I saw this article by Ley & Hamilton in Science today on The Gender Gap on NIH Grant Applications. I’m delighted to see some actual numbers on this… finally. I found several points interesting…
First- from figure 1, it’s pretty clear that in the last 10 years, over 40% of medical students and instructors in medical schools are women. This appears to reach 50%(or better judging by the 2007 actual numbers on the right of the figure) in the last three or so years. So- for all of you out there that have argued with me on this blog and in comments on other blogs that there is no shortage of women in science- you are right in that there is parity for women at the lowest possible rungs on this ladder. I have always conceded that point.
But hey- we haven’t gone beyond personal anecdotes before at the higher rungs of the ladder, check out the orange (assistant professor), pink (associate professor) and blue (full professor- and Holy cow- this one is just the worst) lines on figure 1, and have a look at the actual numbers for 2007 on the right of the figure. Yes the numbers of women at all levels are rising slowly- and that rate appears to reflect the rate at which the number of women in medical school is rising. But would you look at the drop in the participation of women at the ranks of Assistant Professor and beyond. This sucks, it gets worse as one moves up the ladder of academic rank- and it doesn’t appear to be changing much at all. Just look at Full Professor- we all know this- but there is nothing like the data to show it. So, for those of you that say the playing field is level for women at everything from Assistant Professor and beyond- I say- I think here you’ve got the data in color.
Second- the authors now looked at the level of grant applications and success for men and women across various types of grants in figure 2. The authors break down this data by degree type- which I thought was really useful but the trends tend to hold across these groups. There is a huge drop in the number of women applying for career awards or their first R01 as compared to men, the type of grant for which this happens depends on the degree of the applicant- but these are all transition to independence, or independent investigator type awards. This transition is where we are losing women big-time. Not big news to me, but some people want to see the numbers and I agree that this is critical. Are we losing women here because when they apply they are not getting grants? No, it seems that rate of funding for the first R01 for men and women is pretty close- it’s that women are leaving the pipeline without even applying.
Third- what was jarringly shocking to me is that not all experienced investigators are created equal in their ability to get R01s as an experienced investigator- and if you are a woman YOUR GENDER WORKS AGAINST YOU. I’d spend more time looking at figure 3, but it is just to damn depressing.
And finally- I quote directly from the last paragraph of the article itself… pretty much sums it up… I think.
Women make up an ever-increasing fraction of the students who train to become biomedical scientists, but their career attrition is disproportionate to that of men. If these trends continue, this country will probably experience a shortage of biomedical scientists in the near future. We therefore hope that these data will provide an impetus for the NIH and academic leaders to develop more effective strategies to retain women at the critical juncture between postdoctoral training and independent careers. The attrition of women from this career path represents a critical loss of intellectual capital for all of biomedical research. Women are equally prepared for careers in the biomedical sciences, and they are successful at obtaining NIH grants at all career stages; their potential for great contributions to biomedical science cannot be wasted.
How are we, the tribe of science, going to address this one…what ‘effective strategies’ can we think of to keep women in the pipeline at the ‘critical juncture between postdoctoral training and independent careers’???