Caroline J. Walker
walkerc at CLEMSON.EDU
Thu Jul 2 12:03:19 EST 1998
I have had the opportunity to compare some grants in the UK and in the US
and how they help those who have had career breaks.
In the UK, there is a BBSRC fellowship scheme that pays the
recipient for 5 years on the assistant professor scale and comes with some
running money. In the application you are invited to comment on whther you
have taken a break, which supposedly enables your productivity to be guaged
more accurately. Built into the grant is a guarentee of 6 months full paid
maternity leave. Also it is possible to relocate to another university if
your spouse has to move. These fellowships are general ones for men and
women, and only about 6-7 are awarded per year over the whole biological
sciences area. The Royal Society fellowships (same deal on pay and 5 years
long) set an upper limit on how many years past your PhD you can be - BUT,
if you have taken leave/worked part time you can prorate your "years since
PhD" and become eligible. There are also fellowship schemes designed just
for "returner women", but these only last for two years. In all cases
proposals are about 4-5 pages.
Applying for an NSF grant here I found that I had my PhD too long
to be eligible for a fellowship and had to apply for a full grant.
Inevitably not being in a faculty position made the application look
weaker. Anyway, I decided to skirt the fact that I had taken maternity
leaves and so my productivity rating suffered (the concensus from the group
here is that I should have mentioned it). The POWRE grants run by NSF are
especially for women, but I did not find them helpful. The money was only
for 18 months and it would be expected that you would be applying to move
to a different instituion. If one were to get the maximum award amount, a
salary of about 23K was possible if you skimped on supplies and bought no
equipment! The success rate for applications was aabout 10-15% and a full
15 page proposal was required.
My conclusions from all this was that I would rather have a scheme
which was more competative and provided a real chance for fewer candidates
getting up and running research wise. There's no way of achieving much in
a new place in 18 months (POWRE) and you would be having to submit for new
grants within a year of starting! With 5 years of decent salary you can
really get going and reestablish yourself before you have to compete for
I can see no reason why it should not be possible for the NSF at
least to allow prorating of "number of years since PhD" for their
fellowhips, and I think that this would help a number of women immediatly.
The other thing I would like to see changed is a reduction of the length of
all grant proposals. As they stand they take up way too much time to write
and I doubt that there's a significantly better record of choosing the best
candidates in the US compared to the UK! I think many women like myself
have to write for their own money while working another job to bring home
income, so this really hits hard. New asst professors are actaully paid to
take the time to do this and we have to compete with them! If the POWRE
grants are going to stay around (and I hope they get scrapped for something
useful), they should at least require a shorter proposal length.
The other problem of low salarys with POWRE is if you need to make
a geographical move and take spouse and family with you. My husband is
wonderful and supportive but I would never expect him to relocate for 18
months worth of work!
So how about all the money that is pumped into POWRE (which I
suspect is just a sop so the NSF to say "look we ARE doing something for
women....") and make a really effective women's fellowship scheme. Five
year fellowships (or 3 years with a renewal for 2 more pending satisfactory
performanc); 5 page application forms; space on the application to list
where and how long career breaks were; the possiblity of taking a break in
funding if another break is needed; make the grant moveable to help the two
body problem. Given that funds are limited this would mean that a few
women get a chance to come back into academics - but the one's that do get
a grant will have a real chance to prove thenselves. The awards will also
be very prestigious which will help applications for faculty positions.
There has to be a better way!
More information about the Womenbio