Universiteit Leiden

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‘You can be both a good scientist and a parent’

How to combine being a mom and a career-oriented researcher? As member of the RISE junior board, postdoc Monica Varela wants to set an example. ‘It’s not always easy, but I want to show young scientists that you can continue your career when having a child.'

When Varela was asked to become a member of the RISE junior board (Researchers in Science for Equality), she immediately said yes. ‘It’s a great opportunity to be involved in the faculty. I believe the RISE network has done a great job in the past couple of years for female beta scientists.’

‘RISE is a nice initiative to set an example for the next generation who might think “this career is not for me”. I want to be a role model for younger researchers.’

Passionate researcher and loving mom

Varela is researcher at the IBL and is specialized in inflammation and inflammatory diseases. ‘I do mainly fundamental research to understand how inflammatory processes work and how they lead to diseases.’

Next to that, she is the proud mom of a son. ‘My family and I moved to Leiden six years ago to work at the university. My son was seven months old at that time. From then, life as a researcher became different. For a lot of female researchers, having a family is a reason to drop the academic career. There is no need to do so.’

Managing time to be good at both

Being a career-minded scientist and a good mom, can be challenging sometimes. ‘Combining both worlds requires great organizational skills.’ Sometimes it is also hard to separate both worlds. ‘It’s challenging, but possible!’

Varela chose to reschedule her working hours. ‘I work from 7.00 hrs until 15.00 hrs so I can pick my kid up from school every day. In general that works well, but of course you miss the meetings, events and networking opportunities in the afternoon. That can be a difficult trade-off.’

That’s why the university should hold more open conversations with working parents and implementing new policies, according to Varela. ‘Such as switching the meetings to the morning or taking into account school holidays when planning crucial meetings. That might be really helpful for parents.’

Extra time for grant applications

Varela is sometimes scared for the judgement of others. ‘I feel like people might judge me for focussing on both my career and being a mom. That is also because a career in science is quite competitive. While you are taking a break to have a child, yourcolleagues are still working. And in the end, you still need to be on the same level and compete with them. That’s a reason for female scientists to feel like there is never a perfect time to have a kid.’

Luckily, universities and scientific organizations do their best to make it easier. ‘In grant applications for example, parental leave is now taken into account. There is always room for improvement, but these things already help significantly.’

Being an inspiration

For her time at the junior board, she wants to inspire scientists and show the possibilities of combining family and science. ‘Lately, a young female researcher came to talk to me and said: “You are a good scientist and a good mom, but I don’t think I can do that.” That’s when I realised it’s important to set an example for the younger generation. You don’t have to choose between your career and family. It’s not always easy, but you can do it both: being a good parent and scientist.’

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