Balancing act is main bar to women in science

February 20, 2004

The struggle to balance work and family is the main challenge faced by female scientists and engineers in academe, according to a study presented to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

While harassment, time management, credibility and isolation were cited as significant obstacles, three-quarters of the female junior lecturers surveyed felt that juggling a career with a family was the most difficult to resolve.

Sue Rosser, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, told last week's AAAS meeting that her results were overwhelming.

Five surveys of 450 female academics at small liberal arts colleges and large research universities in the US produced consistent results that show a need for more family friendly policies.

"By the time a woman completes her doctoral degree and postdoc work, she is typically in her early 30s - an age where there is competition between the tenure clock and the biological clock," Dr Rosser said.

Baroness Greenfield's report SET Fair , which explored the difficulties faced by women in science, highlighted the problem in UK academe. In 1999, women made up 40 per cent of junior lecturers in science, 24 per cent of UK senior lecturers and 11.6 per cent of UK professors. The figures are slightly higher than those in the US.

Julia, a research fellow in pharmacology on a five-year contract at a top UK university, says she felt sidelined because she has a family. "I haven't published enough, of course, and after two lots of maternity leave you can't remain high profile," she says.

Daphne did not take time off from her career to be a full-time mother and she found juggling her time difficult. "You are judged by what you produce, which is not very compatible with having children. It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it possible," she says.

Sue Rosser's research will be published next month in her book The Science Glass Ceiling .

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