At the University where I did my PhD, male PIs far outnumbered female PIs in the School of Biological Sciences. The Head of School and all the Heads of Departments were male. The faculty lists of other universities show a similar story – and this is in life sciences, the science subject most dominated by girls at A-level. Gender balance among fellows of Royal Society is even more skewed, perhaps reflecting the wider scope of the Society, at 5% female.
These unbalanced ratios are not seen at school, university or even at post-doc level, so there is a time early in academic careers when more women than men leave academic research. The UK Resource Centre for Women in SET and the Royal Society of Chemistry commissioned a report to find out why. The report concluded that the lack of women in many areas of academia can seem isolating and off-putting; and an academic career demands a working life dictated by experiments and deadlines, with no room for part-time work or career breaks. The report also notes that both men and women are put off by the difficulties of life in academia, but more men than women are happy to make the sacrifices.
There are organisations and individuals calling for change, and providing support for female researchers at all stages of their careers. I have collected them below – feel free to get in touch if you know of any others.
Please note that many of these funds are available to men who require flexible working times and support for dependants. Most of them are not open now, but call for proposals annually or bi-annually.
Fellowships and grants
L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award: Four women each year who are early in their academic careers are awarded a £15 000 fellowship to be spent on anything from funding childcare to buying equipment or attending conferences.
EMBO fellowships: Long-term fellowships and the Young Investigator Programme are sympathetic to supporting dependants and career breaks for childcare. Both deadlines have passed for this year, but both schemes will run again.
Funds for Women Graduates: Living expenses for women PhD students in the UK, including emergency for funds for women with unexpected financial crises.
The Daphne Jackson Trust: Fellowships for women who have taken a career break of two or more years for family or health reasons. Fellowships usually last two years and are based in university or industry laboratories, where the fellow can take on a research project and retrain in the previous field of expertise or in a related field providing more opportunities.
Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship: Early career fellowship from the Royal Society for up to five years of living and research expenses for researchers with flexible or part time working requirements. Fellows can claim for family support funds during the fellowship.
Other useful links
British Ecological Society Mentoring Scheme pairs early-stage female researchers with more senior women working in ecology. The deadline for applications is over for this year, but keep it in mind for next year because it is a great initiative.
The FEBS|EMBO Women in Science Award celebrates the best of women in science.
Universities and departments can commit to the Athena SWAN charter which requires fair employment practice and rewards excellence.
Student Parents gives advice, including financial help, for students with children.
Recommendations for women in science by Dr Seirian Sumner & Dr Nathalie Pettorelli from the Institute Of Zoology, Zoological Society of London.