The culture of overwork in academia almost broke me, so I am working to change it

A World Wide Survey of Gender Discrimination Policies for Research Excellence: The Case of Brasilian Researcher Staniscuaski and the Non-profit Parent in Science

Funding agencies worldwide have to abolish the system barriers that have historically kept female academics out of moving forward in their careers, according to a coalition of organizations around the globe.

Besides MIS, the 17 endorsing organizations behind the report include the Association for Women in Science and 500 Women Scientists, both US non-profit organizations, and the European Platform of Women Scientists, a non-profit organization in Brussels.

A number of funders, which collectively control the annual distribution of billions of research dollars, say that they are interested in working with the organizations to roll the recommendations into their existing policies. Those funders include Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the European Research Council (ERC), the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

She received more grant rejections and fewer professional opportunities before she became a Parent than before, but her ability to advance was hampered because of a snowball of obstacles. “When I was compared to my peers, I was behind,” Staniscuaski says. I thought that was unfair. I didn’t become incompetent or lose my passion for science, I just had a break because I was raising my children.” Ultimately, she began advocating for gender-balanced policies in Brazil full time, setting her research aside and launching the non-profit organization Parent in Science in 2016.

In 2021, MIS held a conference to bring together groups studying gender discrimination in STEMM and to share the preliminary results of their global survey (the full report is expected to be published this year), which reached roughly 9,000 researcher-respondents in 128 countries, including parents and those without children.

The report includes good practices already in effect that can be used to build a scale of strategies for organizations to consider. Among the easiest to implement, according to Torres, are things such as rolling deadlines, and extensions and deferments for grants; application formats that allow scientists to explain lapses in productivity; and unconscious-bias training for grant reviewers coupled with an appeals process for when bias is suspected.

I see now that my choice to work hard was fuelled not only by my love for the work but also by systemic factors. Studies show that the risk of burnout is higher among young researchers (A. Boone et al. Front. There is more pressure to perform when there is a marginalized group. I can’t speak to the added pressure that affects many young women from minorities, those with early-career research, and scientists from countries with extreme gender discrimination.

There are dedicated committees for issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the other agencies. Kristina Archibald, director of the research grants and scholarships portfolio at NSERC, says that she will work with the committee to assess whether any of the report’s suggestions could enhance the agency’s existing practices. She thinks that if the data is taken into account by a parent’s status, it can help to determine whether the policy adequately supports mothers.

Why do I need to leave Slovakia? The challenges of research in a culture of toxic burnout: An example from an Austrian PhD student named An Educ

I left Slovakia to study in the United Kingdom at the age of 18, with a small suitcase and big hopes. I wanted to take advantage of opportunities that my parents had only been able to dream of growing up under a communist regime. I never thought of becoming a professor before I was 35.

More hours meant more results. Seeing my studies on digital reading translated into apps for children or family websites motivated me to do more. I put my work on a pedestal because of the impact it has on my health.

I thought I wasn’t the exception. There were five successful female psychology researchers interviewed in an article. An Educ. I realized that this is common for top-performing academics. I admire and like the people who interviewed them. By hiding behind passion I was excusing my contribution to a culture of toxic burnout in research. The pressures are even greater for women like me who are immigrants or non-native English speakers. It’s time to speak out.

I sacrificed a lot during my years as a temporary lecture and post-doc, especially when publishing an extra paper would have cost me my grant. A mentor told me that the passport to academia is publications, so I filled every spare moment with writing. I wore wrist splints after a doctor said ice would ease my carpal tunnel syndrome.

Not being a native English speaker, I had to put in extra hours for each paper. The fear of being misunderstood by using the wrong word added to the stress of conference presentations and translated into regular pounding headaches and fatigue, which I still experience.

The pressure to perform sucked me into a negative spiral. I was stressed when I felt no need to say no, I feared saying yes, and became more stressed. I cut back on spending time with friends and on sleep. My boyfriend told me that I was married to my computer, and that he saw me typing a paper while on the beach. I am known to the ticket inspector on the late night commuter train because I habitually overslept. My family was not surprised by my illness.

Through a combination of hard work and luck, I got a permanent position early in my career. As a result of my climbing the career ladder, the workload has only increased more with requests for mentor, review, committee memberships, and other voluntary contributions to professional societies. The costs of making a mistake are also higher: if my lower performance delays a large grant, that can jeopardize several people’s salaries.


Women in academia: what we do, what we shouldn’t do, and how we can help to promote diversity in the 21st century

But my survival anxiety has lessened. Norway has a better work life balance than the United Kingdom but starting a family and moving there helped. I found that taking my hobby of writing poetry seriously was the best thing that I had ever done for my mental health. I’ve learned how to manage my calendar better and block out time to write, but not to feel guilty for setting out-of-office replies.

The extreme workload of my early career was unhealthy for me, and it’s unhealthy for others. I want to undo my contribution to this toxic culture of overwork, especially for groups that are disproportionately affected.

I see it as my responsibility to promote definitions of academic success that are not tied to extreme working hours. In the book Inspirational Women in Academia: Supporting Careers and Improving Minority Representation (2023), my colleague Loleta Fahad, who is head of career development at University College London, and I interview female academics and administrators. We share where we failed, what we wish we had known when we started at a university, and what the people in power could do to address systemic discrimination.

There is no limit to knowledge or the discovery process, which makes science fervour. But being passionate about our work should not be equated with working extreme hours. And it should not put extra pressure on women from marginalized backgrounds.

In a statement to Nature, NAS president Marcia McNutt says that the NAS does not reserve a set number of places in each year’s election for female scientists or other under-represented researchers. She claims that the reforms to the membership process have helped include a more diverse group of scientists.

The NAS advises the nation on science and technology matters, whereas the American Academy honours research excellence. Election to the academies is considered one of the highest honours a researcher can receive.

A comment on the increase in the number of female candidates at the IHEP conference in San Diego and the implication for the diversity of the student population

David Card, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the increase in membership did not seem to be due to an increase in qualified female candidates.

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