Designing a career ladder for women postdocs in science

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Belinda-Lee-HuangHow to improve the leadership balance of women in science is a much debated area. Of the world’s researchers, just 30 percent are women, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. And even though a growing number of women attend university, many quit at the highest levels that are needed for a research career.

One of the organizations that is actively involved in this debate — and finding solutions — is the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). Since 2009, the NPA has been working with institutions to support the advancement of postdoc women in academic careers through the NPA ADVANCE project funded by the National Science Foundation. The NPA focuses on adapting and dissemination promising institutional practices that help women postdocs successfully transition to faculty careers.

An NPA project funded by the Elsevier Foundation examines promising practices found in professional societies and associations that aim to help postdoc women successfully transition into academic careers. Through a screening survey, NPA was able to identify the main challenges faced by postdoctoral women: career-life balance, lack of mentoring, lack of childcare and family obligations. Participants included individuals who worked at research institutions, postdocs, and tenure track-seekers.

“We have found significant leakage in the pipeline during the family formation years,” said Dr. Belinda Lee Huang, Executive Director of the National Postdoctoral Association.
These results formed the basis for two focus groups, held at the NPA Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, last year. The aim was to identify primary areas in which professional societies and associations could play a role in advancing the careers of postdoc women. The focus groups called for mentor matching activities, fellowships for postdocs, career seminar, networking, and childcare at meetings.

Read more about the National Postdoctoral Association