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7 .
The Unfinished Agenda
A shortage of female role models in academic institutions
is often cited as a reason that more women do not remain
in research careers. Unfortunately, because many highly
trained women leave academia for other pursuits, women
continue to be underrepresented at the top of the ladder in
academic science. Senior women scientists at Rockefeller
and elsewhere, who stand at the pinnacle of their profes-
sion, provide aspiring scientists with the most powerful
models of independence, perseverance, and achievement.
Economic considerations also affect the career decisions
of women scientists. For anyone who completes a
doctorate in the life sciences, a significant investment
of time and money is required to build an independent
research program that will attract job offers. While
working to achieve this goal, postdoctoral investigators
earn approximately $45,000 per year—and often much
less—well into their thirties, and still the prospect of a
higher salary or a permanent position may be elusive.
A woman who becomes an independent investigator
must—like her male counterparts—raise support for
her research in a climate where funds are short and
competition fierce. All scientists face these funding
challenges, but the obstacles for women may be greater.
For example, women may be at a disadvantage in applying
for grants, because unconscious male bias can enter into
award decisions even on the most enlightened funding
review boards.
In addition, the situation may be complicated by biology
itself. The arduous and often insecure early stage of a
woman’s professional career frequently coincides with her
childbearing years, sometimes creating a painful dilemma.
While some women choose to postpone motherhood until
they have secured a faculty position, others leave academic
science for pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, or
other entities that offer higher compensation and/or more
supportive policies for parents with young children. All these
factors contribute to the inadequate representation of women
in high ranking positions at biomedical research institutions.
Agata Smogorzewska and her daughter, who attends the on-campus
Child and Family Center.
The Rockefeller University has created a family-friendly
environment that is especially supportive of tenure-
track scientists like Agata Smogorzewska, M.D., Ph.D.
Young laboratory heads at Rockefeller have an extended
“tenure clock” as opposed to the customary six years
allotted at many institutions. This generous time frame
allows women scientists—whose childbearing years may
coincide with the pre-tenure period—to take a mater-
nity leave without jeopardizing their chances for tenure.
High-quality, affordable daycare for children of the
University’s scientists is provided on campus by
Rockefeller’s Child and Family Center. Speaking of the
Center, Dr. Smogorzewska said, “It is really wonderful
to know my daughter is in good hands while I am
working in my lab.” Rockefeller is also the rare institution
where graduate students receive paid maternity leave and
scientists have access to on-campus subsidized housing.