Among the various difficulties that women experience when they embark on a scientific career, a big one is how to balance the challenges of work with raising a family. (In principle men could face the same challenges; in practice the burden usually falls on women. Individual cases will vary.) Science is extremely competitive, and it’s generally not a 9-to-5 job. The years when you might be at your scientifically most productive can be precisely those years when you want to have kids. I’m not familiar myself, but I understand that raising kids actually takes up some of your time.
So it’s great to see the National Science Foundation trying to do something to help. The White House just announced a major new initiative aimed at giving parents new flexibility in their careers. As explained in this press release, the general focus is flexibility, which is a great idea anyway: letting grant recipients defer for a year, and cutting down on the demands for investigators to travel to NSF headquarters when applying or renewing. (Via New APPS.)
These are tiny steps, and there are many other hurdles women face in academia other than the timing of their grants. But every little bit helps, and it’s certainly good to know that someone upstairs is paying attention.