared parental support leave and pay? Here, Dr. David Riglar shares his experience of taking a period of leave and the benefits of doing so.

Three years ago my daughter Mary was born – joining me, my wife Sarah, and our son Jack who was nearly two at the time. This was a challenging period, balancing the needs of a newborn and a toddler in the middle of a global pandemic that severely limited our outside support: no nursery for Jack, no way for our families from Australia to fly over to help us, and social distancing limiting all other options. At the same time, I was trying to build a new research lab and the first PhD and postdoc in my group had started in the preceding couple of months.

Following Mary’s birth, I took 6 weeks of parental leave – technically 2 weeks paternity leave followed by 4 weeks shared parental leave. This mirrored the time I took for Jack’s birth while I was a postdoc in Boston – albeit that was in slightly more ‘typical’ global circumstances.

I’d be lying if I said I remember too many details of either of these periods. Those first weeks are such a rollercoaster of emotions and sleeplessness. With Jack, it was all about learning the skills to look after a tiny human being for the first time. With Mary, relearning how to do that again but with the added logistical challenge of looking after a toddler at the same time.  For both though, being in the position to immerse myself in family life for that period has had countless ongoing benefits. Aside from the opportunity to bond with my children and to maximise my experience of this unique period of their lives, by providing the space Sarah and I both needed to gain confidence in our parenting skills this has also laid the groundwork for us to contribute equally to parenting going forwards.

While I was a little nervous leaving my team to fend for themselves for 6 weeks so early in their tenure within the lab, ultimately that too has had positive outcomes. The forward planning and opportunities for independence my absence stimulated was ultimately a wonderful opportunity for personal and professional growth and project development.

Organising parenting leave

Most Imperial College staff members are eligible for paternity/maternity, adoption, and shared parental support leave and pay. However, the exact details of what any person is eligible for will vary on a case-by-case basis because it also depends on the circumstances and leave taken by your partner. Specific policy details are available through HR’s website along with various resources and workshops for new parents. I would recommend contacting HR as early as possible to help guide you through both the eligibility and application process.

There is one form which needs to be completed called the Shared Parental Leave Request Form. It needs to be submitted no later than 8 weeks before the intended start date of the first period of leave.

It is also worth noting that there are options available to check back in with work during your leave. A certain number of “keeping in touch” days are allowed within a period of leave in case there is any College work that needs to be undertaken. Shared parental leave can also be taken in more than one block if there is a benefit for splitting the leave period.

Read more about the experiences of our parents at Imperial including an account by Dr Tom Parks, Clinical Senior Lecture in the Department of Infectious Disease.