Award Helps Bass Balance Family and Career

Caroline Bass

Caroline E. Bass, PhD

Published February 7, 2019

Caroline E. Bass, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, received a child care award to attend the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum in Berlin in July.

“This is actually the No. 1 challenge of my career. I’ve had to turn down quite a few opportunities because I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out the child care.”
Assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology

FENS-Kavli Award Offered for First Time

Bass was one of 29 international scientists from 15 countries to receive a child care award from the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence. The network aims to improve global neuroscience by expanding opportunities for young scientists. 

While the monetary amount was humble — 400 euros (approximately $463) — the impact was significant.

Bass cares for her two children, ages 5 and 9, both with special needs, and a parent with a serious, chronic health condition. That makes traveling to scientific conferences challenging for Bass. The award allowed her to attend the FENS biannual, a critical meeting in her field.

Attending Berlin Meeting Important for Career

The Bass Laboratory is located at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building in downtown Buffalo. There, she studies the neurobiology of motivation and how substance abuse can rewire the brain. At the Berlin meeting, she and her colleagues presented exciting results from a new study.

“We believe it will explain what behavior this particular neural circuit is controlling,” Bass says. “The results were somewhat surprising and we very much wanted feedback on it from other neuroscientists.”

With this meeting happening every other year and with a large percentage of influential scientists in her field in attendance, it wasn’t something Bass felt she could pass up.

“These meetings are critical mostly for the networking opportunities and contacts they make possible,” Bass says. “Attendance affects every aspect of your science. The more people know of your work, the more opportunities will open up and the more likely you are to have papers published in higher level journals and get grants funded. It’s just easier to judge the quality of a scientist’s work when they explain it in person. It’s hard to get around that.”

David Dietz, PhD, associate professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology, says that the award was noteworthy for several reasons.

“This award recognizes Dr. Bass’ outstanding research, while at the same time highlighting the importance of programs like this that allow our UB scientists to fully realize both their research aspirations and a healthy family life,” Dietz says.

Balancing Career, Family Obligations

Attending conferences can be a challenge for scientists with young children.

“This is actually the No. 1 problem of my career,” Bass says. “I’ve had to turn down quite a few opportunities because I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure out the child care.”

Bass, like many colleagues, has had to be resourceful to balance her multigenerational family obligations with her career. On occasion, she has taken her children out of school to attend out-of-town meetings.

Her sister, who lives in Virginia, sometimes watches them while Bass attends meetings in Washington, D.C. That means hiring a caregiver for her mother — who is on dialysis — while Bass is away.

“Right now, I’ve balanced taking my kids out of school for a week in the fall and then they spend a few weeks with family in the summer,” Bass says. “That allows me to attend two events per year. I would consider this to be the bare minimum in order to maintain relevance as a scientist.”

Event ‘Extremely Family-Friendly’

The value Bass got from the meeting — which brought together 7,300 neuroscientists from across the globe at all stages of their careers — was immeasurable.

“I was able to make connections with several international groups, attend training sessions on cutting-edge techniques and see presentations from leaders in my field, which gave me a great perspective on where my general area of research is going,” Bass says.

“The meeting was also extremely family-friendly. Children were encouraged to attend. It was very common to see parents with strollers walking through poster sessions. Some parents even did their presentations with their babies right there next to them. The 2018 FENS meeting was the most inclusive meeting I have attended, with ample presentations from women and underrepresented groups, and clear support for working parents,” she adds.

Graduate Students Interested in Topic

Sharing the news of her child care award attracted interest from colleagues at UB and other institutions who also are trying to balance a scientific career while raising young children. There has been significant interest from UB graduate students actively seeking feedback on how to pursue science while also having a family, Bass says.

“I know the next generation of scientists is looking at these issues,” Bass says. “Part of the leaky pipeline is the perception that children and science are not compatible. Programs like the one that gave me this award demonstrate a commitment to addressing these issues. It’s important to point out that these programs help out fathers as much as mothers.”