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Part-time hours offer one option for working in new ways

This is the first in a series of articles that will appear periodically to highlight new ways in which people are working at MIT. The series will include articles on topics such as job-sharing and other alternative work schedules, negotiating job flexibility, coaching and how it's different from supervising, using new computer skills in various positions, and working on a project team in addition to a regular job.

For people who view schedule flexibility as crucial, part-time work is a highly desirable job alternative. For four MIT employees, that option is a major reason for them to work at the Institute.

Some employees want time for outside interests or work that is important to them, such as Laura and Francis Doughty, a married couple who each work part-time on the support staff. They describe themselves as homesteaders who try, as much as possible, to live off their land in a small rural town 90 miles west of Boston.

Another is author Scott Campbell, who works part-time as a writer and editor in both the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) and the School of Architecture and Planning so he has time to work on his books. Other staff members have arranged part-time schedules because of family commitments, such as Kathy MacNeil, associate director of the Center for Real Estate.

Ms. Doughty is an administrative assistant who works three days a week for Institute Professor Mildred Dressel-haus. Her husband works two days a week as an adminstrative staff assistant for Professor Donald Troxel in the Research Laboratory of Electronics.

The Doughtys have chosen to earn less money in exchange for more time at home and in their community. And their lifestyle does require a lot of time at home. They heat the house they built in 1990 exclusively with wood, most of which they cut from their property. Mr. Doughty has already started the plants for this year's organic garden, the bounty of which they expect will feed them throughout the year. They freeze, can and root-store produce from their garden, and eat and sell the eggs from their chickens.

The Doughtys' lifestyle mixes old and new technology. They cook on a wood-burning stove nine months out of the year and have a hand pump in their kitchen for water. On the modern side, they have a stereo, microwave oven and washing machine. "Many homesteaders live without these things; we're sort of in a hybrid stage," Mr. Doughty said.

They also manage to find time for artistic and community activities. Ms. Doughty is a trained mezzosoprano who is pursuing a singing career in western Massachusetts, and she regularly has the opportunity to perform with professional musicians.

Mr. Doughty is an acoustic steel-string guitarist who performs locally. He is on the board of the library trustees in Wendell, MA, and they both connect with others of their community in the many volunteer efforts which keep their "spirit-rich, money-poor" town afloat.

"We live a fairly complicated life in the woods, but the pace is slow and natural, and it's stress-free," Mr. Doughty said.

"MIT has been terrific. Its progressive framework provides a lot of flexibility and understanding of employees' needs, which for some of us translates to part-time work. Laura and I are especially grateful to our supervisors, who have been very flexible over the years and genuinely sympathetic to our needs for more time at home," he said.

Mr. Campbell is the author of two novels, Touched and Missing Pieces, and he has also written Widower: When Men Are Left Alone. In addition to producing publications and a web site for CTS, Mr. Campbell writes and produces PLAN, the newsletter of the School of Architecture and Planning. He has also worked as a writing consultant for a number of MIT departments and centers and as a lecturer in the Institute's Writing Program.

His part-time schedule provides benefits for the Institute as well as for him. The architecture department has work for Mr. Campbell todo but no available office space for him, so he does their projects at home. And since he has worked in both jobs for several years, architecture and CTS get a publications expert on staff with a long institutional memory for only a part-time salary.

Mr. Campbell believes there is also the benefit of "cross-fertilization" for both departments and for him. "Things I learn and contacts I make on one job turn out to be very useful in the other job. And I get a freedom to organize my own work schedule that I would have a hard time finding elsewhere," he said.

Ms. MacNeil negotiated for an 80 percent appointment in which she works three days at MIT and one day at home. She spends the fifth day, when she is off from work, with her four-year-old twin boys. Ms. MacNeil lives in Hopkinton, which is an hour commute from MIT, so her schedule also eliminates a significant portion of commuting time.

Before coming to MIT, Ms. MacNeil was in the real estate industry working as a project manager. Then she took a part-time position at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

A graduate of MIT's Real Estate Development program, Ms. MacNeil proposed a one-year trial for her current schedule with a review after the first six months. She completes her first year at MIT this month. Her supervisor, William C. Wheaton, and the Center staff whom she supervises, have had no problems with Ms. MacNeil's schedule. "People know what their jobs are, but they can reach me at home if that's necessary," Ms. MacNeil said.

Sometimes, the schedule doesn't work because there's a meeting that Ms. MacNeil needs to attend, so she comes in on her day off. "I have to be flexible and to do what it takes to get the job done," she said.

When asked about the challenges of a schedule like hers, Ms. MacNeil said, "I have to delegate more, but that's probably a positive thing. I would like to be more active in the real estate industry, and I expect that to be easier in my second year on the job."

On her Fridays off, Ms. MacNeil spends time with her sons, often taking them to the library, park or museum. "Places aren't as crowded on a Friday as they are on the weekends, and I really enjoy the time I can share with my children. They grow too fast," she said.

The next article in this series will be about MIT employees who do job sharing.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 1, 1998.

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