So a lot of people, for example Erin McKiernan and TSZuska share my opinion that the recent piece in Nature kind of misses the point in trying to show that it is a piece of cake to combine a career in academia with being a mom. However, when I talk about this with friends or with my husband, their comment is often:”So who cares when women quit science because they want to stay home with their kids? What if these women don’t want academic careers, but they just want to be a stay-at-home mom?” I find it hard to formulate a good answer to this, because sure, if women want to stay home then that’s their choice. But I think that often it is not their choice to leave academia, but it is the academic culture that makes it incredibly difficult to pursue an academic career as a woman/parent/both.
As Zuska says:
“But every time we devote words and energy to discussing How Women Can Be Mothers And Scientists Too! we are not discussing What The Hell Is Wrong With Science And How Can It Be Fixed.“
So let’s move on to what I think can be done to fix this.
First off, it would be great if having babies and putting those babies in daycare would be easier, especially when you’re a post-doc and you don’t have all the money to arrange help in any way you would want. But this is not really changing science, it is just changing the environment around us a little bit.
What would also be great is if you could be a scientist also if you don’t love insecurity about your job. It would be awesome if there were more research associate/staff scientist type of positions for those of us who LOVE to do science but who HATE the fact that science can only be done on a short-term contract OR on a super-hard-to-get tenure track position that in itself means tons of insecurity in terms of getting grants. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a science job that doesn’t come with tons of disappointment…?
Next, it seems like right now it is impossible to take some time (i.e. few years) off to take care of children when they are very little. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that and then be able to come back as an academic scientist? I sure would consider it. Or work part-time for a bit when your children are little.
Finally, for women it would be beneficial if grants and papers would be judged either anonymously or with only your last name on it. In comparison with the two items above this seems like something that can be pretty easily implemented right?
All this is coming to you from a disgruntled post-doc who just heard that she didn’t make the cut to be interviewed for a TT position in the home country and who is in a lab where funding is running out, while desperately trying to find grant money to support myself. I'm going to go dream about this fairytale land where you never have to worry about grants and you can do science with the unicorns.