Supporting early career women scientists during the pandemic

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, early career women scientists faced significant barriers to academic success. Now, with additional caregiving and homeschooling responsibilities, they face greater domestic burdens that may impact their career productivity.

Authors Dr. Michelle Cardel, an assistant professor of health outcomes and biomedical informatics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and UF College of Medicine, and Dr. Diana Montoya-Williams, a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, outline recommendations for academic institutions in an article published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society titled “Preventing a Secondary Epidemic of Lost Early Career Scientists: Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Women with Children.”

Their recommendations include accommodating flexible work arrangements and creating an infrastructure for identifying family care resources when childcare facilities are closed. To combat barriers to grant submissions and funding success, the authors provide suggestions for funding agencies, including offering “women-only” pilot and career development grants, extending grant submission and current grant funding periods, providing administrative supplements and increasing funding opportunities for early career researchers.

A survey conducted prior to the pandemic found that women faculty members conducted more service-related work than their male counterparts. COVID-19 presents even more opportunities for service that may not improve odds of tenure and promotion. Implementation and evaluation of policies to ensure equity in service loads and academic promotion are essential, the authors say.

“Importantly, we recognize nearly everyone in the world has encountered substantial barriers and difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors write. “This piece highlights the problems that have been prevalent for a subset of academics—women early career investigators with family responsibilities—and addresses their specific issues. However, lessons learned in this context could help inform strategies to recruit and retain all women within academia, regardless of caregiving status, racial/ethnic minority status, or membership of another underrepresented group. It is critical that academic institutions work to proactively retain their early career researchers who may leave academia if the necessary support is not provided.”