New NSF Policies Provide Flexibility for Researchers Who Juggle Family and Career

September 26, 2011

The White House and the National Science Foundation announced new policies on Monday that are designed to provide greater workplace flexibility for postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty members who are juggling careers and families and to eliminate some of the barriers that commonly deter women who might otherwise pursue careers as scientists and engineers.

The 10-year plan, the "NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative," will allow researchers who receive NSF grants to delay their awards for up to one year to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child, and will allow principal investigators to apply for stipends to pay their research technicians and similar staff members to maintain labs while the researcher is on family leave.

For researchers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields who review the grant proposals of their peers, the NSF will expand opportunities for virtual reviews to limit the need for travel and the need to arrange care for dependents when the reviewer is away. The NSF also will encourage universities to put in place their own policies to provide more flexibilities, such as by extending the tenure clock for faculty with family obligations.

"Too many young women scientists and engineers get sidetracked or drop their promising careers because they find it too difficult to balance the needs of those careers and the needs of their families," said Subra Suresh, director of the NSF. "This new initiative aims to change that, so that the country can benefit from the full range and diversity of its talent."

Women earn 41 percent of Ph.D.'s in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, according to the White House, but they make up only 28 percent of tenure-track faculty in those fields.