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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Twitter

An online presence has become an important professional networking tool, and offers a low-stakes way to connect with the public. The social media giant Twitter has been leveraged for this purpose, and articles at venues such as PLOS Biology and AAAS have promoted Twitter and other social media for use by scientists.  At a time where we increasingly emphasize Open Science and Open Data and manuscript preprints are becoming commonplace (even in biology), Twitter is yet another way to communicate your research quickly.

crawling-out-from-under-a-rock

Me, crawling out from under a rock.

So, I decided to join Twitter (@anna_m_ritz).  I know, I’m slow to the game.  Joining is like jumping off the high dive — social media is something I was used to doing a long time ago, and something I can do again but it’s going to take some work.  I’m getting the hang of it — the following, the liking, the retweeting, the tweeting — and I was struck by some immediate reactions. Naturally, I thought I’d write a blog post.

 

I immediately felt more connected to my scientific community.  Reading tweets about scientific accomplishments (preprints, talks, posters, publications, grants, awards) and frustrations (data availability, proposal rejections, sexism in STEM) put these ideas in the context of happening right now.

Twitter is the place to advertise, even in science.  This means tweeting your recent manuscript, a new postdoctoral position in your lab, or an upcoming talk at a meeting.

There is so much to catch up on.  My list of bookmarked tweets of relevant preprints grows by the day.  I’m comforted by the fact that these preprints are papers I’d see months from now and need to read then. So I’m saving my future self time…?

Most of the people I follow are men. For now.  This is depressing, and came about because I started with following my computer science colleagues who are, let’s face it, mostly men.  I’ve been seeking out women in the field to follow, and hope to achieve a better balance here.

Prickly Women

The Inside Higher Ed blog just had a short opinion article by M. Soledad Caballero and Aimee Knupsky at Allegheny College about the praise of “Prickly Women.”  A quote from the article appears below.

Why academe should honor prickly women (opinion)

They are known throughout history as the “killjoys,” the “ice queens,” the “hysterics,” the “ball-busters.” They are the “Prickly Women” — the women who don’t let things go, who stand up for themselves and others, and who question the status-quo of structural inequities and outdated institutional practices. They stick out decidedly among the “bro-hood” of academic administration.

Despite the negative connotations and perceptions they incite, Prickly Women have exactly the kind of insight and persistence needed as the crises in higher education continue to mount.

Time-to-parity for women publishing in STEM fields

A recent paper by Holman et al. in PLOS Biology presents a new look at the gender gap in publications for millions of authors from over one hundred countries in over six thousand journals.  You can interact with the data through their  web app.

The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented?
Luke Holman, Devi Stuart-Fox, Cindy E. Hauser, PLOS Biology 2018.

The authors present the current author gender ratio, its rate of change per year, and the estimate number of years until the gender ratio comes with 5% of parity.  A few notes below the image…

Here are the first things I noticed:

  1. The estimated percent of women authors “maxes out” at 50% (there’s a Figure 2 that includes fields with a higher percentage of women).
  2. arXiv.org – the preprint server that began as a mathematics and physics venue – has particularly poor percent of women authors.
  3. First author percentages tend to be “ahead of the curve” for each discipline, while last authors lag behind the numbers for all authors.  In many fields, first authors denote who did the most work, and last authors denote who funded the work.  My hunch is that a higher proportion of women get papers as graduate students and postdocs, whereas fewer women make it to senior-level faculty as heads of a lab.
  4. On a positive note, more women are publishing in the fields than before (the rate of change is mostly positive).

The paper’s supplementary figure S3 shows data for Computer Science (from arXiv).  Based on current trajectories, only two sub-categories (Information Theory and Robotics) hope to see gender parity within the next 50-100 years.  We still have a long way to go.

Changing Demographics of the Biomedical Workforce

Thanks to Mike the Mad Biologist’s blog, this article (from January 2017) resurfaced:

The new face of US science : Nature News & Comment

This study looks at census data to determine the demographics of PhD recipients in the biological or medical sciences.  The authors characterize a biomedical workforce that is fundamentally different from previous generations.  Their infographic contains the main trends:

web-graphic-biomedical

Heggeness et al, The new face of US science. Nature Comment, 2017

 

 

 

Racism in academia – not surprisingly, it’s everywhere

Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who does policy research in Australia, just wrote an excellent blog post about racism in academia.  While it speaks directly to researchers and faculty, it’s worth a read for anyone.

Racism in Research and Academia – The Other Sociologist  by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos