NIH Funding by Gender – A Rollercoaster Ride

Nature came out with a News article reporting that, for women who land a large NIH grant, their mid- and late-career funding tracks about the same as men.

Leaky pipeline for women scientists dries up after they win first big grant

Sounds promising, right?  But there’s more to the story.  The original article published in PNAS by Lisa A. Hechtman et al, gives more details (including those listed below).

Good news: women now earn more doctorates in the life sciences, comprising 55% of the recipients in 2016.  This trend has held since 2006, according to the NSF’s statistics.

Bad news: according to the same table, the gender gaps are still large for physical & earth sciences, math & CS, and engineering.

But that’s for another post.

Bad news: despite the gender parity in doctorate recipients, women are underrepresented among assistant professors (even accounting for a postdoctoral research delay).

Bad news: women submit less than one-third of NIH research proposals, according to the NIH.

 

Good news: women who do submit NIH research proposals are as successful as men in obtaining first-time grants.

Good news: the paper studied “funding longevity” among first-time grant awardees between 1991 and 2010, and found that women’s success in securing funding over their careers in this cohort were nearly as good as men (there’s still a gender gap, but it’s small).

Bad news: other gender differences exist when comparing men and women in this cohort of investigators, though the differences are smaller than the previous numbers.  For example, women are less likely to attempt to renew grants and are less successful in the NIH grant renewal process, which is a factor that leads to sustained funding for both genders.

So a mix of good news and bad news, some signs of progress, and indications of where career support may stop the “leaky pipeline.”

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