Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Institute Launches Family-Friendly Stipend Program

By Kristin Kane

Research Fellow Barna Saha (right) was one of the recipients of the Institute's Family-Friendly Stipends.

This Fall, the Simons Institute launched a pilot program to offer stipends to scientists whose children accompany them to Berkeley during their visit. Dubbed the Family-Friendly Stipend Program, this new initiative provides support of up to $1,500 per semester for special expenses incurred by researchers with accompanying families – including daycare, babysitting, camps, and other child-friendly activities.

This initiative is the latest addition to the Institute’s visitor services program, which includes housing support, a bicycle loan program, social events, and daily teatime. Like all of these services, the Family-Friendly Stipend Program is designed to support a high quality of life for our visitors – but in this instance with the specific goal of supporting the numerous scientists whose family considerations may impact a decision to spend a semester at the Institute.

“Researchers with children face specific logistical and financial challenges when considering a visit of a month or a semester away from their home institution,” observes Associate Director Alistair Sinclair. “We created the stipend program as a way of leveling the playing field, making it easier for scientists with children to participate in our programs.”

Supporting women in Theoretical Computer Science
Evidence suggests that institutional support for balancing family and academic responsibilities can be an important factor in job satisfaction for female faculty, which in turn is critical to long-term career trajectories. This and other forms of institutional support could be especially important in theoretical computer science, which has notoriously low levels of female participation.

In the absence of published data on gender distribution in the field, the Institute conducted a formal count of the number of female authors of papers at the two flagship US theory conferences from 2009 through 2014: IEEE Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS) and ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC). We found that the representation of female authors at FOCS and STOC is roughly 8%. While this is an imperfect metric, we can take these figures as rough proxies for the actual participation in the field.

“The percentage of women in recent Institute programs is around 19% – more than double the field-wide average,” remarks Sinclair. “But the numbers for the field are quite low, and there are definitely opportunities to innovate, to do more. The stipend program will be an interesting experiment.”

Meet the recipients: Barna and James
So far, the experiment looks promising. The Institute awarded nine stipends this Fall semester, and another seven for the Spring.

Barna Saha, one of the awardees, is a Research Fellow in the program on Fine-Grained Complexity and Algorithm Design. She comes to Berkeley accompanied by her husband and their three-year-old son. The stipend supports the cost of daycare for their child.

“Of course the costs of relocating for the semester are very high,” Saha remarks, “and childcare adds up. The stipend program helped a lot to defray the cost. This is a very nice gesture from the Simons Institute to recognize the need for this kind of support.”

James Wright, another stipend recipient, is a visiting graduate student in the program on Economics and Computation. His wife and two children, ages 4 and 1.5, are with him in Berkeley this semester. The stipend covers most of the cost for the older child to attend preschool three days a week.

“It’s really changed what the trip has been like for us,” says Wright. “We had actually found the preschool before we found out about the stipend. But it was sort of an obstacle that got lifted for us, that we were able to do this without stressing about the finances.”

Visitors to the Simons Institute with Visiting Scholar or Visiting Graduate Student Researcher appointments are eligible to participate in the Family-Friendly Stipend Program. For more information, contact Interim Visitor Services Coordinator, pamela_sherman [at] berkeley.edu (Pamela Sherman).

Family-Friendly Stipend recipient James Wright and daughter Edith at the Simons Institute’s Oktoberfest celebration.
Each semester, the Institute announces a prize for the first theorem proved on one of the building’s outdoor blackboards. Here, some of our long-term visitors prepare their submission.

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From the Inside, Fall 2015
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