the slow advancement of women in scientific fields remains a persistent problem, especially in academia. highly trained doctoral women in the sciences drop out of the academic pipeline for a variety of reasons that are poorly documented. this paper reports on a qualitative exploratory study based on structured interviews with 15 women who have taken career breaks after receiving their science, technology, engineering or mathematics (stem) phd, but wish to re-enter the academic career track. the study aims to understand the pressures that contribute to taking such breaks, how women remain connected (or not) to their field during breaks and how re-entering the field after a career break could be facilitated. suggestions based on the interviews include career development workshops and networking opportunities for women in breaks, as well as systemic changes such as reduced fees for society membership and conferences, changes in the way resumés are reviewed by faculty search committees, and in the design and implementation of maternity and child care leave policies.