Family and a career in neuroscience: Child-care award helps UB researcher balance both

Pursuing a career in the sciences and raising small children isn’t easy, but some pro-fessional organizations are starting to step up

Release Date: October 3, 2018 This content is archived.

“These meetings are critical mostly for the networking opportunities and contacts they make possible. Attendance affects every aspect of your science. ”
Caroline E. Bass, PhD, Assistant professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As far as awards go, the dollar amount was humble. Last spring, University at Buffalo researcher Caroline E. Bass, PhD, was notified that she had been chosen to receive a child-care award of 400 Euros, approximately $463, to attend the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum in Berlin in July.

But the impact was significant. Bass, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, was thrilled to be chosen. She was one of 29 international scientists from 15 countries to receive a child-care award from the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence. The network aims to improve global neuroscience by expanding opportunities for young scientists; it offered the child-care award, funded by private companies, for the first time this year.

The FENS-Kavli child-care award was open to any scientist with children and could be used either to pay a child-care provider at home or to take a child to the meeting and to pay for care while traveling.

With two children, ages 5 and 9, both with special needs and a parent with a serious, chronic health condition, traveling to scientific conferences is, at best, challenging for Bass. The award allowed her to attend the FENS biannual, a critical meeting in her field.

Bass studies the neurobiology of motivation and how substance abuse can rewire the brain. At the Berlin meeting, she and her colleagues presented exciting results from a new study.

“We believe it will explain what behavior this particular neural circuit is controlling,” Bass said. “The results were somewhat surprising, and we very much wanted feedback on it from other neuroscientists.”

Critical opportunities in person

With this meeting happening every other year and with heavy attendance from influential scientists in her field, it wasn’t something Bass felt she could pass up.

“These meetings are critical mostly for the networking opportunities and contacts they make possible,” she said. “Attendance affects every aspect of your science. The more people know of your work, the more opportunities will open up and the more likely you are to have papers published in higher level journals and get grants funded. It’s just easier to judge the quality of a scientist’s work when they explain it in person. It’s hard to get around that.”

David Dietz, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, said that the award was noteworthy for several reasons.

“This award recognizes Dr. Bass’s outstanding research," he said," while at the same time highlighting the importance of programs like this that allow our UB scientists to fully realize both their research aspirations and a healthy family life.”

For young parents who are scientists, it’s a constant challenge.

“This is actually the number one problem of my career,” Bass said. “I’ve had to turn down quite a few opportunities because I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out the child care.”

To balance her multigenerational family obligations with her career, Bass, like many colleagues, has had to be resourceful. On occasion, she has taken her children out of school briefly to attend out-of-town meetings. She sometimes drives her children down to her sister in Virginia, who watches them while Bass attends meetings in Washington, D.C. That also means hiring a caregiver for her mother who is on dialysis, while Bass is away.

“Right now, I’ve balanced taking my kids out of school for a week in the fall and then they spend a few weeks with family in the summer,” said Bass. “That allows me to attend two events per year. I would consider this to be the bare minimum in order to maintain relevance as a scientist.”

Flexibility is key

A key advantage of the FENS-Kavli award was that it could be used flexibly for any type of child care, either on-site or at home.  And the value Bass got from the meeting was immeasurable.

“Attended by over 7,300 neuroscientists from across the globe, the meeting brought together a good mix of world renowned scientists and trainees at all stages of their career,” she said. “I was able to make connections with several international groups, attend training sessions on cutting-edge techniques, and see presentations from leaders in my field, which gave me a great perspective on where my general area of research is going.

“The meeting was also extremely family-friendly. Children were encouraged to attend. It was very common to see parents with strollers walking through poster sessions. Some parents even did their presentations with their babies right there next to them. The 2018 FENS meeting was the most inclusive meeting I have attended, with ample presentations from women and underrepresented groups, and clear support for working parents.”

Sharing the news of her child-care award attracted interest both internally at UB and from colleagues at other institutions who also are trying to balance a scientific career while raising young children. In particular, Bass said, there is significant interest from UB graduate students actively seeking feedback on how to pursue science while also having a family.

“I know the next generation of scientists is looking at these issues,” said Bass. “Part of the leaky pipeline is the perception that children and science are not compatible. Programs like the one that gave me this award demonstrate a commitment to addressing these issues. It’s important to point out that these programs help out fathers as much as mothers.”

For more information on this topic, Bass suggests a recent opinion paper on “How to tackle the child care–conference conundrum” published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.




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