FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF FEMALE SCIENTISTS WITH CHILDREN
Scientists are constantly pressed for time.
Being a scientist is a very demanding and special profession. Not everybody is suited for the type of work that very early on requires a high degree of independence. Already when writing a dissertation it is of crucial importance to decide independently what directions to take. Competition is fierce and there is always more to be done than one can or would like to. Being a scientist is a vocation that requires a great deal of engagement and motivation, as well as talent, originality, and intelligence.
The necessity of distinguishing oneself increases during the course of one's career. While the dissertation is largely credited to the supervisor, the selection of the postdoctoral project and its execution is made independently. More often than not this first autonomous work is the making or breaking point of continuing on the path to a career in the sciences. A 10-14 hour day and a regular presence in the laboratory even on week-ends are custom among scientists conducting experimental research.
It is interesting to note in this context that fellows at English colleges, even up to the end of 19th century, were not married. This celibacy probably was instantiated so that they could devote their entire energy to science. During the first half of the 20th century, when the first women became professors they remained of course unmarried and the daily chores of the house were delegated to a housekeeper. Male academics of that time usually had a wife, who did not hold a job; and then there were of course servants.
Today having servants is considered very unusual and virtually unaffordable. Ideally the male half of a partnership pitches in doing chores around the house. With the presence of children, however, the physical strain and temporal involvement is usually higher on the part of the woman and the shortage of time turns into an inevitable problem. It is necessary to show strong dedication to science to attain any kind of autonomous research or teaching position. This may not be possible if the burden of family responsibilities is too great. It is therefore not uncommon for the woman to subordinate her career to that of her husband's to solve this dilemma. She may then decide on a career where she can coordinate family and job better - a job that requires less energy, less engagement, and less time than that of an independent scientist. Or she may decide against having children. Such a decision is normally not demanded of men, it is usually inconsequential to their career if they have a family with children or not.
These are weighty causes that there are few women in leading positions and those who are, are more likely to remain without children than their male colleagues.
Part-time and time-outs from work can endanger a career
It has often been demanded that the possibility of part-time work for women as well as for men be facilitated. Parental leave with guaranteed reinstatement is being propagated. This may be the correct path in some cases and may even provide a temporary respite. Even a prolonged illness must not necessarily mean the end of a career and men engaging in other time consuming projects such as secondary employment, volunteer work or sportive activities integrate these into their regular work schedules without problems. One has to take into consideration though, that the activities of a scientist are individual and cannot be replaced by others. To such work applies: It is the own project that suffers and not that of the boss. In these circumstances job-sharing is often not a feasible option since observations have to be made personally and books have to be read personally, it is not the same when someone else recounts the contents. A part-time PhD student will only be offered the most boring project, one that requires no urgency and soon her group will not take her seriously anymore. Some experiments are simply not possible to conduct by someone working part-time. Long-term time-outs are risky since re-entry may fail when the material which has been missed during that time cannot be regained and much of the skills and capabilities already gained have become obsolete. In the sciences everything moves at a very rapid pace (this may certainly differ between disciplines) and taking off one or two years may very well mean the end of a career. Of course there exist extremely talented people, who are able to regain their footing, but a new start is in any case difficult and deficits have to be compensated for by an enormous amount of discipline and diligence.
Examples from other individualistic professions may serve to illustrate better: a tennis player who only trains half as much as her colleagues will soon not be able to participate in her club's tournaments anymore. An artist who has not created any work for two years will not be able to mount an exhibition and will even have to fear that her name be forgotten. A violinist playing second voice in an orchestra can even with little practice hold this job part-time. For the concert master this is not possible since her personal experiences make her unique and therefore irreplaceable. In the sciences concessions in regard to work quality cannot be made. It is less problematic to adjust the quantity of work to more flexible time periods.
Time is money.
Need science and family be mutually exclusive? Surely there are many women who are deterred from pursuing a career in the sciences when the expected workload seems to be overwhelming, even if they could engage in this profession with enthusiasm and creativity. Is it fair if women have to expend a larger amount of motivation and energy because of familial duties placing a greater demand on them? The qualifications leading to a scientific career are, from a biological viewpoint, completely unrelated to motherhood. Are there ways not to demand this decision of women but, more or minder as with men, to let aptitude, qualification, and performance decide?
Raising children can be exhausting and time consuming but women who have made a successful career for themselves look back on that time also as a happy and rewarding experience. There are excellent day-care centres, and under favourable circumstances it is sometimes even better for the children to spend much time with their own age-group supervised by professional educators as alone with a possibly frustrated and unsatisfied mother. In recent time the participation of the fathers in raising the children has increased considerably. This is not only appreciated from the wife's viewpoint in decreasing her workload but is also in the interest of the children.
However even if it is understood that somebody else can clean up the floor, do the washing, change the baby, and pick up the toys, it is expensive. Sufficiently subsidised places in day-care centres with long opening times and short vacations are rare. But those are not the only expenses. The shopping and cooking has to be done, the clothes cleaned and mended - the entire housekeeping budget is burdened. And time is money, if one would be able to afford a nanny or a housekeeper it would not be too bad. This is where a German paradox comes into play: When the children are grown the parents usually have enough money. But now they do not need it for their children, since schools and universities are free in Germany. But when the children are young the parents are just starting out in their careers and do not have much money. And day-care is not free or even easy to come by as in other countries. It is extremely expensive.
There already is an unfavourable trend emerging: the average age of new mothers is increasing significantly. One would assume from this that many women who are at the age when it would be most natural to have children decide against it. Perhaps because they believe that they would not be able to afford them either financially or career-wise. It is also, in a scientific career, not obvious where an interruption or a temporary easy-going is opportune. If one is already head of a research group it is comparatively easy to delegate lab work, but the guidance of such a group requires a constant presence. Also the need to establish oneself in the scientific community is imperative, either at conferences or through independent contributions. The time of one's post doctoral position is determinative for the future career. For the first time one is solely responsible for a project, it is a measure of one's originality and independence. Perhaps the time as an undergraduate or as a PhD student is a more opportune moment; the project would not be exclusively one's own. If there were not the lack of money.
The CNV-Foundation for the promotion of Science and research intends to help young and talented women to follow up their career as scientists even with children. The foundation addresses scientists of all nations, working on their doctoral thesis in the experimental sciences as well as medicine in a German research institute or university. The foundation provides funds intended to reduce the work load of household chores and child care in order to gain time and flexibility for research activities.
We hope that our foundation may help to increase the contribution of highly qualified women to frontier science in Germany.
Tübingen, in March 2004
- CEWS - Center of Excellence Women and Science
- EMBO - The European Molecular Biology Organization
- EPWS - European Platform of Women Scientists
- GSCN - German Stem Cell Network
- MPG - Max-Planck Gesellschaft - Förderung von Wissenschaftlerinnen
- MPI - Max-Planck Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie- Abteilung Genetik
- Bayer Foundation