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Letter submitted to COST about support to parent-researchers from COST

Supporting the participation of parent-researchers in COST Actions

The COST Strategic plan explains that COST offers funding for pan-European networks, called COST Actions, which gather researchers and innovators from all career levels, degrees of specialization and professional backgrounds, embracing the whole of Europe’s cultural diversity and core values. COST wants to connect top performers to others in the same or complementary areas of science and technology, because this maximizes the production of knowledge and, more importantly, breakthrough discoveries. COST aims to promote and spread excellence using the Excellence and Inclusiveness policy which explicitly mentions the promotion of gender balance in the activities of COST Actions. Inputs for COST Actions come to life because COST provides the resources to bring people together around one idea.

Bringing together people faces, however, a significant problem when it comes to early-stage researchers, particularly post-docs who do not yet have a permanent position. There is a high barrier to attendance to meetings with people abroad for researchers in the stage of their life where they are building a family. Parent-researchers often have to face the problem of how to attend conferences important for their careers, while finding care for their young children. Early-career researchers, often have also limited income, which makes it very difficult to hire a childcare service, on top of travel and hotel stay for their children. Like it or not, it is a matter of fact that this problem affects more female than male researchers—mothers are those who often take over more responsibility for childcare. The result is that many young women have to forego conferences attendance during the first years of life of their children, slowing down their career. This is supported by evidence based research [1], revealing that this “baby penalty” negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, career mobility, with even larger penalties for women of color.

With this proposal we aim to promote brainstorming among COST officers, COST scientific committee and other interested stakeholders, that will lead to the implementation of concrete actions within COST program addressing the said issue. To foster this debate, we cite some concrete points:

  • Modify COST Vademecum to mention explicitly that organizers of meetings should provide enough flexibility for parents in selecting the day or time they give their presentation and that organizers should favor venues offering childcare services, whenever possible.
  • Support parent-researchers with a small grant, similarly as in the meetings of the American Physical Society, see
  • Consider organizing onsite childcare from COST. This might be feasible within a few pre-selected sites. The German Physical Society provides such services in some of their meetings, see

We can estimate the impact on a COST typical meeting with 70 participants. Assuming that 30% of the participants are female (21) and half of them have small children (10), if the grant is 500 euro per person, it sums up to a maximum of 5000 euro per meeting. This is probably an overestimation based on the hypothesis that all the young woman chose to bring their children to the meeting. Thus, such initiatives, while having limited impact on COST Actions budgets, would be a concrete help to early stage researchers and to promote equal opportunities to male and female scientists.

[1] Opinion: How to tackle the childcare–conference conundrum, Rebecca M. Calisi and a Working Group of Mothers in Science, PNAS March 20, 2018 115 (12) 2845-2849.

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