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Gender Gap In NIH Grant Applications Examined

by Rachel A. Petkewich
December 8, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 49

Many qualified women M.D.s, M.D./Ph.D.s, and Ph.D.s stop applying for National Institutes of Health grants at or near their transition to independent careers, according to a new study (Science 2008, 322, 1472). That may contribute to the smaller percentage of women in senior faculty positions at U.S. universities and medical schools, even though women, for example, comprised 49% of the Ph.D.s awarded in biomedical sciences in 2005 and the students admitted to medical schools in 2007. To examine the attrition, hematologist Timothy J. Ley and economist Barton H. Hamilton of Washington University in St. Louis obtained data from NIH about the gender of applicants for certain grants. They found that for loan repayment programs and some mentored awards, where an applicant’s average age is mid- to late-30s, the number of female applicants is at least equal to that of male applicants. However, for research project grants (R01s), where a first-time applicant’s average age is early- to mid-40s, applications from women drop off sharply compared with those from men. And among experienced R01 applicants, whose average age is early- to mid-50s, the number of women declines even further. “Men and women have near-equal NIH funding success at all stages of their careers, which makes it very unlikely that female attrition is due to negative selection from NIH grant-funding decisions,” Ley and Hamilton write.


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