Financial support offered to scientists with caregiving responsibilities has provided more equitable opportunity for professional advancement in the nutrition science field.

Rockville, MD—June 23, 2022 – A study published in Current Developments in Nutrition highlights the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) Family Support Grant program aimed at reducing barriers many scientists face in professional advancement through attending professional society meetings. The study assessed the need for family support grants and grant recipients’ experiences and usage of funds.

“We are proud to be a leader in supporting the professional development of our members with caregiving responsibilities,” said Martha Belury, PhD, ASN’s incoming president. “Caring for a young family or aging relatives while trying to advance professionally is immensely challenging. It’s important for professional societies to be a part of the solution by being inclusive and supportive of families.”

The American Society for Nutrition launched its Family Support Grant program in 2018 to help enable members with caregiving responsibilities to participate in the society’s annual meeting.  Grants were provided to cover expenses such as childcare at the meeting site or alternate care services while the member was away.  

Studies have shown that despite the large proportion of women who start research and teaching careers in academia, women are underrepresented at the full professional level and in leadership positions. While scientific societies’ meetings provide invaluable professional development, networking and peer support for rising STEM leaders, there are numerous barriers to attending annual meetings, particularly for early career women who often have family caregiving responsibilities.

The provision of grants was part of a study to assess and evaluate conference attendance feasibility and gather feedback about preferences and barriers to participation.  Pre-conference and post-conference surveys with grant applicants and recipients were conducted. The surveys identified that the barriers to attending professional conferences are care for dependents, financial limitations, perceived burden of adding dependent care to their partner while traveling, and not wanting to be away from dependents. All of these barriers could be addressed with the Family Support Grants, and the majority of applicants reported that receiving a Family Support Grant would influence their attendance at future meetings.

Collectively, the results suggest that access to a Family Support Grant and other resources supportive of caregiving can significantly enhance participation among attendees with caregiver responsibilities at professional society conferences and facilitate professional development, collaboration, and networking.  Other family-friendly measures include access to childcare and lactation rooms at the conference, allowing children inside exhibit halls, and working to change cultural norms.

Funding for ASN’s Family Support Grants was provided by the National Dairy Council and The Sugar Association.

About the American Society for Nutrition

ASN is the preeminent professional organization for nutrition research scientists and clinicians around the world. Founded in 1928, the society brings together the top nutrition researchers, medical practitioners, policy makers and industry leaders to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition. ASN publishes four peer-reviewed journals and provides education and professional development opportunities to advance nutrition research, practice and education.