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Women Maintain NIH Funding Similar to Men: Study

Female PIs apply for fewer grants, but retain support once they get it.

Jul 16, 2018
Kerry Grens

While searching for reasons why women faculty members are underrepresented in the life sciences, researchers have looked at factors affecting the retention of female faculty, such as the ability to sustain funding. A new analysis finds that keeping the money rolling in doesn’t appear to be a factor. Of nearly 35,000 researchers who received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1991 and 2010, men and women maintain funding at roughly the same rates.

The authors, who published their report today (July 16) in PNAS, say the results contradict a “leaky pipeline” assumption that women lose funding more frequently than men. “We found that rather than leaving the NIH funding pool at much greater rates than men, women were much more dramatically underrepresented to begin with among first-time [research project grant] holders,” they write in their study, “composing only 30.66% of investigators in the analysis.”

The other differences between male and female applicants in the analysis were that women applied to renew funding less often than men (42 percent of the time compared to 45 percent), and they were also less successful when they tried (36 percent success compared to 39 percent). But these gaps were much smaller than the huge disparity in first-time applicants.

Coauthor Judith Greenberg, the deputy director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, tells Science that women do just as well as men once they establish funding. “The perception that they’re not going to succeed can be a major hurdle for many women who might otherwise want to pursue a career in biomedical science,” Greenberg says. “Changing that narrative is, I think, the real bottom line of this paper.”

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