Research rewards are worth the effort for multitasking mothers

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The reasons women drop out of science are complex, and Timothy Roper and Larissa Conradt have hit on an important factor in their Correspondence 'Childcare not enough to make a science career family-friendly' (Nature 455, 1029; 2008). However, I don't see encouraging more women into science as either pointless or unethical.

Careers in science can offer enormous rewards to women. Moving into an academic environment has provided great opportunities for me as a mother, owing to its flexibility. I am now measured largely on my productivity, and my ability to multitask — honed by motherhood — is an asset as I juggle research, administrative duties and teaching.

I have worked in the male-dominated field of Antarctic research for the past 15 years, and I run a research programme looking at climatic warming impacts on the top predators, leopard seals. This work has been successful, thanks to my scientific team — which, incidentally, is mainly composed of women. As the mother of two children under the age of six, I suspect that a large part of my success has been due to the enduring support of my partner. I'm not going to pretend that it has been plain sailing, but I wouldn't have done it any differently.

Let's stop asking why there are so few women in science. Instead, let's turn the question round to ask how those who made it actually got there.

As scientists, we are skilled strategists, overseeing the conception of a new research initiative, then the project's gestation and its birth as a peer-reviewed article. These planning skills also sustain our lives outside the lab.

To those women embarking on the journey, I would say that it is not a road for everyone — but if, like me, you have a burning passion for your research, I would encourage you whole-heartedly to pursue it. It's a long journey, so pace yourself and plan — including your home life and time with your family in your plan. Sometimes you need to step back a little in order to move forwards.

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Rogers, T. Research rewards are worth the effort for multitasking mothers. Nature 456, 29 (2008) doi:10.1038/456029a

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