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Experts point to difficult position of female researchers

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Prague, Dec 27 (CTK) – Some 300 experts from the Czech Science Academy’s (AV) 29 institutes have signed a letter to its leadership, in which they warn of the disadvantageous position of young women in research.

They can compete with their male colleague only until they have children. Then, their chances of winning grants and filling key posts in research centres are declining rapidly, the letter says.

The initiators of the appeal, Alena Fornuskova, Veronika Javurkova and Klara Petrzelkova, from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the AV, turned to AV President Eva Zazimalova as “the patron of women in science.”

They point to the problems that young women in research face after they defend a doctorate and should start their scientific career and leave for a stint abroad. They are usually around 30 and are deciding to become mothers.

If young scientists do not undergo a foreign stint, their chances of gaining a key position in a research centre and a grant are considerably diminishing.

“Consequently, young mothers are almost prevented from applying, for instance, for a junior project of the Czech Science Foundation (GA CR), regardless of their results so far,” the authors of the appeal write.

Junior projects are actually the only competition for starting scientists dealing with basic research in the Czech Republic.

Moreover, after maternity leave, women with children have fewer publications as well as a lower number of students and teaching hours than their male colleagues or childless women. This leads to their disadvantaged position in career, the authors say.

This is reflected in the supported standard projects of the GA CR in 2016-2017 of which women led only 23 percent.

Many women leave science because of these obstacles, and the society are thereby losing talents as well as economic profit, Petrzelkova says.

The initiators of the letter propose four measures to improve the position of women in science. They want to establish a new contest that would assess the interesting character of projects and the bidders’ motivation rather than the number of publications and quotation rate.

They also say the GA CR should also take it into consideration whether a postdoc stint abroad is necessary for a junior project, and if so, it should financially support a stay of the researchers’ whole families abroad.

Besides, the letter signatories ask the AV for a single subsidy to babysitting for those who decide to return to work from maternity leave soon and for setting up subsidised child-groups to look after children over one year as an alternative to nurseries.

Zazimalova said support for researchers who have families was important. “We can naturally decide to earmark part of the money in our budget for these purposes,” she said at the AV Assembly in reaction to the letter.

She also said she would discuss this broader problem with the new labour and social affairs minister.

Some social prejudices about the role of women are worsening the position of researchers who are mothers at the same time, Petrzelkova said.

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