Supporting microbiologists by providing grants is a central part of the purpose of FEMS. Many of our grants are intended to support the career development of those in the immediate years after education and are therefore available only to Early Career Researchers (ECR). Now, FEMS is amending the definition of ECR to avoid unintentional inequity and discrimination.
We have traditionally defined Early Career Researchers (ECR) as those within 5 years of completing education. This definition is intended to ensure this financial support has an impact on those establishing their career. Recent research from Angela Huttner (Division of Infectious Diseases, Geneva University Hospitals, Switzerland) and others from a selection of international scholarly societies have highlighted the unintended limitations and exclusions that the definition of ECR can cause.
While FEMS does not impose a physiological age limit, by having a 5-year eligibility period from the end of education as an ECR, those taking career breaks are unintentionally disadvantaged. This issue disproportionately impacts female researchers as the majority of career breaks are for maternity and childcare, a responsibility still provided mainly by women.
The existing regulations also ignore periods of significant illness, increasing the consequences of needing to take sick leave. Therefore, the current definition of an ECR create an impediment to equal access to our grants, with those taking career breaks having a limited period of eligibility for these awards upon their return to work. This work is published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection.
Recognizing this unintended and unfortunate consequence, we are extending our definition of ECR from 1 March 2021 so that periods of maternity/paternity leave and/or long-term illness do not count towards this 5-year limit. The clock will effectively pause for these periods. The 5-year qualifying period will also be adjusted pro rata for those returning to work on a less than a full-time equivalent (FTE) contract.
It is our hope that the change will help achieve positive, inclusive working environment for all microbiologists. We ask all other scholarly societies to examine their own policies and procedures to avoid unintentional inequity and discrimination.
FEMS is committed to ensuring all people are treated with fairness, equality, dignity and respect, and is valuing the full diversity of our network. We seek to create a positive, inclusive working environment for all microbiologists, free from discrimination, harassment and prejudice. Therefore, those who take career breaks, i.e., either a complete absence or a reduction to part-time work, for whatever reason, should be on a level playing field on their return.
It is our hope that the change in these regulations will help achieve this. We ask all other scholarly societies that provide grants examine their own policies and procedures to avoid the same kind of unintentional inequity and discrimination. We also invite further input from those impacted by these circumstances.
- Read the Joint ESCMID, FEMS, IDSA, ISID and SSI position paper on the fair handling of career breaks among physicians and scientists when assessing eligibility for early-career awards by Huttner et al. (2020)
- Read also Perspectives: Listening to Women and Girls in Science – where are we? by Sarah Wettstadt
- Want to apply for a grant? See more information on our grant regulation page
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