Support for Female Researchers in Japan
JSPS's New Restart Postdoctoral Fellowship
This year, JSPS added the new category to its Research Fellowships for Young Scientists Program—a "restart" postdoc (RPD) fellowship. Postdoctoral fellowships under the Young Scientists Program are awarded based on a high level of demonstrated research ability. The ratio of awards versus applications is about the same for male and female researchers; the problem, however, is that there are much fewer female applicants. To lose the special skills and talents of these excellent female researchers due to early career breaks needed for childbearing and rearing would mean a loss of national scientific capacity that Japan can ill afford as it strives to build a creativity-driven society within a highly competitive global environment.
JSPS's restart fellowship was, therefore, initiated to facilitate the sustained participation of Japanese women in science, which it does by providing female postdoc researchers focused assistance in making a smooth transition back into the laboratory after having suspended their research activities for the purpose of childbearing and infant raising.
Male researchers who take time away from their work to help bring up infant children are also eligible for the fellowship. In this way, the RPD fellowship is designed to assist young researchers start a family and support them as scientist-parents, while fostering a family-friendly environment within Japan's research community.
This postdoctoral reentry fellowship not only assists but as importantly encourages talented young female researchers back into the workplace. It returns them to the lab with a great deal of independence, free to choose their own research topics and host institutions. The two years of fellowship and research-grant support provided allows the returnee to get back on the cutting edge of her field, make research advances and publish papers—thus, closing the gap in her career path.
In June, a call for RPD fellowship applications was issued for tenures starting in FY 2006 and 2007. Altogether, 352 applications were received, testifying to the strong desire women have to return to full-time scientific pursuits. From among them, 60 (about 30 for each year) were selected via a screening process of document and panel reviews.
Still at a budding stage in terms of awards granted, the RPD fellowship, which works to reconcile family responsibilities with career building, is one tool in a box of instruments being designed and introduced by JSPS and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to achieve coequal participation of Japanese women at the forefront of scientific endeavor.