on maternity leave or absent for other child care-related activities. The postdoctoral tenure is a formative period in which one establishes research prominence by exhibiting a strong record of productivity and initiating an independent research program. To ensure that minority women are competitive for assistant professor positions and maximize productivity during maternity leave, funding institutions like NIH and NSF should establish supplements to provide technical support for pregnant postdoctoral scientists who are on maternity leave. This funding mechanism would allow a PI to hire a technician to carry out studies while the postdoctoral researcher is unable to work in the laboratory. Not only would the supplement benefit the postdoctoral scientist and minimize the risk of low productivity during this critical period, but also ensure that the postdoctoral researcher’s absence does not negatively impact the PI’s research program. In addition to establishing supplements to support postdoctoral scientists who are on maternity leave, mechanisms to extend funding for PIs who are on maternity leave would also increase the likelihood of a successful academic career. This type of funding mechanism may also provide for additional technical support while the PI is on maternity leave.
Mentorship at Key Transition Points
Although the number of women of color in academia is very low, this number decreases precipitously with advancement up the career ladder from postdoctoral researcher to full professor. Moreover, the number of women of color in administrative academic positions (e.g., chair, dean) is a very small percentage of the overall scientific academic workforce. These daunting statistics point to an urgent need for mentoring programs that help women of color navigate key transitions in the academic career. While funding agencies like NIH have programs such as the Minority Access to Research Careers and the Predoctoral Ruth Kirschstein-NRSA Fellowships to promote diversity and increase the number of minority undergraduate and graduate students in research, funding mechanisms to support women of color who are independent investigators are nonexistent. Given that mentoring is integral in building a successful academic career, establishing funding mechanisms to support mentor-mentee partnerships that would assist women of color junior faculty in navigating the promotion and tenure process, developing effective grant writing skills, negotiating institutional resources, and serving on departmental and institutional committees without undermining the success of their research program is key. Many of these mentor-mentee relationships can be forged through professional societies, which have significantly greater extensive networks that can allow for the most effective pairings.