Retaining Postdoc Mothers in an Academic Career

Ursula Keller and Anna Garry

Many female postdocs do not return to academia after their position ends. One way to increase retention could be fellowships specifically geared to the needs of postdocs who are also mothers.


The postdoc period of a scientific career—with its short-term contracts, frequent relocation requirements and limited openings for more stable, tenure-track positions—makes aspiring to a permanent academic career challenging even under the best of circumstances. Indeed, according to a 2015 study by the European Science Foundation, only 30 percent of postdocs opt to remain in academia rather than moving to industry or other career areas. For female scientists the picture is even worse; at our institution of ETH Zürich in Switzerland, for example, only 28 percent of 2014-15 postdocs across disciplines were females, and only 12 percent in physics in particular. Given that such a low percentage of female physicists stay in an academic career, what can be done to boost their incentives to do so?

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