Over $600K in funding to support UChicago clinical researchers with caregiving responsibilities

Two researchers working in a lab

In the fallout from the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, individuals working in every sector of society are feeling the weight of juggling professional, personal and family responsibilities in the midst of a global crisis. Academic research is no exception – but thanks to new funding from the Walder Foundation, researchers at the University of Chicago will soon have an opportunity to access additional resources to support their scientific careers.

The funding is supported by a national effort from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) in concert with the American Heart Association, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Walder Foundation. Together, the charitable foundations announced that 22 medical schools will receive $12.1 million in grants through the COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists (FRCS) competition.

“We recognize that many researchers, especially physician-scientists, have been burdened by caregiving responsibilities during COVID-19. But beyond the pandemic, this is a systemic barrier faced by women and marginalized scientists across the sector,” said Joseph Walder, MD, PhD, co-founder of the Walder Foundation. “We all benefit from the outcomes of life science research. By providing technical and coordinating support, critical research can move forward and valuable diversity retained.”

At UChicago, the SECUREDprogram, which stands for Supporting Early Career University Researchers to Excel through Disruptions, will provide additional funding to early-career clinician-scientists who are disproportionately affected by caregiving responsibilities. The program will be co-directed by Anna Volerman, MD, Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, and Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD.

“UChicago has traditionally supported research faculty, and we have policies in place to create a supportive environment for those with families, but the pandemic has exacerbated everyone’s situations,” said Volerman, Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics. “It’s always been challenging to be a faculty member with children, and the pandemic made that a hundred times harder. Our goal is to identify those early career researchers who are disproportionately affected —those who have had significant caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, whether it be for children or for older family members.”

The $550,000 in funding from the Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists is being matched by $110,000 from the Department of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Center for Healthcare Delivery Science and Innovation and the Institute for Translational Medicine to create a pool of “extra hands” funding — financial resources that will support faculty in hiring additional staff to help maintain ongoing research projects or provide additional time for the faculty member to work on their research themselves.

The goal, Volerman said, is to make it easier for researchers to find a sustainable work-life balance and increase the likelihood that they will remain in academic research long term.

“It’s incredibly challenging to maintain a research program while being a clinician and having a family,” she said. “You can plan for so much, but there will always be something that comes up. Now life has returned to a ‘near-normal,’ but it’s not what it was before. This funding acknowledges that this crisis has set many people back and provides important support to help this clinician research get to the next level.”

In addition to the funding, the SECURED program will also support the efforts of the Biological Science Division’s Executive Women’s Committee, a recently formed group that includes individuals from the BSD’s existing women’s committees as well as department leadership and additional faculty from across the division. New programming will include seminars and workshops on topics that will advance the work of early career researchers, including how to write an op-ed, how to leverage social media to promote research, and how to prepare for promotion.

“One novel part of our program is training the researchers in using traditional media and social media to amplify their work,” said Arora, Dean for Medical Education. “Despite the potential for social media to level the playing field for women in science, our prior research has shown that women are less likely than men to receive professional advancement and research opportunities for social media.”

The committee is also focused on long-term efforts to support underrepresented and female faculty within the BSD, examining issues such as parental leave, lactation resources and pay equity, to expand resources and make more visible and accessible.

UChicago faculty, including instructors and assistant professors, who spend 50% or more of their time engaged in scientific research will be eligible to apply for the funding. Those who are interested in additional information about applying can contact