I am a parent. I am a scientist.

In July 2023, I attended an international conference for which I was one of the main organizers. The thing was that I had to bring my 6-year, 3-year, and 7-week-old kids. What stood out to me was that people constantly wanted to talk about my kids and no longer seemed to see me as an accomplished researcher. After a while, I realized that all the ‘baby talk’ wasn’t a reflection of myself but of the other attendees sharing their own experiences. With this story I want to highlight the lack of visibility our scientific community gives to our families.

Just a few days ago was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. There are countless programs intended to get young girls interested in science, or to support women to succeed in academia. Still, a very overproportionate number of women drop out of academia. The phenomenon is called the “leaky pipeline” : Up to the PhD, depending on the area of study, the number of men and women is almost equal. But after that? Why do more women than men leave academia after the PhD, and then even more after the first postdoc, and so forth? I think a lot has been said and written about some of the reasons. For example, a hostile, sexist work environment, about which thanks to #metoo more people dare to speak up about, can play an important role in scaring off non-male scientists. The difficulty of combining being a mother and the competitive world of grant- and paper-writing is another. It caused many grant programs to consider child-raising in their academic clocks, which might help to alleviate the inequality somewhat. But one issue I am seeing a lot in my peers is a different one and also concerns female scientists without children. It is an issue that made many women that I know drop out of academia after their PhD. And that “issue” is: Having an older partner. In the majority of cis-heterosexual relationships, the male part is older than the female part. Which means there is a high likelihood that the man gets a permanent or at least a somewhat secure job before the women does, and thus his job decides where the couple lives. This is true if both are scientists, and even more so if the man is not. But an academic career requires you to move. Doing a postdoc at the same institution where one did a PhD is not good for one’s career. Trying to start a junior group at one’s “home” institution, where the PhD supervisor is around, is difficult to sell in a funding application, and even ruled out by some funders. Academia asks for flexibility, for moving around and proving that one can perform in different environments. But how does this account for the realities of life? It is obvious that uprooting a family with kids is difficult. But I think what is often disregarded is that even without kids, in this flexibility criterion, women scientists have a clear disadvantage: Because of their, on average, older partners, who they met at some point in their life in some place they were studying or doing a PhD. If that partner has a secure job in this location – which is, again, likely, due to the on average further progressed career of the older partner – it is easier for the female scientist to leave academia and look for a job in the region than to convince her partner to start a new life in a new place, for just a few years of postdoc. Or for a non-tenured junior group leader position. From my personal anecdotical observations, this happens a lot. A lot of talented young female scientists convince themselves that the life and partnership that they have where they are is more important to them than staying in academia. And who can blame them? Yes, there are lots of men choosing to stay where their loved ones are over an academic career, too. But I feel like more of the men at least have the choice. The women feel like they don’t, because it would be insane to make their partner give up a secure job so that she can pursue an insecure career in academia. This is why I think we need a change in culture and grant conditions. The junior group leader program of the German Research Foundation, DFG, allows for applying to found a group at one’s “home” institution only for very well justified scientific reasons, e.g. the use of rare research facilities. All I am asking for is that the criteria can be broadened to include the location of partner or family as a valid reason. Of course it is important to have, at some point during the career, moved around, experienced different institutional cultures and changed perspectives. But isn’t this enough at some point? I have done a semester abroad during my Bachelor’s, a research semester abroad during my Master’s, moved across the country for my PhD, and now I am doing a postdoc abroad. After all this, is it really necessary to deny me the option to go back to where I did my PhD and where, incidentally, my partner has a permanent position in academia, i.e. something that’s almost impossible to find? One other – again, anecdotal – observation of mine is that women are more often ushered into science management than men. The institution where I did my PhD has a serious problem with underrepresentation of women from the postdoc level on, and has no female department head at all. But do they do anything to make female PhD graduates stay in academia? I have the impression that the opposite is happening, that the junior scientist support person in that institution’s HR actually recommends female PhD graduates to look into science management jobs instead of postdocs. Science management, i.e. administrative, positions seem to be the ideal jobs to “park” women – in the background, not in the spotlight where the men collect prizes for scientific discoveries. More female PhD graduates that I personally know are now going down the science management path than are staying on to try and climb the academic career ladder. And their male partners? Are staying in academia. Statistics show that, while the number of students at universities and PhD graduates increased over the last few decades, the number of academic researcher and professor positions has been almost stable. But the number of administrative positions has increased enormously, e.g. at UC Berkeley by more than 100% within 15 years. Are we creating these positions to get rid of talented female scientists that could otherwise compete for one of the rare scientific positions? I wonder if I should be cynically glad: This means less competition for me, because for various reasons many other women are discouraged from going where they may have dreamt going… before they found out how many obstacles academia is putting in their way.

An overlooked reason for women leaving academia!

The flexibility to move around which an academic career demands is especially disadvantaging female scientists, even without kids. Why? The average age difference in cis-heterosexual relationships and the according difference in career stage creates pressure to stay in a place where the male part in the relationship already has a job, instead of him giving it up so that they can move wherever the next short-term academic contract takes her.

International PR expert, Space Technology Commercialization Transfer advisor and role model for Space4Women Network by UNOOSA, Chiara Chiesa.

A Message With an Impact From Your Scientific Community!

From Philosophy to Microbiology…from Engineering to astrophysics, regardless which field is holding you in its grip, is firing up your curiosity… we can all agree on the fact that science is in no way boring, it rocks! Unfortunately, too many people choose a path/career out of fear for what they really want, what seems impossibly out of reach or is too ridiculous to expect. So they never dare to take that step towards their true purpose in life, never dare to ask the universe for it.  I am saying, you can fail at what you don’t want so, you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

girls looking at stars

Women in Astronomy: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going!

As a woman in a position of power in STEM, I’ve dedicated much of my energy to ensuring that future generations of young women are empowered and inspired to join the scientific community (particularly in a career in astronomy, but I guess I am a bit biased). For future generations of women to feel comfortable embracing a career in STEM, we must pave the way for them to pursue their personal and professional aspirations in a society that respects and appreciates their contribution. 


How planning around my menstrual cycle has made me more productive (and less overwhelmed)!

As a woman in science, you probably have or had a menstrual cycle. A cycle that affects us physically, emotionally, and also mentally. But it’s something that has been traditionally stigmatized. Something we keep private and don’t often share, especially when working. But that cycle can help us be more productive at work. We can plan the most suitable task for each phase. And most importantly, don’t feel guilty or ashamed when we are not as efficient as we would like at doing a task that is not the best for that phase. This cycle is a source of energy we can learn to harness!


Feminism in India: The Perspective of a common woman!

Feminism, something that everyone should be talking about, is a movement/emotion that rose against the inhumane accepted practices we have grown to consider normal in our society. It encompasses female infanticide, gender-bias, domestic violence, and female objectification that are crippling the women in our community. It fights for the right to education, the right to work, equal pay, and the right to safety to empower women.
One of my friends (a male friend who chose to stay anonymous) recently interviewed me on this topic, which is very close to my heart.

Introspect the media that surrounds us today

How Media continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes!

Even today we look at the fulfilment of gender roles as an achievement in our everyday lives. I researched literature around the way mainstream media continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes. Through my writing, I take you through the basics of gender and sex, history and mass media’s continuous portrayal of sticking to gender norms. I highlight how this gender perpetuation affects us unknowingly, and I draw inspiration from (and mention) the famous article ‘Doing Gender’ by West and Zimmerman. 

Boat into the sunset

Resilience: Adjusting your sails in times of a world-wide pandemic!

Resilience is a dynamic, evolving process, during this process, you identify yourself, you grow, you gain confidence, you dream bigger, you inspire others, you tap into your strengths and you improve yourself. As Ann Masten says “Resilience is ordinary magic…” Individuals all over the world have the ability to tap into their ‘magic’ and make use of their strengths, assets and resources. Now, more than ever, we need to build ourselves, support each other and maximize our strengths  in order to emerge as a resilient nation so that we can fight obstacles and fear, and in doing so, we can flourish.

sci comm

Why scientists need to be trained in science communication!

Scientists spend most of their time trying to improve the world through their discoveries. However, making these exciting discoveries without the ability to communicate their importance to a variety of audiences will severely diminish the potential of this work to positively affect society. To this end, we advocate for a comprehensive science communication training program to be implemented in universities, and a recognition for the value of science communication both within and outside of academia.

office space

Parenting as a Research Student in the Covid-19 Pandemic!

Whilst being locked in with a 1-year-old is hard work, I count myself lucky that (a) I only have one and (b) I imagine entertaining a 1-year-old I imagine is easier than a 4-year-old (c) I don’t have to compete for broadband with two teenage children. All parents out there, trying to manage the wellbeing of their housebound child(ren) and balance work, and find any item on their shopping list in the supermarket, and keep fit, and stay sane and maybe even home school, you are doing great.

Trust the process

A personal story of how life’s setbacks helped me discover myself!

I recently felt inspired by a video from Michael Phelps, where he talked about his struggles with depression and anxiety. It was interesting that someone whom the world considers immensely successful and seemingly having his life together is an actual human being who experiences similar issues to many other people. His story is very relevant to my life, as someone who recently experienced a rather drastic life transition. It broke me down to a level that I didn’t know was possible, but it’s also building me back up now into a person who is stronger and more authentic than ever. This personal story tells how setbacks can help you discover yourself, and how they don’t have to define you, but can be used as fuel to improve and to help others along the way.


On the impact of mentors and friends!

They say some people come into our lives for a short time, and others stay for a lifetime. But even if they were only in our lives for a very short time, that doesn’t mitigate the impact they’ve had on us. This includes both professional and personal influences in the form of mentors and friends, whose impact is sometimes felt long into the future. This article explores various types of impact which individuals can have on our life’s journey.

Black and white picture of the lower part of a woman's face.

Life goes on after sexual misconduct (or does it?)

This is the story of Clara, a fictional character, re-encountering a stalker at an academic institution, told by a third-person narrator. Clara was not provided any sense of closure after reporting circumstances of sexual misconduct to the school leading to a lack of sense of self. In other words, I am using my interest in creative writing to illustrate a type of trauma hindering the development and progress of a student. The academic culture needs to change such that students are treated as human beings, their needs are heard, and that policies can be implemented with a transparent due-process where perpetrators encounter tangible consequences for their behavior. A safe workplace is crucial for the professional development and retention of trainees.

Infertility: the unspoken sickness of healthy people!

“Making a baby is so much fun!” Luckily, for the majority of couples it is and it does not take particularly long for women to get pregnant. However, worldwide one in six couples have severe problems to conceive with an increasing tendency and I unfortunately drew the short straw. Before I was confronted with this topic, I did not know that so many people are affected and what it really means, because it is a taboo subject in our society. It took me quite long to understand that it is a disease like any other and that it can affect everybody no matter how healthy you are otherwise. Although our most private body zones are affected, we need stop hiding in shame and we need to open up in order to get the support and understanding that we need from our surrounding to live a more normal life.

Science Journalism

Science Journalism: The Communication Channel between Complex Research Findings and the General Public

Clinical speaking, the aim of a science journalist is to render very detailed, specific, and often jargon-laden information provided by scientists into a form that non-scientists can understand and appreciate while still communicating the information accurately. We want to be your communication channel… your bridge between complex scientific data and the theories of the general public.

Harriet Brooks

A new play tells the story of the 1st Canadian Female Nuclear Physicist!

Actor and playwright Ellen Denny is on a mission to tell the world about her great great aunt Harriet Brooks.

Growing up, Ellen knew there was a scientist in her family, but it wasn’t until she read Harriet Brooks: Pioneer Nuclear Scientist by Geoffrey Rayner-Canham and Marelene Rayner-Canham that she began to understand who her great great aunt truly was, and what she was able to accomplish. As an established theatre actor curious to try playwriting, Harriet’s story of perseverance and sacrifice was the igniting spark for Ellen to write her first play, entitled Wonder. Now, more than four years into the creation process, her passion for telling this story has only increased…

How do we encourage more women to get into STEM?

This article is a summary of a report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry on the diversity landscape of the Chemical Science. The vast majority of this report is focused on women, which are clearly underrepresented in chemistry, and science in general. Women account for only 35% of scientists in STEM and earn less than their male counterparts. The current research suggests that women are less confident when it comes to putting themselves forward for leadership positions or in salary negotiations.

Vine Forest

It’s not just in STEM: Sexism outside of work holds scientists back

Sexism in STEM is rampant; you don’t need me to tell you that. From 113 pages of sexual assault/harassment allegations (U of R, 2017) to the Google engineer memo (also 2017), there are dozens of examples each year of sexism inside STEM environments. But it isn’t just the sexism that women experience in their fields – at conferences, in the office/lab, etc. – that makes it harder for women to succeed in STEM. Misogyny and sexism outside of the workplace can also negatively impact women’s performance at work, and thus the progress of their career and their science. How do two things, seemingly happening in different spheres, overlap?


Professional Responsibility in Research Science (and the lack thereof)!

The job of a scientist is immensely rewarding – but also technically challenging, and often riddled with administrative and institutional red tape. Learning how to navigate these challenges is critical for mastering the practice of science and advancing early career scientists (students, interns, post-docs, etc). The role of good mentors can set the stage for success. However, there is little discussion about the damage that can be wrought by a bad mentor.

Problems of scientific publishing – Is it scientists vs. journals? 

I clearly remember the moment when my first paper was published – oh, how proud I was. Finally, I felt like a proper scientist! When I told my (non-academic) family about it, one of the first things they asked was Great, so finally you get something out of your work! How much did they pay you for it? My answer, actually a little bit embarrassed: Uhm, nothing. But I did not have to pay THEM for publishing it, so that´s great! They did not get it. Why should they?

The paper review, or: emotional rollercoaster, here I come!

You handed in your first paper a while ago, and now you are waiting on the journal’s response. You are annoyed with them taking so long to finish their review, but on the other hand, you are getting really nervous every time you open your e-mails because they might have answered you?

Maybe your first paper was already rejected, or you had it accepted with major revision, and now you are absolutely terrified and have the impression that you might be incapable of being a proper scientist?

It´s not just you!