Professors offer guidance for working women, mothers amid pandemic

"We're all in the same boat" is a phrase that seems to be heard time and time again.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, a group of professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains that we're not -- and suggest changes that they want to see.

For many women trying to balance it all during the pandemic, the past few months have been a challenge.

"It never ends, the day is a mix of work meetings and kids and taking care of everything related to them," said Kristyn Masters.

Masters is a single mom and professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison. She and Pam Kreeger, an associate professor in the same field, want to convey that feeling after receiving messages from male faculty members.

Kristyn Masters and Pam Kreeger

"Along the lines of isn’t it great that we are all home right now and have quiet time to write grants and papers," Masters described. "It was so incongruent with our lived experience we were having."

The pair took part in writing an article that details their concerns.

"We were really very worried that because of this sort of attitude and distorted lens of what people are applying to what you should or should not be doing during a pandemic is going to have longer ramification," said Masters, "with respect to women's career trajectories, promotions, raises, if our supervisors are thinking everyone can be at home and be more productive now that will provide a large mismatch with career advancement."

The two want to help others who relate and also help institutions to understand. They crated a list of 10 suggestions for women principal investigators.

"Suggestions range from taking care of yourself to being understanding and how to say no to things," Masters said. "Most importantly, recommending institutional changes that can help effect a lot of these suggestions."

The article is generating a lot of attention and recognition. The duo says it has helped start conversations about value bias with women, and institutional changes to help accommodate people in different situations.

"One of the biggest hopes we have is for people to be honest," said Kreeger.

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Their list includes:

  1. Find a peer group of women to provide professional support
  2. Say no to requests to do anything outside of your main responsibilities
  3. Drop something
  4. When you have energy to do more than the minimum, use that in support of women and underrepresented groups
  5. Remember, you know yourself best
  6. It’s OK to push back
  7. Remember, you have some flexibility to make your own schedule
  8. Whatever help you can get, take it
  9. Do your best to remember that others are struggling too—be empathetic and work to build a community
  10. Don’t lose your sense of humor

The full report of their list and suggestions can be found in the PLOS Computational Biology journal, available online at