Balancing a career and family as a woman in science


Image by Argonne National Laboratory on flickr

“When I was married, one pressure that I faced was the fact that as a new tenure-track faculty member, I often needed to work late,” begins Catrina Hamilton-Darger, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dickinson College in the US. “Most of that was because I was teaching and advising during the day, so the only time I could really prepare for my classes was outside of my time at school.

“This, of course, interfered greatly with my time with my husband,” she says. “He was not in academia, and therefore didn’t have a complete understanding of what all my job entailed.”

Catrina’s experience has been an ordeal faced by many women pursuing a career in science. Many of these women are often diverted or “leak” from the pipeline of science because of marriage and motherhood.

According to a 2010 study carried out by researchers of  University of California, Berkeley, women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure track position after receiving a Ph.D. than married men with children – and 27 percent less likely than their male counterparts to achieve tenure upon entering a tenure-track job.

The study also found that single women without young children are slightly more successful than married women with children in achieving tenure.

Another science survey carried out by Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)  revealed that 61 percent of female respondents were struggling to balance their personal lives and their career.

The roles of women in the family also makes them caregivers and homemakers, making it hard for them to cope with their academic career pressure. At times that leaves them having to choose between career and family. “I opted to not apply for observing time in Chile (I’m an astronomer) because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find a way to pump my breastmilk while I was traveling,” Catrina says.

“I actually gave up one whole year of observing time to make sure that I was able to nourish my daughter in the best way,” she adds.

To seal the leak and help women have a balance between work and family can be done. Universities need to put in place family responsive policies, benefits and resources. Various child care support should also be in place to help out.

“Before you choose a graduate school, postdoc or faculty position, find out what the policies and practices are at that institution around these family-formation issues,” said Jennifer Sheridan, the executive and research director of Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI).

Governments can also help, by introducing policies that help women achieve equal access to education at all levels.

There is a federal government law in US, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

To ensure compliance with the law institutions receiving federal funds must evaluate their policies to fight against sex discrimination.


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