By Avigayil Kadesh
A unique scholarship program for Israel’s highest-achieving young female scientists recently garnered a European award for its sponsoring institution, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
Awarded to 10, 11 or 12 handpicked recipients every year since 2007, the grants of $20,000 per year for two years are intended to help young women with the expense of bringing their families along for prestigious postdoctoral fellowships abroad – considered a must for the career advancement of top-tier young scientists.
Of the 64 women who have so far received these awards, 17 are now on the faculty of Israeli research institutes, another two are in information-based industry, two have accepted positions abroad, two left the program and the rest are still in the midst of their postdoctoral training. One of the past recipients is an Israeli-Arab graduate of the Weizmann.
Prof. Varda Rotter, the Weizmann Institute’s adviser to the president for advancing women in science, has headed the national program for the past three years. She knows from personal experience how difficult overseas appointments can be for aspiring Israeli scientists who are also mothers of young children.
“I did a very intensive post-doc in the lab of [Nobel laureate biologist] David Baltimore in Boston from 1979 to 1981, after I got my PhD in cell biology at the Weizmann and trained as an immunologist,” says Rotter, today a Weizmann cancer researcher. “I had two little girls, and a husband who had to find a job there, and it wasn’t easy. At the time we didn’t have these fellowships, and I know how critical it is to have the financial and moral support.”
Open to women from all Israeli universities
The Women in Science grant program is open to outstanding young women who have completed their doctorates in the natural or exact sciences in any one of Israel’s academic institutions, not only at the Weizmann, and have gotten post-doc positions. The funding -- supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Clore Israel Foundation and additional philanthropies – is in addition to the fellowships awarded by the host institutes or other sources.
“We have about 60 applications every year coming from graduates of all the Israeli universities,” says Rotter, “and we give the award without condition after evaluating their work. The only condition is that they be excellent.”
She stays in contact with the grantees throughout their stay abroad, encouraging them to come back to Israel afterward and helping to ease their return.
“I’m so happy to do this because I know how important it is,” says Rotter, who coordinated her work schedule with her husband’s during the Boston years so that one of them was always home to care for their daughters. “It’s not just the money, but also the recognition that you deserve support from your home country.”
On International Women’s Day in March, Rotter’s colleague Karina Yaniv traveled to Barcelona City Hall to accept the €15,000 Maria Aurèlia Capmany award on behalf of the Weizmann Institute. This award, named in honor of a Spanish author who struggled for equality during her career in the mid-1900s, recognizes programs that advance women in the workplace.
Since 2006, the Weizmann Institute has also given biennial awards of $25,000 to women scientists of international stature. While this prize is given in recognition of groundbreaking achievements, its goal is also to encourage positive role models and inspiration for female students and young researchers.