Recorded: 17 Jan 2003
I think it’s difficult. Certainly my observation of females doing that is that it really has been very tough. And science is so demanding of success. There’s never a moment when you can afford to step back and not be successful. That if your publication rates slows down even if, you know, you can write on your C.V. that you were off for a year or working part time for a year having children, in theory people take that into account but in fact they don’t. I think what they don’t take into account is not so much that time when you weren’t there but the time required to get back up to speed after you come back.
So certainly in Australia and I’m sure everywhere else as well so much of the funding for science depends on your achievements that any glitch in the flow of those achievements really sets you back. I think if I were starting out in science with perhaps a different situation wanting to have children earlier I would very seriously consider looking for a job which didn’t involve lab work. I mean of course there are things but they are perhaps not as exciting and rewarding when you go into them at that early stage.
But nonetheless, you know, I think it is—in the end it is a good career for women in the sense that I don’t myself feel that there’s an enormous level of negativity about women in science. I think that it is an area which values achievement and if you’ve achieved and no excuses of course are accepted, including having children. But if you do achieve then you’re recognized for your achievement. Whether you are male or female except in perhaps the odd very rare cases is really immaterial.
Merilyn Sleigh is a pharmacologist, molecular biologist and dean in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of New South Wales. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in pharmacology and another PhD in molecular biology at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), she came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to work under Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow researching the protein production of SV40. She returned to CSIRO, establishing one of the first laboratories in Australia using genetic engineering approaches to study influenza virus structure, evolution and gene regulation. She has become involved in developing the biotechnological industry in Australia. Sleigh is founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association and is currently Chief Executive of EvoGenix, a start-up biotechnology company located in Australia.