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Balancing the Scale: NSF's Career-Life Balance Initiative

Photo of a woman in a lab.

The development of world-class STEM talent positions the U.S. for future global leadership in forging new and transformative discoveries, learning, and innovations, in a time when other nations increasingly are developing and retaining their own talent. However, although women and girls comprise a significant fraction of the STEM talent pool, recent studies (e.g., Staying Competitive, 2009) have demonstrated the adverse effect that lack of family friendly considerations have on women's progression to the top ranks of the scientific enterprise (especially academe). Family formation, notably marriage and childbirth, is a key factor for the departure from the STEM workforce between Ph.D. receipt and achieving tenure for women in the sciences. Needed progress can take place only through changes in the attitudes, policies, and practices that inform how we educate the workforce and manage in the workplace. Instituted in 2012, NSF's Career-Life Balance (CLB) initiative is an agency-wide approach to help attract, retain, and advance graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and other researchers in STEM fields. This effort aims to help reduce the rate at which early-career researchers depart from the STEM workforce.


Life always has been, and is now, a balancing act. Given the close linkages between academic researchers and academic institutions, it is appropriate for NSF to take a leadership role in finding ways forward along the career-life path. This website has been designed to consolidate – and highlight – NSF's efforts to clear the obstacles from the STEM Career-Life pathways leading from graduate education through to full professor.

In general, NSF policies and procedures support the ability of project personnel to address personal issues such as dependent care. For example, existing Foundation-wide policies permit the extension of NSF awards for researchers who take a leave of absence for dependent care responsibilities, as well as the use of NSF award funds to replace project personnel during a leave of absence. The NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide sets forth NSF guidance regarding cost extensions.

In addition to these career-life policies and procedures, NSF draws attention to the opportunity for supplemental funding to help researchers, who are confronted with a short-term increase in dependent care responsibilities, ensure that the research activities supported by an NSF award can continue. NSF provides Career-Life Balance (CLB) supplements with the following two changes since 2013: 1) an increase in the amount and duration of salary support that may be requested; and 2) an extension of the opportunity to Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-PIs of all active NSF grant or cooperative agreements.

For more details on the scope of CLB supplements and what your application should include, please read the Career Life Balance Supplemental Funding Requests section of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide.