Science magazine writer fired after controversial story By Cynthia McKelvey

Sometimes fighting for their integrity can cost journalists their jobs. And that’s what Michael Balter—a science reporter and longtime correspondent for Sciencemagazine—thinks happened to him.

In a Skype interview with the Daily Dot, Balter described his firing from Science as a surprise. But in a series of tweets, a blog post, and in talking with the Dot, Balter revealed that there was more going on behind the scenes of Science and its parent nonprofit, the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that, in his view, likely played a role in his termination.

Balter began writing for Science in the early 1990s. He’s contributed numerous features and shorter news articles both in print and online. Across his career, he’s covered a variety of topics and stories, particularly related to paleontology, anthropology, and archeology. But he said there was one topic that played a role in his firing.

A difficult story

After announcing his departure from Science on March 10, Balter suggested that the reasons behind his firing were likely due to a story he wrote about sexual misconduct in the paleoanthropology field, published online in Science in February.

The latest in a spate of high-profile stories of sexual misconduct in academia, the story centered around an unnamed research assistant’s allegations that paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond sexually assaulted her while she was drunk in his hotel room in Italy. The research assistant said she went out with Richmond and others for a night of drinking. Later in the evening, she claimed she awoke to him kissing her and groping under her skirt in his hotel room. The research assistant said she did not recall how she got to the hotel room nor did she consent to the encounter. Richmond insisted the encounter was “consensual and reciprocal.”

Balter tweeted that, behind the scenes, he had to fight with his editors to get the story published in a timely manner and with reporting he felt did justice to the story.

The contention escalated to a breaking point in January where Balter felt he had to threaten to publish the story elsewhere if Science did not let him publish in a way he was happy with.

In a blog post about his termination, Balter mentioned that certain elements to the story nonetheless wound up on the cutting room floor.

“There was material in the original drafts of my story that was supportive and confirmatory of [the research assistant’s] story that was lost in the final draft,” Balter said.

He described one scene to the story, which was in early drafts but ultimately left out of the final version, where the research assistant confronted Richmond about the night in his hotel room. Balter said that both Richmond and the research assistant confirmed the details of this confrontation, in which the assistant said that she had no memory of entering his hotel room or consenting to any sexual activity. Richmond said he offered to let her stay in his hotel room after she couldn’t find her Airbnb, and was “startled” to hear she did not remember agreeing to come up or the events that transpired after, according to Balter.

Balter said there were more elements eventually cut from the story, but declined to divulge details out of concern of legal ramifications for himself and for Science. However, he said that he was aware of the decisions his editors made every step of the way.

“One of the good things about writing for Science is that the writers see every single version of the story,” Balter said. “That’s not always true of all publications.”

Balter said that both he and his editors were also very concerned about presenting a story that was fair to Richmond. He noted that he was the one to push Richmond to go on the record with an interview to get his side of things into the story. But, Balter said he felt Science and AAAS were also preoccupied with concerns over sparking a lawsuit from Richmond.

“There was a lot of tension between November and when the story was published in February,” Balter said. “But when we got to the end, and when they agreed to publish and publish in the way I wanted it to be, then I felt like we got over a hump.”

Balter continued to work on more stories for Science for the next month, and he continued to keep tabs on the Richmond story. He told the Daily Dot that at the beginning of the week, he was starting new stories for Science and his editors were enthusiastic to see what would become of those stories. He added thatScience News Editor Tim Appenzeller approved a $200 expense for Balter to take some sources for the Richmond story out to lunch.

So it came as a surprise to him when Appenzeller—whom Balter had known since his early years at Science—called him on Thursday to tell him his 25-year relationship with Science would be coming to an end.

‘A breakdown of trust’

In his blog post and in his conversation with the Daily Dot, Balter said that Appenzeller had described the reasons for his termination as a “breakdown of trust” between him and the editors at Science. The Daily Dot reached out to AAAS’s press team, Appenzeller, and Science Editor-In-Chief Marcia McNutt for comment. The press team responded by linking to AAAS’s public statement on the matter.

The sexual misconduct case that has rocked anthropology

By Michael Walter, 9th february 2016 published in Science

On a cold evening last March, as researchers descended upon St. Louis, Missouri, for the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), a dramatic scene unfolded at the rooftop bar of the St. Louis Hilton at the Ballpark, the conference hotel. From here, attendees had spectacular views of the city, including Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch, but many were riveted by an animated discussion at one table.

Loudly, and apparently without caring who heard her, a research assistant at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City charged that her boss—noted paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the museum’s curator of human origins—had “sexually assaulted” her in his hotel room after a meeting the previous September in Florence, Italy. (She requested that her name not appear in this story to protect her privacy.) Over the next several days, as the 1700 conference attendees presented and discussed the latest research, word of the allegations raced through the meeting…

Presumed Incompetent

Presumed Incompetent

The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia

edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez and Angela P. Harris

“Women in academia still face obstacles built up over centuries, but the contributors to Presumed Incompetent have taken a leap toward liberation. Their revelations will enrage you—and open minds and hearts.”
—Gloria Steinem

Presumed Incompetent is undeniably a path-breaking book full of stories of resilience and survival. The editors of this magnificent collection attest to the power of storytelling and add to the testimonios of women in academia such as Telling to Live and Paths to Discovery. Each and every one of the authors survived and in telling their stories they offer hope and solace for young women scholars entering the academy.”
—Norma E. Cantú

“This book felt so painfully familiar I almost could not read it. Those of us who started our careers as firsts and onlys have had to forget much about the cruelty hidden in academic enclaves. Forgetting, a means of surviving, buries pain and erases history, leaving us morally and intellectually flimsy. Thanks to these women for taking the harder path of truth-telling.”
—Mari Matsuda

“Exploding the myth that we live in a “post-identity” world, Presumed Incompetent provides gripping first-hand accounts of the ways in which women faculty of color are subjected to stereotypes, fears and fantasies based on the intersection of race, gender, and class. It reminds us that the mere passage of time is not enough to create equitable workplaces for anyone facing institutional subordination.”
—Kimberlé Crenshaw

Presumed Incompetent is an absolute must read for anyone who is thinking of entering academia, for junior faculty but also senior scholars alike…. it is crucial we learn from Presumed Incompetent and implement its recommendations in our positions of power and influence.”
—Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde, The Feminist Wire

Presumed Incompetent is a pathbreaking account of the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women faculty of color. Through personal narratives and qualitative empirical studies, more than 40 authors expose the daunting challenges faced by academic women of color as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America.

Peitho Journal (pdf) Vol. 15, No. 2 by Hui Wu
The Review of Higher Education (pdf) Winter 2014 by Nadia M. Richardson
Transnational Literature October 2013 by Maja Milatovic
Harvard Journal of Law & Gender November 2013 by Wendy B. Scott
Harvard Journal of Law & Gender October 2013 by Kate Aizpuru
Women’s Review of Books (pdf) September October 2013 by Stacey Patton
Feminist Philosophers August 2013 by Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
Psychology of Women Quarterly September, 2013 by Joan M. Ostrove
London School of Economics (LSE) Review of Books April 2013 by Sin Yee Koh
Women in Higher Education (pdf), March 2013 by Sarah Gibbard Cook
Inside Higher Ed, March 5, 2013 by Afshan Jafar
Huffington Post Books, March 4, 2013 by Khanh Ho
Choice Editor’s Pick Choice, v.50, no. 07, March 2013 by R. Price
La Bloga Sunday, December 2012 by Amelia ML Montes
Canadian Association of Univeristy Teachers October 2013 by Camille A. Isaacs
The Feminist Wire Feb., 2014 by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde
The Canadian Journal of Women and Law Vol.26, 2014 by Sonia Lawrence
Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice by Maria Lopez and Kevin Johnson
The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, Vol 3, No 2 2014 by F. Cheuk
Teaching Theology and Religion, by Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen
American Association of Univeristy Professors, by Carol E. Henderson
Chicana/Latina Studies, 13:2 Spring 2014, by Larissa M. Mercado-LÇüpez
Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, by Laura MacInnis
Latino Studies Vol. 12, Fall 2014 by Gloria Elena Toriche
Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equity, Vol. 2, Fall 2014 by Montré D. Carodine
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 2015 by Patricia A. Matthew
Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2014 by Myrtle P. Bell
Women and Language, Vol. 37.2, 2015 by Ruby Pappoe
Latino Studies, Vol. 12, 490–492.

Interview with Carmen González, Feministing May 13, 2013
Interview with Angela Harris, Truthout July 13, 2014
Women of Color in Legal Education, by Carmen González, The Federal Lawyer, July 2014
In June 2014, the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice published an entire edition dedicated to responses to Presumed Incompetent. Volume 29, Issue 2 consists of the first part of a series of papers presented at a daylong symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law on March 8, 2013. The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice hosted more than forty speakers who were invited to celebrate and respond to the book. The entire journal and all its contents are offered free and open access by the Law Journals and Related Materials at Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository. Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice consists of the second series of symposium papers, and is offered free and open access by The Seattle University School of Law Digital Commons.

Yolanda Flores Niemann (Ph.D., Psychology, 1992, University of Houston) is professor of psychology at the University of North Texas.

Angela P. Harris (J.D. 1986, University of Chicago) is professor of law at UC Davis.

Carmen G. González (J.D. 1988, Harvard Law School) is professor of law at Seattle University.

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs (M.A and PhD. Stanford University, 2000) is professor of modern languages and women studies at Seattle University.

Imprint: Utah State University Press

Book Details

  • Paperback Price: $39.95
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-87421-922-7
  • Ebook Price: $31.95
  • EISBN: 978-0-87421-870-1
  • Publication Year: 2012
  • Pages: 588
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez and Angela P. Harris
  • ECommerce Code: 978-0-87421-922-7

The journal PLOS ONE announced today that it is has “removed” a reviewer whose remarks about a manuscript by two female researchers caused an uproar earlier this week. “[W]e have removed the referee from our reviewer database,” wrote Damian Pattinson, PLOS ONE’s editorial director, in a Web posting.

The journal has also “formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board.”

PLOS ONE is also considering ways to make the identity of a reviewer known to submitting authors, Pattinson wrote. “We are reviewing our processes to ensure that future authors are given a fair and unprejudiced review. As part of this, we are working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent, since evidence suggests that review is more constructive and civil when the reviewers’ identities are known to the authors (Walsh et al., 2000). This work has been ongoing for some months at PLOS ONE, and we will be announcing more details on these offerings soon.”

“I want to sincerely apologize for the distress the report caused the authors, and to make clear that we completely oppose the sentiments it expressed,” Pattinson wrote. “The report contained objectionable language, and the authors were understandably upset.”

The moves come in response to a controversy that erupted earlier this week. The peer reviewer’s suggestion that two female researchers find “one or two male biologists” to co-author and help them strengthen a manuscript they had written and submitted to a journal unleashed an avalanche of disbelief and disgust on Twitter.

Evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby was shocked when she read the review accompanying the rejection for her latest manuscript, which investigates gender differences in the Ph.D.-to-postdoc transition, so she took the issue to Twitter.

On 29 April, Ingleby, a postdoc at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, posted two excerpts of the anonymous review. “It would probably … be beneficial to find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal peer review from, but better yet as active co-authors)” to prevent the manuscript from “drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions,” the reviewer wrote in one portion.

“Perhaps it is not so surprising that on average male doctoral students co-author one more paper than female doctoral students, just as, on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile a bit faster than female doctoral students,” added the reviewer (whose gender is not known).

Ingleby and her co-author, evolutionary biologist Megan Head of the Australian National University in Canberra, submitted the manuscript to “a mid-range journal with a broad readership,” Ingleby explained in an e-mail to ScienceInsider on 29 April. “Megan and I are not wanting to ‘name and shame’ the journal, or the particular Editor involved,” she added. “[W]e feel that this review highlights something that could be an issue with many different journals, so we’d rather not single out one.”

The website Retraction Watch, however, reported that the journal was part of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) family of publications. And later on 29 April, PLOS released a statement. “PLOS regrets the tone, spirit and content of this particular review,” it stated. “We take peer review seriously and are diligently and expeditiously looking into this matter. The appeal is in process. PLOS allows Academic Editors autonomy in how they handle manuscripts, but we always follow up if concerns are raised at any stage of the process. Our appeals policy also means that any complaints of the review process can be fully addressed and the author given opportunity to have their paper re-reviewed.” (This 30 April Times Higher Education story identified the journal as PLOS ONE.)

Ingleby and Head said they received the rejection with just the single review. “Not only did the review seem unprofessional and inappropriate, but it didn’t have any constructive or specific criticism to work on,” Ingleby wrote. (The reviewer wrote that the study is “methodologically weak” and “has fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive,” according to a copy of the review Ingleby provided to ScienceInsider, but Ingleby says these comments are “quite vague” and therefore difficult to address.)

Three weeks ago, the pair appealed the rejection. The only communication they had received from the journal was an e-mail apologizing for the delay. So today Ingleby posted the excerpts because “we felt that the journal should have taken the appeal a bit more seriously – the review is so obviously inappropriate that we couldn’t understand why it was taking so long, when we just wanted them to send it back out for a fair review.”

Ingleby’s tweets unleashed an avalanche of disbelief, disgust and, in some cases, weary expectance. Twitter responses include dumbfounded (“NO WAY. I’m actually speechless”), editorial critiques (“Editor should have discarded that pathetic review & got another”), weary familiarity (“I wish I could say this was shocking. Infuriating, but not shocking”), and darkly humorous (“I certainly hope you consulted a man before tweeting this”). In fact, Ingleby noted in one tweet, she and her co-author had run the manuscript by male colleagues prior to submitting it to the journal.

The tweets have garnered widspread attention. “It’s been really encouraging to see so many messages of support, and to see how many people reacted the same way as Megan and I did towards these reviewer comments,” Ingleby wrote.

*Update, 29 April, 4:23 p.m.: A reference to a Retraction Watch story has been added.

*Update, 29 April, 5:11 p.m.: The story has been updated to include PLOS’s statement.

*Update, 30 April, 11:19 a.m.: A link identifying the journal was added to the story .

*Update, 1 May, 3:17 p.m.: The article has been updated to include PLOS ONE‘s response to the controversy.

Posted in Scientific Community Scientific Publishing

Work–life balance: Lab life with kids (Nature 517, 401-403 (2015) doi:10.1038/nj7534-401a)

Work–life balance: Lab life with kids

Balancing research with raising children takes scheduling skills and organization.

by Kendall Powell

While she was in the middle of harvesting plates of cells at biotechnology company Genentech in South San Francisco, California, molecular oncologist Ingrid Wertz received a phone call. It was her childcare provider, telling her that her then-9-year-old daughter had a concussion after smacking heads with another child.

Wertz had been expecting to spend the next four hours processing cells as part of an experiment on cytokine signalling, but instead she found herself rushing to the childcare centre. Luckily, her work was not ruined — before she left, she managed to store it in a freezer so that she could pick up the experiment the next day.

Wertz’s experience is familiar to early-career researchers who are the parents of young children. Juggling the responsibilities of laboratory and home is difficult at best, especially because childbearing and child-rearing years tend to collide with the formative stages of a young researcher’s career. The pressure to produce at the bench combined with the duties of childcare can push stress levels to breaking point.

To cope with the extra responsibilities of childcare, scientist parents must learn to partition their days and nights to accommodate work and family, and to structure experimental protocols so that they do not skimp on quality family time. For example, instead of scheduling 12-hour data-collection time points at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., which are prime breakfast and dinner hours, they can shift them to 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., stopping back in the lab after the children are in bed. Organizational skills are important, such as coordinating working days and nights with other people providing care. Family-friendly national or workplace policies, such as reduced teaching responsibilities and flexible hours, can ease the burden. But busy parents should also make time for themselves — whether that time is for a 20-minute jog or a date together.

Uncertainty expected
Lab work is inherently erratic: experiments can take twice as long as planned or cells may not grow, shifting schedules by a day or more. But the addition of children to a scientist’s life adds unpredictability to the already unpredictable. Wertz learned the hard way that she has to plan for the unforeseen: her strategies include scheduling in lengthy buffer zones for large or crucial experiments.

She also builds in multiple back-up plans. In emergencies, such as when her son shoved an acorn up his nose at age three, the scientists in her group all lend a hand. But back-up planning also involves “knowing the non-critical times when you can stop in the middle of an experiment,” she says. Wertz works out ahead of time how to wind things down quickly without ruining data. That way, if the experiment starts to run behind schedule, it can literally be put on ice until the next day: stable DNA or proteins can be safely tucked away in a freezer.

When a dance recital or school art show waits at the other end of an experiment, Wertz’s success depends on time micromanagement. “Plan every step a day ahead of time, locate all the reagents and schedule incubations during times when you are going to be called away to meetings,” she counsels.

If research has to interrupt family time, it is best to prepare the family in advance. As a clinical researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Jane Wigginton’s work centres on testing interventions for patients suffering from trauma — who tend to come into the hospital late on weekend nights and during holiday celebrations. Once she was paged just before a Fourth of July fireworks display and had to leave her family.

But she and her ex-husband made sure that all six kids knew that even if an event such as Thanksgiving dinner had to be postponed, it would still happen. Looking back, she sees that the disruptions provided a good lesson for family members. “They learned that it does not have to be the exact hour or day to celebrate a family moment.”

Jens Schuster, a molecular biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, and his wife, who works as a nurse supervisor, have also learned the art of über-organization. Recently, their 7-year-old daughter was too ill to attend school, prompting a shift in schedules. Schuster’s wife stayed home with their daughter until her hospital shift started. By that point, their 17-year-old son was home from school and could watch his sister (and 12-year-old brother) for a couple of hours. Schuster swung home from the lab a bit early, picking up their 3-year-old daughter from day care on his way.

Research allows for flexible schedules, he says. “Cells don’t care if you come in at midnight or at noon to take care of them.” But he constantly checks his and his wife’s schedules to sidestep disasters as much as possible. Each week, on the family’s shared Google calendar (an almost universal tool for researcher families), he reviews upcoming obligations, such as his work meetings, his wife’s shifts and the children’s dentist appointments.

” Cells don’t care if you come in at midnight or at noon to take care of them. ”
He finds and resolves scheduling conflicts, then plans experiments for days that have at least four hours of uninterrupted time. By scheduling such blocks about every two weeks, he can stay on track with experiments such as coaxing stem cells into more-specialized types or analysing images on a sophisticated microscope, he says. “I wonder myself, quite often, how do I do all this?” he says.

Priority clash
Researcher parents concede that work–life boundaries can blur when the demands of childcare and career advancement peak simultaneously. The average age at which US researchers gain tenure is 39, when women’s fertility has declined sharply. Most early-career academic scientists who also want to become parents pace themselves by the biological clock and have children before they earn tenure. Those who juggle tenure committees and babies say that a shift in perspective has helped them to cope with the tension.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer at Rice University in Houston, Texas, found it stressful trying to figure out the optimal timing for her first child during her pre-tenure days at another institution. She realized after a couple of years that she would regret not having a family more than not making tenure. “That was a real clarifying moment,” she says. “It helped me let go of a lot of the stress.” She went on to earn tenure and become an award-winning scientist and mother of six.

But generous institutional services also smoothed the way for her to juggle lab life and childcare obligations. Subsidized, on-site day care was key, especially when she was breastfeeding (see ‘Tenure travail’). Some of her best impromptu discussions with colleagues about grant proposals happened in the day-care centre at pick-up times.

Box 1: Tenure travail: The cost of motherhood
It is a fact. Having children comes at a higher cost to a woman’s academic science career than to a man’s. That finding prompted all ten campuses of the University of California in 2003 to adopt family-friendly policy reforms, such as giving mothers two semesters and fathers one semester without teaching responsibilities and automatically extending the allowed time in which to gain tenure by one year after the birth of each child.

The policies were brought in after a report (

) produced for the university by Mary Ann Mason and her colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that although every academic researcher is busy, women with children were working the most, devoting more than 100 hours to work, domestic and child-care responsibilities each week (compared with fewer than 80 hours per week for faculty members without children).

Mason’s research showed that having children within five years of obtaining a PhD lowers the chances that women will enter a tenure-track position and earn tenure. Women who have children more than five years after finishing their PhD do as well as women without children, but there are far fewer of these “late babies”, says Mason, who is a lawyer and professor at Berkeley’s graduate school.

For her book

Mothers on the Fast Track

, Mason interviewed successful mothers from many fields and found that the most important contributing factor to their success was a partner who felt that their spouse’s career was as important as their own. “My advice in the book,” she says, “is don’t marry a jerk.”

Generous family policies have also helped Grzegorz Wicher, who is a senior postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University. For each child, the Swedish government guarantees 13 months of leave at 80% salary, with the time off work being split between parents as desired. Some academic departments chip in another 10%. Even so, research careers can suffer from long publication gaps and breaks in momentum, says Wicher, who is also in the middle of starting up a cell-culture company.

To maximize efficiency, he and his wife, who is also a senior postdoc at Uppsala, planned their research around their respective portions of parental leave after the birth of their daughter, now aged 8 months. They each arranged to finish laboratory projects before taking leave, and planned to use nap times and evenings at home to work on data analysis, manuscripts and grant proposals.
Grzegorz Wicher snaps a selfie with his family.

In their house, mornings at the breakfast table are sacrosanct family time; so are the hours after their 6-year-old daughter’s school day and until the children’s bedtime. The couple typically works side-by-side in their home office for three to four hours after that. “It is a little bit sad, but better than not seeing each other at all,” Wicher says.

Working late
In the absence of parental-leave or childcare policies, scientist parents turn to other strategies to accommodate lab obligations and family time. Many with young children split up their days and nights, returning to the lab during the late evening and working remotely when possible. Anthony Barry, an associate research fellow at Pfizer Biotherapeutics in Andover, Massachusetts, takes his laptop home every evening.

“I get incredibly frustrated if I get home so late that I’m not getting to see my kids,” says Barry, whose sons are aged 7 and 10. Dividing his duties into work that must be done at Pfizer versus what can be done from home helps him to complete 8–10-hour workdays without missing prime family time. “Although people may say it’s horrible to have to take work home with you, I’ve found that to be the most enabling,” says Barry.

Others see the evening hours as the perfect time to head back to the lab. Amy Pandya-Jones, a postdoctoral researcher in RNA biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, splits her days to get quality time with her 5-year-old and 2-year-old. She goes to the lab early in the morning and comes home in the early afternoon. About three nights per week, after her husband gets home from work at around 7p.m., she returns to the lab, working for another four hours.

She is careful to waste not a second, and estimates that she squeezes what would normally be a full 8–10-hour workload into about 6–8 hours. “You cannot underestimate the planning,” she says: she slots in time on the weekly calendar even for a trip to the supermarket.

Parents who manage to carve out minutes for themselves and their partners relieve some of the stress. One practice that helped Wigginton to stay sane was stealing an hour or two for herself, sometimes for a manicure or a pedicure. “I needed just a moment away, with nobody sitting in my lap and no pager going off.”

Wicher and Pandya-Jones both reserve one night a week for dates with their spouses — even if it is just a dinner of tacos and beer. Wicher and his wife also take it in turns to go running on alternate days. “It helps to wash the brain,” he says. Jaelyn Eberle, a palaeontologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently finished a series of exercise sessions that started at 5:15 a.m. in the mornings. “I realize that if I don’t get some me time — exercise or pottery lessons — then I’m not as creative at work,” she says.

On Sunday evenings when the kids are asleep, Wertz and her husband serve themselves ice cream and sit down to look over their family calendar, plan, organize and talk. “We make a fun time of it — we get different Ben and Jerry’s flavours and sample the new ones.”

Some researchers hire house cleaners and sitters, ask neighbours to drive kids to activities or order groceries online to allocate their limited hours at home to family time rather than chores. It pays to ask for help from friends, relatives and even employers — especially for single-parent scientists who have less support at home. That could mean asking grandparents to babysit for a weekend so that the researcher can finish up a grant application or asking a boss for a month’s notice before scheduling a business trip.

But it is not all about nappy duty, day care and drudge. Researchers see benefits for themselves and for their children from their work. When the children were older, Wigginton took one or two of them (and her mother) on conference trips to Paris or Hawaii. Wertz enjoys “watching the joy and fascination, through the eyes of a child, of ice melting and water pouring” as her kids play in her lab on weekend visits.

Richards-Kortum believes that blending research and parenting strengthens both endeavours. Her experience as a mother has helped to shape her research agenda on life-saving technologies for premature newborns. And her work in Malawi influenced her decision to adopt her two youngest daughters from Ethiopia.

“You look at the world through very different glasses than before you were a parent,” says Wigginton, a mother of six. “My children have greatly contributed to any success I’ve had and to my motivation and drive.”

Both she and Richards-Kortum have evidence that the hours devoted to research did not leave their children feeling resentful towards their scientific research careers — all of their university-aged children are following in their mothers’ footsteps, studying engineering, bioengineering or medicine.