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.”


The Ada Lace Books

Wired just came out with an article about the Ada Lace children’s books, written by Emily Calandrelli.  I love the nod to Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who wrote the first computer programs — in the mid-1800s.


You can buy one book (or the whole series) on Amazon.


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. – 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.

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

Grants keep coming to Reed Biologists

As a new computational biologist at Reed College, I was excited about the prospect of continuing to do research while teaching innovative courses.  I’ve written about the research opportunities at Reed, and faculty across campus have received over two million dollars of grant funding in 2014/2015.

The Biology Department just secured two more research grants from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to investigate neurogenesis in zebrafish (Dr. Kara Cerveny) and discover candidate driver genes in cancer (me!).

Small schools also have an opportunity to play a large role in undergraduate education programs.  Another NSF grant was recently awarded to Dr. Suzy Renn to organize a STEM workshop on undergraduate involvement in the NSF’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

All in all, 2016 seems like it will be another great research year.