Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dismal numbers for NIH-funded women in science

A recent post by NIH's Deputy Director for Extramural Research (a woman) focused on the participation of women in research, including funding success broken down by gender.  According to the numbers provided, success rates are similar for men and women in terms of R01-type funding.  However, women only make up 30% of overall research project grant PIs and 20% of center grant and small business research program PIs.  Even more disappointing is that fewer women apply for NIH funding.  Thus, there is no disparity in the way the grants are being reviewed, but rather in who and where the applications are coming from. 

The possibility of women being hindered by taking time off to have families is very real.  Even a brief maternity leave, at the wrong time, can delay research applications or productivity in a lab.  This may contribute to the problem, but I do not believe it is the major cause.  In my experience, many institutions still have a very male-dominated group of leaders at the department levels and into the upper tiers of the univeristy.  If fewer women are in these leadership positions, they are unable to provide support in terms of family-friendly policies or resource allocation for career development, which seems to me to be disproportionately provided to men.  When I think about the many research teams I have worked with, most are led by a highly qualified man, and his right-hand person, who is usually equally or more qualified than the man, is a woman.  With this dynamic, the man is almost always PI, and the woman ends up as Co-I or some other role.  Until institutions begin to change this culture, I believe we will still see this disparity in funding.

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