While the number of women and men graduating from Ph.D. programmes in the sciences is nearly equal, the number of women reaching faculty positions in Israel, as elsewhere in the world, is extremely low. Part of the reason for this situation is the difficulties women face in going abroad for post-doctoral research, basically a prerequisite for advancing in an academic position in Israel. The period of two or so years a scientist spends abroad conducting postdoctoral research is considered a critical step to career success, in which the up-and-coming scientist gains independence and is exposed to the international scientific community in which she must prove herself. Yet this stage can be a bottleneck for women, especially as many have spouses and young children by this point in life. Personal, financial, and family considerations may all conspire to keep these women from being able to spend several years abroad, and the result is a relatively small number of women entering the academic track.
A new, Israel-wide initiative put forward by the Weizmann Institute aims to assist highly talented young women to work toward a career in the natural or exact sciences. The programme was established with the support of the Clore Israel Foundation and S. Donald Sussman. It continues to be supported by the Clore Israel Foundation; as well as other donors and foundations.
The goal is to begin closing the gap between male and female scientists in the highest ranks of academia.
The fellowship initiative is nationwide. Any young woman who has completed a Ph.D. in an Israeli academic institution in one of the natural or exact sciences, and who has been accepted to postdoctoral studies abroad, is eligible to apply. The awards average about $20,000 a year and are meant to supplement scholarships received from foundations or host institutions, to assist women, particularly those with families, in coping with the added financial burden.
Initiated in 2007, the programme has had applications from all Israeli institutions of higher learning. The recipients’ research areas cover a wide range of scientific topics, including experimental and theoretical chemistry, molecular and developmental biology, bioinformatics, neurobiology and computer science. These women have been accepted at various prestigious international institutions, such as Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, HarvardMedicalSchool, and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in London.