Giving a green light to women in science

How far has gender equity really come? ANU researcher REBECCA SWEET explores the challenges of balancing a career in science with being a parent.

My first research project investigated how a fruit fly digests food. The project inspired me to dedicate my career to scientific research.

Ten years and a PhD from Yale later, I am advancing my research on autoimmune disease as a postdoctoral fellow at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR).

It's at this moment that I find myself at a crossroads.

I'm faced with a choice I never thought I would have to make.

It is a choice women have been fighting for years not to make. My career or a family?

The work I do is important, for increasing health, and for increasing knowledge.

But, success in academic science is measured by publications of original research, often proportional to the time invested.

Publications are required for successful grant applications. Grant money is critical as it pays for the salary of the scientist, their support staff, the experiments that extend our knowledge of how biology and diseases work, and finally the publications that are key to continued funding and employment. 

In this competitive environment taking time away from your research every day, often in an unpredictable fashion, to raise your family means limiting your ability to compete.

And there lies the choice that women in science are facing: career or family?

A choice that often sees science lose brilliant young women. Women that science needs.

Many major diseases are not cured, and treatments are often inadequate.

Only with 100 per cent of our best minds, both male and female, will we be able to understand diseases fully and develop better treatments and cures.

To achieve this, we must do a better job to retain the brightest women in science.