Posts Tagged ‘women’

Gender and Grants

Friday, May 27th, 2011

A comprehensive analysis of NIH funding for 2008 shows that success and funding rates differed little between female and male applicants. While this is good news, the study did reveal that almost all of the midcareer and senior investigator grants received significantly more male than female applicants.

Other results reflect a gap between male and female invetigators:

  • Women are less successful at receiving renewals of R01 awards.
  • 30% of investigators with only one R01 award are female, but only 13% of those who hold four or more R01s.
  • Women are more likely to perform human subjects research.

The overall message, however, is one of increasing parity. It is especially encouraging that women predominate in applications for some of the early career training grants. Still, it shouldn’t take the turnover in generations to institute greater equality.

Women in the National Academy

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Election to the National Academy of Sciences is one of the highest honors for a scientist. In the latest induction, only 9 of 72 new members were women. As women make up more of the Ph.D. recipients in the sciences, their representation in prestigious awards should also go up.

The Association for Women in Science has depicted a different trend. As this graph shows, the NAS is not keeping pace with the proportion of women scientists.


It’s hopeful that women in engineering and applied sciences have reached parity, but gaps still exist in other fields. Part of the cause may be that only Academy members can nominate new members, thereby perpetuating a male dominance. Making the club more open might increase the diversity of its membership.

When Students Are Mothers

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Edward Feldman, chair of the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has stepped down from his leadership role following an investigation of a classroom incident.

Earlier in the semester a student in his class informed him that she would have to miss a few weeks because she was giving birth. In response, Feldman asked his assistants to send a message to all the students in the class asking them to complete a poll about how he should determine the grade of their pregnant classmate.

Feldman admits his insensitivity and has accepted the demotion. Admittedly, he may have been unsure how to respond to the student’s request, but rather than consulting his colleagues or administrators, he polled her peers. I wonder if he would have done the same if the absence had been for chemotherapy. It seems that pregnancy is treated differently. As long as women increasingly fill the ranks of students and faculty, universities will have to make accommodations for childbirth.

Women in Medicine

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

For the fourth year, the AAMC has surveyed its member medical schools for information on women faculty members. One trend it reveals is that women continue to be clustered at the lower ranks in Internal Medicine departments. The table shows the percent of women at each level.

Rank 2010 2009 2008 2007
Instructor 50
Assistant 41 40 39 38
Associate 29 28 27 26
Full 16 15 15 14

There is some solace in that the numbers are inching up from year to year. The complete report is here.

Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor?

Friday, April 8th, 2011

The theory used to go that women occupied fewer of the top ranks¬† of academic medicine because fewer women possessed the necessary experience. The so-called “pipeline” problem has improved over the past decade as women make up half of all medical students. Yet, the proportion of women at the full professor level has not reached parity.

An NIH-funded study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine will apply the rigorous methods of drug trials to study the advancement of women in academic medicine. The investigators have randomly assigned different departments to an intervention and a control group. Junior women faculty in the intervention group will participate in two professional development programs: a manuscript writing course and a leadership training.

After four years, the investigators will gauge what they call the “Women’s Academic Culture Measure.” For them, the important unit of change is the department or division. They recognize that the obstacles to female faculty’s success are diffuse, what one researcher calls “a thousand pound of feathers.” Creating significant opportunities for all faculty will involve shifting not just individual minds but institutional culture.

No Glass Ceiling?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Traditionally, one of the explanations for the relatively low percentage of women in the faculty ranks of math and science departments has been the ongoing presence of discrimination. At every level of training and career, scientists must earn acceptance from peers, whether in admission to graduate programs, job interviews, or grant reviews. Bias, even if unconscious, can creep in to disadvantage female applicants, the theory goes.

A new study by two scholars in Cornell’s Department of Human Development argues that discrimination does not play a factor in the underrepresentation of women in scientific fields. In the awarding of fellowships, the review of manuscripts, and the interviewing for jobs, the authors found no evidence for bias against female candidates of comparable preparation to their male counterparts.

The real source of inequality is that women overwhelmingly occupy part-time or teaching-intensive positions, limiting their access to the resources needed to produce sophisticated research. Whether by choice or by societal expectations, women often prioritize what the authors call “fertility/lifestyle” concerns in establishing their careers. These decisions make it less likely for women scientists to develop a track record of success. The good news is that women scientists of similar training and accomplishment can count on fair treatment in the academic workplace.

Women and Search Committees

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Studies of faculty development initiatives often fail to match the rigorous standards of randomized trials. In Spain, however,  two economists took advantage of a natural experiment to measure the impact of gender on promotion committees.

Spanish candidates for academic promotion compete against a national pool. Review panels are selected by lottery. So, over the course of thousands of decisions from 2002 to 2006, panels formed that consisted of all men and different combinations of men and women.

The study found that for promotion to associate professor, the gender composition of the reviewers did not make a difference in whether female candidates received promotion. When it came to promotions to full professor, though, having a female member of the committee increases a female candidate’s chance of success by 14 percent.

Their conclusions point to the need for review committees to reflect the diversity of the institution. They do not mention whether the data also show the same effect for underrepresented minority candidates, but the logic may work the same way. Curiously, the authors found in another paper that female-majority committees are less likely to promote women than ones where just a few women participate.