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Challenges of a scientific career in motherhood

Challenges of a scientific career in motherhood

“I will not abandon my daughter,” assures her mother, Daniela Coelho Batista Guedes Pereira, professor of computer science and researcher in the field of artificial intelligence and head of the Informatics Department at the Federal University of Paraiba. Refers to the third daughter born with Dawn. Working in the same department is Natasha Correa Queiroz Lino, mother of two young daughters and tenured professor in the Graduate Program in Informatics. Daniela and Natasha both struggle with the effects of motherhood on their academic careers.

Natasha celebrates, in March this year, the inclusion of information about motherhood in the Sucupira platform, a national tool for evaluating postgraduate courses. But the struggle for equal conditions for scientific production between men and women does not stop there.

The Sucupira platform integrates the Capes Evaluation System, Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, “an institution linked to the Ministry of Education engaged in the expansion and standardization of postgraduate courses”. “But we still don’t know if there will be or how Capes will make decisions in favor of mothers. What is required is that Capes provide general guidance for all programs,” Natasha Correa reports.

“Each of the forty-five areas of knowledge in which Capes works has its own evaluation criteria, but there is a common philosophy for all: Scientific production – publishing articles in scientific journals with the greatest impact, so that references (citations) are employed among the scientific community. training of masters and doctors – gaining experience for work in the field of research; quality of student training; and the social impact of the programme. These and other items have different weights with scores ranging from 0 to 10.

Graduate programs in which professors produce few do not get a good final evaluation score, which ranges from 1 to 7. This score is one of the indicators for opening graduate programs with master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral degrees. In this context, mothers with young children, whether adopted or natural, face difficulties that lead to frustration and even cause them to abandon their academic career.

One Scientific study Addressing this topic presented by the Parents in Science group, 2,000 Brazilian researchers were interviewed. The results showed that the vast majority of respondents, 81%, reported that motherhood had a negative impact on their scientific career. Seven percent said it had a positive effect.

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in another place condition Publishing in the journal Nature, the researchers report that “gender bias is prevalent in science, particularly in STEM fields, where the presence of women decreases sharply throughout academic life.” This phenomenon is known as the “scissors effect” or the “leakage channel” and many studies have shown that most women leave academia after graduating from school at the post-doctoral level. The reasons are varied, but they mostly relate to motherhood, sexism, or unfair evaluations.

In Paraíba, the proportion of women in research activity in universities exceeds that of men by 19%, from scientific initiation to postdoctoral studies, based on data from the Paraíba Research Support Foundation (Fapesq-PB). In 2022, a total of 811 research grants were awarded, 477 (58.9%) of these grants are used by women and 334 (41.1%) by men.

The figures in Paraiba accompany data from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, the national research promotion agency, CNPq: “In the CNPq Index of Research Groups, women account for 50% of the total number of registered researchers. In the last 15 years, the proportion of women has increased by 7 points percentage “.

An outreach in the scientific community has made it clear that yes, being a mother and being a scientist is totally possible. The Parents’ Movement in Science appeared in 2016 to research the reality of motherhood in the academic community and to clarify what the mothers of researchers experience, so that the scientific field becomes increasingly diverse, welcoming, and open to the necessary modifications for the benefit of the researcher and for science itself.

In 2021, CNPq introduced the Lattes platform, where researchers report curricular data, to include a history of periods of maternity leave. This achievementIt is the result of the mobilization of Brazilian scientists that began in 2017, in Porto Alegre (RS), with the Parental Movement in Science (mothers and fathers in science).

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However, without clear and widely enforced welfare policies, women’s permanence in research will be threatened during the period during which they go through motherhood.

The researchers suggest that research institutions should re-evaluate their evaluation policies

When Daniela Coelho was pregnant with her second child, in 2006, she received the news that she had been approved in the public competition to become a professor at the Federal University of Paraiba. When the nomination was published, the baby was born at 15 days. “At 1 month old, he participated in a meeting in the rectory with the help of my employee. But when I started teaching and he reached 4 months, he stayed at home and no longer wanted to breastfeed,” said the teacher.

This is a report among the thousands of experiences experienced by female researchers around the world. Of course, when babies are born, mothers’ attention turns to the well-being of the little one, to breastfeeding, to taking care of an illness, often at night, or even to the simple needs of healthy development. Less time writing articles or devoting them to a professional career.

With an interest in implementing policies that recognize the impact on academic careers caused by motherhood, Natasha Correa argues that few federal universities in Brazil promote policies specific to women. While no national decision has been formulated, there are some specific examples, such as the Federal University of Pernambuco, which applies a correction factor for researchers who have had children in the past five years.

Another example is the evaluation of the Sociology area by the Heads Evaluation Committee. In this regard, procedures that recognize the effects of unequal conditions for scientific production between men and women have been considered. In the evaluation, the committee adopts compensatory incentive measures for professors and students who take maternity leave over a period of four years (referring to the evaluation period). “Permanent professors enjoying maternity leave, in any of the four years, will not be counted in the denominators for calculating intellectual production.”

At the Federal University of Paraiba, the Council of the Postgraduate Program in Political Science and International Relations has decided that “the fees/grades of pregnant teachers will be reduced by 50% in the four-year period or in the subsequent four-year period.”.

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Natasha Correa points out that by considering this determination alone, coexistence in the university department is indeed better, as colleagues no longer view the mother as a burden, responsible for lowering the course evaluation. The problem is that each committee sets its own rules. In computing we have nothing in this regard. This is why a national policy is so necessary, ”prof.

UFPB Informatics Officer Daniela Coelho came across many students who had not completed their graduation and had very little time left until the end of the journey. Few women among them. Without delay, the teacher sought out the students, conveying to them the motivation that she had developed in herself, with greater potential after the birth of her daughter with Down syndrome, who is now 14: “Don’t give up. Keep going. Day by day, see where you want to go.” to it, with the aim of reaching the goal.”

How organizations can support mothers in science

on Guide The Parents in Science group has published suggestions for how institutions can support mothers in science:

Adopting standards that take into account motherhood in all processes that include curricula evaluation, such as selection and accreditation processes in postgraduate programs, career advancement, funding, scholarships, and others.

Expanding the evaluation period of school curricula by at least two years for each child born or adopted during the evaluation period. The adoption of correction factors in the degree obtained in the analysis of the curriculum.

Provide the infrastructure and financial resources to ensure the continuity and progress of mothers in their careers. (Day care, grants and specific funding for mom-led projects).

– Ensuring career advancement opportunities for mothers.

Promote a more flexible and inclusive work culture that values ​​work-life balance.

Awareness of the need to create a comprehensive and welcoming environment for mothers.

Highlighting the role of mothers of female scientists in academic and scientific circles.

Photo: Reproduction/Secom Paraíba
Photo: Reproduction/Secom Paraíba