Family versus science

The pressures of family obligations and child-rearing are pushing young female researchers out of science, according to a new study released this month by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank based in Washington, DC. linkurl:The report;http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/11/women_and_sciences.html provides a contrast to an earlier report by the National Academies of Sciences that focused on dissecting the linkurl:subtle biases against women;http://books.nap.edu/openbook.p

By | November 11, 2009

The pressures of family obligations and child-rearing are pushing young female researchers out of science, according to a new study released this month by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank based in Washington, DC. linkurl:The report;http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/11/women_and_sciences.html provides a contrast to an earlier report by the National Academies of Sciences that focused on dissecting the linkurl:subtle biases against women;http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11741&page=1 in science.
Image: Wikipedia via Flickr: linkurl:Pi.;http://www.flickr.com/people/23453214@N04
CAP, together with the Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law surveyed some 25,000 University of California postdocs and graduate students for the report. They found that married women with children were 35% less likely to get a tenure-track position than married men with children and 33% less likely to do so than single women without children. In an article for __The Scientist__ last year, Association for Women in Science president Phoebe Leboy explored some of the reasons why women, who enter most scientific fields in equal numbers to men, only occupy some 30% of the highest echelons in academia. linkurl:Leboy suggested;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54076/ that universities weren't doing enough to promote their female researchers. She suggested that search committees and review boards make a point of including women, who might be more likely to suggest the names of other women than men would. But while the focus in recent years has been on discrimination, many women who added their voices to an linkurl:online forum;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/53655/ on the subject at __The Scientist__ discussed how their experience in the lab changed when they started a family. If a lab is essentially thought of as a small business, the loss of an employee -- even for a short period of time -- can be devastating. Universities have responded to the call for better support of scientists who want to start families with policies such as stopping the tenure clock and offering paid parental leave. However, "there is a huge variation" in how these policies are administered, said Mary Ann Mason, coauthor of the CAP report, in a press conference yesterday (November 10). Often "researchers don't know what [these policies] are" and how they work. Also, few of these programs are offered to early career scientists, who need them the most, she said. The report stated that women who had a child while they were postdocs were twice as likely to rethink their career goals as men, or as women who no children and had no plans of having them. Only 13% of graduate students and 23% of postdocs surveyed said their research institutions entitled them to 6 weeks of paid maternity leave, compared with 58% of faculty. The report also puts the onus on funding bodies such as the NSF and the NIH to provide more financial backing that is better coordinated with university efforts. Universities and funders should offer financial supplements to labs to offset the productivity loss when a scientist takes family leave, the report says. It also suggests removing some of the time-based assessment of scientific accomplishment and tenure review.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Who's the greatest woman scientist?;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54734/
[9th June 2008]*linkurl:Fixing the Leaky Pipeline;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54076/
[January 2008]*linkurl:Help women stay in science;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/53655/
[27th September 2007]

Comments

Avatar of: Gary Huber

Gary Huber

Posts: 23

November 11, 2009

Despite its title, this essay should be required reading for men, too, especially at the graduate school level:\n\nphilip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science\n\nIn short, the article says that women, in general, have too much common sense to pursue what is essentially the lowest-paying career in the US.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 15

November 11, 2009

"Universities and funders should offer financial supplements to labs to offset the productivity loss when a scientist takes family leave, the report says."\n\nWishful thinking. In the current trend of cutbacks and layoffs, this is not going to happen.\n\nResearch is often more than a 40 hr/wk job and so is parenting. Mothers are often heavily invested with their children, esp. in the early years, and caretakers and daycare are only partial substitutes for a good upbringing. Maternal instinct makes parenting time more valued than research time. Most women are noticeably conflicted when they try to do both research work and youngster parenting, and performance in both areas can suffer. \n\nHowever, there are some that accomplish both well while maintaining a calm demeanor. We should examine these women and their situations as potential models in the consideration of career vs. family.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 11, 2009

This certainly sums up why I left research. As a grad student I saw men being hired who had families (and wives in other types of jobs). Every woman I saw hired had no children and no plans to have children. \n\nIf a woman can get through graduate school fast enough and get tenure fast enough, she can still have a family, but I was not in that situation. Now that my daughter is 10, I sometimes miss research, but don't see any way to easily return to research since I live in a rural area. Meanwhile I have huge student loans to pay off and I am not employed in my field. I certainly feel that the biases I faced were not at all subtle.
Avatar of: ERIC J MURPHY

ERIC J MURPHY

Posts: 18

November 11, 2009

I did not find this article overly illuminating as it is proposes the premise I have stated over the years. In science, women are forced to often make the choice of a family or a career. Hence, while we see a fair number of equality in the graduate and post-doctoral steps, this is not carried through to tenure-track and tenured positions. A similar issue is seen in corporate America where women executives are in a similar situation, reducing the number of women in upper ranks of corporations.\n\nIs there a solution? Probably, but it is not simple nor is it even close to fair. Women who want to have children can opt to have none, making a choice between biology and their career. Women who want to have children can put it off until their graduate and post-doctoral training is done and they have secured a position and are close to tenure. That of course will mean maybe having children at 37-42 yo, which is not necessarily ideal for many reasons. Alternatively, women can opt to start graduate school later, which we currently have one student who has chosen to do so and she is excelling in her graduate studies. Lastly, women can choose to do both, balancing mothering and science in a delicate manner with the hopes of being successful in both endeavors. This last choice is full of risks but may offer to balance out the two goals.\n\nIn the end, I have argued for years that the lack of women in tenure-track and tenured slots has less to do with discrimination and more to do with an unfortunate self-selection process in which women opt out of the career option. Some may enter back into the career track later in life, while others may choose to stay out of research careers. However, is that really a bad choice?\n\nA friend of mine who is a patent attorney with a Ph.D. one time made the comment that no one devalues a Ph.D. more than academic scientists. Taking this approach, a woman's graduate and perhaps post-doctoral training is not wasted, as she has honed her skills in radial thinking and problem solving. This coupled learning the ability to limit her bias produces a very good decision maker who has the ability to way multiple variables while making decisions. Hence, she may have countless job opportunities outside of scientific research. What is surprising is that the very skills we value in academics, are also applicable and highly valued in the business world, yet we academics fail to pass that simple point on to our graduate students, both male and female. \n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 18

November 12, 2009

My wife is a success story who managed to beat the tenure clock, get well-funded, be a great clinician while having children. Easy, right?\n\nWell, she had a husband who was career-advanced and could help out a lot, she had tons of family help, and there were adequate resources to get outside help with childcare and housecare as needed. With all of this, I saw her dealing with a tenuous balancing act as it was clear her children came first. The bottom line is that without either individual circumstances like ours (very rare), or without a major commitment of employers or society (not going to happen), women are going to be forced to make tough choices. \n\nThe realistic options are either a later entry into research careers (won't maturity, focus, and perspective be useful?), or applying the training and life experiences to other science-related jobs where the time away from the bench will not be a penalty. Finally, and most importantly, we shouldn't lose track of the fact that there is no job more worthwhile (personally or to society) than raising children well.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

November 12, 2009

Nothing is new in this article. Research is not a 9-5 job and neither is child rearing. My women friends of the same age who are PI's all have stay at home dads. Others are struggling with child care and a working spouse who is not a scientist/researcher. Waiting to reach tenure or tenure track for women before having a family will only be a reality for a very small fraction of women. My reality will be to leave research if I want to be compensated appropriately for my level of education and not be expected to work a 9 hour day minimum which leaves precious few hours a day for my daughter.
Avatar of: DIANE HUSIC

DIANE HUSIC

Posts: 4

November 12, 2009

There are also many examples of women/families who have balanced careers in academe, a successful scientific record, and great families. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways but these stories are rarely told. \n\nIf young scientists, especially females, only see these types of articles that imply a choice must be made or that the consequences of trying to juggle parenting and professional positions are great, then perhaps this contributes to the problem.\n\nShouldn't we be providing examples of positive role models?
Avatar of: Kathy Barker

Kathy Barker

Posts: 7

November 12, 2009

\n This is also very much a personal problem, and not an institutional one. Somehow it is often easier for women to confront a department or an institution about maternity leave or child care, than to sit down with their partners to discuss just what equality in a relationship means, functionally and philosophically. I actually heard a young male scientist at a meeting tell everyone that he believed in 50:50 breakdown of childrearing tasks between himself and his wife (Hoorah! I thought), but when pressed, said that 50:50 meant that he would bring home the money and his scientist wife would deal with the children. I wonder if his partner defined "equality" in the same way....\n\n

November 13, 2009

\n\nOne day in California, talking to a dear male colleague playing cynic about funding opportunities, research, places to work and life?.. he said: **Listen, you go to NIH to get the money, you don?t go there to work??. **\n\nHere is a sample of women in science being able to play, quite successfully, a variety of roles in this challenging world. By the way, you might have an opportunity to change science for the best, not for the most money or self-serving interests..\n\nGo to :\n\nhttp://orwh.od.nih.gov/pubs/NIH-WomenInScience07-08_ORWH_508.pdf\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 77

November 16, 2009

Life, as a scientist or not, is a zero-sum game and everyone must decide for themselves what they want, what they are willing to invest in it, and what opportunity costs they are willing to bear - regardless of gender. The equation describing each individual's investment and payoff schedule is complicated and unique with abilities, training, motivations, opportunities, biases, and unpredictables all playing into the mix. Satisfaction is the correspondence of expectations and payoffs with dissatisfaction springing from either lousy payoffs or unrealistic expectations. That said, if life is fair at all, it's usually only in the long run and only if one has made a long sequence of decisions that can, at best, tip the probability of "success" in one's favor. \n\nLike it or not, that is what the individual faces. No one, save tyrants and the exceptional few, can have everything they want and to assert that they can or should is to ignore reality at best and delusional at worst. I too would love to do cutting-edge science while having a high salary, a family, vacation homes, and time to enjoy all the luxuries that life can afford but, who am I kidding? I've had a very good long run doing basic research in a large institution but, being a single male, even with broad and solid credentials and experience, I had to fight time and again against the institutional distrust of the "less stable unmarried" or "not completely manageable" and differential unearned favors granted to those with family. The institution had its reasons - not all honorable, but I was the exception fighting against the tyranny of the mean and I knew it. I accepted it as part of having the privilege and support in doing what I most wanted to do. \n\nNow, when one attempts to alter the probabilities of one's success by systemic changes that favor one's self on account of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, as is the case here, then one must ask whether the institution in question would benefit, be unaffected, or be harmed by it. To say that such change would benefit or not affect the success of the institution is to imply that the existing criteria for selection and promotion are slack or inefficient and adding criteria, such as gender balance, would be neutral at worst. All institutions can do is play by the averages - if they want sustained success over time - and it's up to those who wish to alter the criteria to prove that such change would not harm the institution's record of achievement. Of course, unless you believe that science itself should add political, religious or democratic criteria to its existing standards. If you do, be clear about it.
Avatar of: Suad Sulaiman

Suad Sulaiman

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

Some of the young female researchers, who are very much dedicated to science & want to proceed, sacrifice having a family & children inorder to fulfil their aims....\nSome others, when the husbands are not happy with the scientist wife, they divorce. The wife, with or without children, continue to excel in her science life & progress......\nThe husband, other family members, community, state or government must help women scientists to fulfil both work & house work..
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

Why is it that we measure success for women with PhDs by determining the number of tenure track positions filled by women? I have my doctorate, elected not to pursue a career in academic research for a number of reasons, and consider myself to be quite successful.\n\nDeciding how to balance careers and family is a decision that each family having children must make, regardless of career paths. Some will do it better than others, as is the case with all choices that we make in life.\n\nMeasuring a person's success by landing that "ivory-tower" position at a university is a poor way to assess how successful one is.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

The article raises interesting points but does not raise any interesting solutions. Two possibilities that will not completely solve the problem but could help are:\n1. NIH funding for a technician for one year for a post-doc who has a baby. This could be added to the P.I. or post-doc grant so they can be as productive while taking maternity time off\n2. "Good" on-site day care so mothers can breast feed and still work during the first year
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

I am glad to see such articles that touch base on this sensitive issue. I have to add, though, that not only female scientists in academia are affected, but also those in the industry as well. Very little considerations are given to a scientist who is &/or became a mom. Being one myself, & talking to others in the same situation, we mostly feel as if we have to continuosly justify not being able to put extra hours i.e evenings & weekends hours due to child/ren obligations. Of course, this never looks good on the employee record... I've already seen 2 good scientists so far change careers or simply quit due to such pressure. The question is when are we in the US going to give moms the rights European & Canadian moms have? To begin with, a new European/Canadian mom gets enough maternity leave of absence to care for her newborn while her position is secured. Her life as a mom/scientist is later more balanced than that of her American peers. A balanced intellectual/family life for us American moms should also be a basic right rather than a favor to ask for! No woman should go through the dilemma of deciding whether to go on with her life as a scientist or become a mom. But unfortunately, that's how it is right now! We definitely need to rethink that way of life since it's creating more stressed out families who can't but raise a more stressed out generation.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

More women choose their families over careers. I'm confused. Should I rue the loss to science or applaud the fact that more highly educated women are choosing to take the responsibility of nurturing the next generation?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

Many people present the question of family versus science as an either/or proposition for women. However, it is not usually an either/or proposition for men. There is no question that an individual scientist's productivity is directly influenced by the number of hours dedicated to their science. From this perspective, any competing interest outside the lab will detract from that individual's successful competition for grants and high-visbility publications, whether it is a dedication to painting or raising children. Similarly, any individual's career is benefited by having a spouse/partner who maintains all aspects of home-life, with or without children, male or female. \n\nThat said, many professionals in urban America marry other professionals, and make compromises about who maintains the household. Unfortunately, our society places the highest values on maternal care of offspring and paternal financial support. This is a loss for the children, who lose valuable time with their fathers and valuable perspective on their mothers' talents. I believe that both the children and the laboratory benefit when a scientist's parental partnership places equal value on both partners' contributions to both arenas.
Avatar of: Jessica Speer

Jessica Speer

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

The fact that many proposed solutions point to programs that will allow women to take time for mothering and a career (though this is laudable) serves to illustrate the bias that makes this decision so tricky (and so gender-specific) in the first place. How about paternity leave as well as maternity leave? \n\nAside from that obvious 9-month period, men don't have the same dilemma simply because they aren't expected to be a parent full-time, or if they are, "bringing home the bacon" covers their duties. It's an economic reality that both parents have to work, and there is no reason why the burden of parenting shouldn't also be shared. Policies need to be in place--in every industry, not just academia or science--that reflect those realities and support mothers and families.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 17, 2009

I agree, the worst paid job, and not only in US!\nI'm a postdoc and just had a baby, and I've decided for a career change so that I can spend more time with my son. I wish there were part-time options or more understanding if you want to go back to a lab after a couple of years out. \n\n\nwww.experimentyourlife.com
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 18, 2009

I find it sad that we live in a society in the U.S. where the role of parenting is devalued (and I'm saying this as a non-parent). The most educated of us must set the standards and work out the best work/life balance. If those of us with PhDs can't or won't do it, then how can those on the lower rungs have a prayer of accomplishing the same? \n\nBalance can help make your science better--and a person who paints or stays fit outside of work can be strengthened as scientist by these activities. I applaud those who have stuck up for their children and balance in their lives. This will be even more necessary as our population ages, and we also find ourselves caring for our parents.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 18, 2009

I got married during my Ph.D. studies, and I've already found it impossible to be everywhere at once -- I can't spend the necessary time both at home working on my marriage and in lab working on my science, without forgoing necessities such as adequate sleep, feeding myself, and getting exercise. Couple this with the fact that students just don't make that much money, and you've got a perfect recipe for burnout. I've already learned that I can just barely handle the combination of research + a family composed of two self-sufficient adults and a dog. Certainly I cannot have the career I want, raise children, and do both successfully, and I'm unwilling to forgo children.\n\nSo, I am not planning on staying in research; instead, I intend to go into either patent law or business, where my knowledge and skills will still be valued and will probably be worth more money. I don't delude myself that pressures in the corporate world will be any less intense, and I'm pretty sure I will like the work a lot less than I like doing science, but at least it will be a bit more lucrative, so I will be able to pay off my loans and maybe even afford stuff like child care, a non-deathtrap car, some help with cleaning the house a couple times a month, and healthful food that doesn't take hours to prepare from scratch.
Avatar of: Isabel Walls

Isabel Walls

Posts: 1

November 18, 2009

I just read the article "Women in Science." I am a woman with a Ph.D. and work for the government, earning a decent salary although certainly not as much as lawyers or those on Wall St. I have 2 children and went back to work with each after 3 months. I have never worked in academia, but worked as a scientist in industry/ non profits and now the government. I am encouraging my 15 year old son to become a scientist but having read this article I'm wondering if I am making a mistake. Is it really that bad in academia? I know colleagues who spend long hours writing grants and in the lab but in return have flexible schedules and long holidays. At least that is how it appears. His real interest is in movie making - guess he'd earn much more doing that in CA than those profs at Berkeley! Thanks for the advice!\n\nhttp://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science\n
Avatar of: Susan Fitzpatrick

Susan Fitzpatrick

Posts: 10

November 18, 2009

The reason most people find that a career in science is a grind that interfers with one's ability to pursue extra-lab activities is the long-running error of equating time spent in the lab with the quality of science. Individuals with no other interests or commitments have stacked the deck. Those reading newspapers, schmoozing, or running endless numbers of slightly tweaked experiments in the lab are more highly prized than creative people willing to say at some point - ENOUGH - and leave for the day. Most papers are never cited. For this one should give up life? Time to change.

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