Mother and early career scientist – how to combine parallel roles?

About the author: Nóra Balzer is a 27-year-old Hungarian-German bio-informatician, married to a German scientist, and mother of 2-year-old David. In her doctoral studies, she aims at finding epigenetic changes in the offspring related to maternal obesity. She likes reading, writing and spending as much time with her family as possible.


(image from colourbox.com)

The desire to have a child and the wish to begin an academic career came at the same time into my life. Should I drop science to start a family? Should science drop me, ‘cause I wish to have children?

Science desperately needs women, and women need science, too. For example, first-generation air bags killed women at the speed of only 20 mph, because the male engineers did not foresee that breasts close to the wheel push airbags up towards the neck.

Mothers with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) background are a subgroup of women, who can widely increase the diversity of the research group. A different point of view as well as different experiences help a lot to gain new perspectives. However, it is a tough nut to crack to be a good mother of small children and to be a highly-motivated early career scientist at the same time.

Long experiments, extensive literature work, and scientific networking are all challenging, not only for a mother but for everybody. Most of the PIs, scholarships and universities are expecting singles as PhD students. However, more and more female graduate students are in the middle of their childbearing age with the wish of long-term relationship, marriage, and family.

My whole life, I will be thankful for the earlier generation of women scientists, who have been fighting for our possibilities today.

The University of Bonn is certified as a family-friendly university and it does a lot to let women succeed, even with a little baby by her side. The family-office offers a variety of child-care possibilities, such as:

(image from colourbox.com/Mego-Studio)
  • Several kindergarten-places, reserved for the students and the co-workers of the university. Be aware, if you want to have a kindergarten place in September, you have to apply one year before, because the places are provided in January. It is impossible to find a public place just in a few months.
  • The PME-family service offers an emergency-care solution, when the kindergarten is not an option. All students and co-workers of the University Bonn get this service 5 times a year for free. Why don’t you visit them in one of their open-days?
  • The ProKi flying-nanny service offers flexible child-care solutions whenever there is a conference, or an overnight experiment, etc.  A nanny can come and take care of your children.

Different family-friendly services and opportunities are offered at the University of Bonn, such as nursing-room, office with changing possibilities, child-seat rental and so on. Check out the University-Bonn offers and get know more about your possibilities. If you are a member of the immunosensation cluster, inform yourself how the cluster helps its co-workers with family.

Out of the University, there are a lot of programs and even a few scholarships that are aimed to support female scientists with small children. Why don’t you take your chance and apply for example for the Christiane-Nüsslein-Volhard scholarship, which is aimed to support mothers in the middle of their graduate studies.

Despite this amount of offers, I would not be able to do my PhD without a supportive background from my family. My husband takes a great piece of parenting to let me proceed in science. When I see, how much offers I got during my pregnancy and parenting, it is very sad and unequal that my husband didn’t get them. The question – Are we equal? – arises even in parenting.

(image from colourbox.com)

In Germany, women are well protected from loss of employment due to dismissal – from the beginning of pregnancy until 4 months following childbirth (“Schutzfrist”) through a dismissal ban (“Kündigungsverbot”). Both, moms and dads can take several months of parental leave, or they can both stay at home to take care of an ill child. Sad enough, but these are all possible (hidden) reasons for a boss to dismiss his co-worker and hire a single male/female instead. “Schutzfrist” and “Kündigungsverbot” are aimed to save woman from such situations.  What about the fathers?

“Mütterrente” (“mothers pension”), “Mutterschutz” (“maternity protection”), “Mutterschaftsurlaub” (“maternity leave”) are all amazing inventions of the German society, which all make it easier for women to take parallel roles. However, men are somehow less supported in parenting. Shouldn’t we support men, when they take the role to be a real father? Fatherhood is at least as special as becoming a mom.

I don’t believe in women-quotes in science. I want to be hired because of my knowledge, experience and skills and not to increase the number of females in science. Supporting males to become dads is the best way to support moms to succeed in science.


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  1. Pingback: How to square the circle – our new series: Family and Science | ImmunosensationBlog

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