How to combine physics and a family

Physics World
April 1999, page 11

Women can find it hard to return to research after a career break. Sharon Ann Holgate investigates some of the options academia and industry offer to help women get back to work

One of the major problems for women working in physics is how to have a family and still sustain their career. This is a problem experienced by many professional women, but it is particularly acute for those working in science. When they eventually return to the lab they can find that their research field has advanced, and they may be confronted with new experimental techniques and methods of data analysis.

In the UK, the Daphne Jackson Trust helps scientists to return to work by allowing them to retrain. The trust, set up in 1992 as a registered charity, offers two-year fellowships to those who have had to leave work for at least three years to look after their family. Fellows take up a flexible part-time appointment at a university, retraining under a supervisor in their chosen research area.

“I think the Daphne Jackson Fellowships provide an essential service, as it is very difficult to return to science after a career break, “says one former fellow Dorothy Duffy, a physicist now working in the chemistry department at Reading University. “The training aspect meant I could become familiar with new concepts and techniques with less pressure to produce results”, she explains.

The training is also praised by Alison Vinnicombe, registrar of Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge. The college is one of the trust’s many benefactors and also plays host to fellows. Vinnicombe is delighted when fellows return to the level of research skill they had before taking a break.