The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched an initiative to help retain junior scientists with family commitments, offering supplementary grants allowing them to go on leave for up to 1 year.
Under the new grant program, postdocs and principal investigators who have their first independent NIH grant, such as the R01, are eligible to receive up to $50,000 for equipment or hired help to keep the lab running in their absence while they give birth, care for a sick relative, or experience other “critical life events.”
“NIH is dedicated to fostering a well-trained biomedical-research workforce, which also involves supporting family-friendly policies and programs that balance work and family life for all biomedical researchers,” a spokesperson for the NIH Office of Extramural Research said.
This initiative may be a step toward helping to fix science’s “leaky pipeline,” in which nearly half of women scientists in the U.S. leave full-time research after having their first child. Although men and women receive NIH postdoc grants at about the same rate, only 26% of these women receive R01s when they complete their postdoc, compared with 35% of men.
However, the grant does not address bias against mothers in science due to concerns that they won’t be as productive as their child-free or male colleagues. “Hiring and promotion practices tend to underscore a widespread belief across U.S. academia that academic scientific research demands levels of dedication and concentration that are incompatible with ordinary caregiving responsibilities,” Mary Blair-Loy, PhD, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, told Nature.