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Study Finds: Women Less Likely To Receive Major Career Research Funding

The University of Michigan (U-M) Health System conducted a five year study to determine what the rate of women versus men awarded career development grants by NIH were; results indicated women were less likely to receive funding.

A quarter of all researchers who received a major early career award went on to get further federal funding within five years, another study conclusion.

The study looked at 2,783 researchers who received early career awards called K08 or K23. The grant covers not only the researcher’s time, but a mentorship program is included to foster the researcher.

The lead researcher, Dr. Reshma Jagsi, then compared the number of K08 and K23 awardees to how many of them continued research through a R01 federal grant.

The researchers found that within the five years of receiving the K08 or K23 award only 23 percent of all researchers had attained a R01 grant.

The study found a total of 25 percent of the men and 19 percent of the women were awarded an R01. After 10 years, fewer than half of all K awardees received an R01 – 36 percent of women and 46 percent of men.

"It’s concerning that the whole group is not succeeding at a higher rate, and it is especially concerning that the women are doing even worse than the men," said Jagsi, assistant professor of radiation oncology at U-M.

"The K08 and K23 grants are highly competitive, prestigious awards that are supposed to help young scientists become independent investigators. People who get these awards are expected to be the best and brightest, and they are expected to succeed. They not only have the aptitude for and commitment to research, but the grant is supposed to give them the resources they need – protected time and mentorship," Jagsi said.

The researchers drew conclusions as to why women were less likely to receive R01 funding.

"One contributing factor may be that women’s K awards are on average smaller than those of their male peers, and thus women may be at a disadvantage from the outset. Throughout the past 15 years, female grant recipients have received on average approximately 80 cents for each dollar received by male grant recipients — the average of career awards to women in 2007 was $145,795, whereas the average of career awards to men in 2007 was $165,081. Of note, the inverse trend is apparent in recent R01 funding — the average of R01 grants to women in 2007 was $371,142, compared with $360,291 for men. Thus, focusing attention on the causes of leakage in the early pipeline seems appropriate," the study authors wrote.

Other conclusions by authors focused on possible family demands, such as childbirth, that could pull women scientists from continuing research. Women may also prefer teaching or clinical work ratherthan research; or perhaps less successful at negotiating with their department chairs for adequate time to devote to research.

"Research takes time and energy and when young researchers are trying to balance work and family, the major breakthroughs might have to wait a few extra years. New researchers not only need time, they need mentorship. And they need department chairs who understand that scientific success does not require researchers committing every aspect of their lives to their science," said Dr. Peter Ubel, senior study author and professor of internal medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine at the U-M Medical School.

The study was supported by a Joan F. Giambalvo Memorial Fund from the American Medical Association Women Physicians Congress; and printed in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For more information on the University of Michigan, visit www.umich.edu.

This article is reprinted from Health Resources Publishing's "Health Grants Information Service." ©2010, Health Resources Publishing. Reproduction in whole or in part without writtenpermissionis prohibited.
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This page was last updated: April 12, 2010