“I just can’t get it all done”

Female researchers left with the short end of the stick during the crisis


MAASTRICHT. Many researchers have to combine their education and research with caring for children. That causes friction. It is mainly women who have too little time for research and subsidy applications. They are left with the short end of the stick, says the FEM network at Maastricht University. That is why they have addressed the issue with subsidy supplier NWO.

The board of FEM, a UM network that promotes the empowerment of women and female leadership, wrote a letter to the Dutch Research Council (NWO) last week. The reason was the announcement by NWO not to extend the deadline for submissions for a VIDI (subsidy of up to 800 thousand euro for experienced researchers). “This decision will have serious consequences for women in science and researchers with care tasks,” FEM twittered. Action group Athena’s Angels (non-Maastricht professors Eveline Crone, Naomi Ellemers, Judi Mesman and Ineke Sluiter) also feels that women will be disadvantaged and approached NWO.

It is already apparent from conversations with editors and the number of submissions to journals that women have written fewer articles during the lockdown, FEM writes. Especially because of a disproportionate distribution of care tasks at home, the letter states. They simply no longer have time to write subsidy proposals. FEM fears that this will ultimately have repercussions on promotions or tenure.
Frustration among female academics is not limited to NWO applications. Rianne Fijten, one of the five board members of FEM and senior scientist at Maastro Clinic, for example, pulled out of the application for a grant from the Hanarth Fonds that finances scientific research in the field of artificial intelligence and rare types of cancer. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, she has been working from home caring fulltime for two children, one is almost two, the other is four. “My husband is a physiotherapist; his work in the practice has continued. The fund has a deadline of 2 June, but lately I have just been stressed out – ‘I just can’t get everything finished, I have to do this and I have to do that’. Then I thought: ‘If they don’t push the deadline forward, forget it.’ It is impossible.” It is a struggle with oneself, as a scientist, as an employee who wants to do a good job, and as a mother, she admits, “but it is particularly disappointing because you know that you will get stuck on the academic ladder. You publish less because of pregnancies. So you are already trailing behind. The fewer subsidies you bring in, the slower your career progresses. I want to become an assistant professor next year, I have already discussed that with my superior, but how can that happen without subsidies? I feel I am constantly under pressure. I wonder how the research world, including NWO, will ensure that we get a fair chance.” 

Last Wednesday, Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article on the same subject: “Male scientists benefit from this pandemic. They receive grants more often than their female colleagues and they publish more.” The Diversity & Inclusion Office of Erasmus University warns against this divide in a so-called whitepaper, the paper wrote. Head of the Rotterdam Diversity Office, Semiha Denktaş, touches on a sore point just like Rianne Fijten. Denktaş says in Trouw: “Your chances of funding are reduced if you publish less.” And that is damaging to your career.

FEM will organise a digital round-table discussion on Thursday 28 May about the consequences of the pandemic for education and research. “Research requires time and space to breathe and be creative. This is not something you can squeeze in, in-between playing with Lego, preparing lunch and doing the washing,” is the message.

“I just can’t get it all done”