It has been a while since I’ve discussed the participation of women in research and NIH extramural programs, and following up on a recent workshop we held on the advancement of women in biomedical careers, I thought it would be a good time to revisit updated data and discuss issues concerning women in biomedical research.
To quickly recap what we discussed in prior blogs, we have seen that in most instances women do well in competition for NIH research funding. For R01-equivalent grants, success rates are almost identical for men and women on type 1 applications with small, but persistent, disparity in success for type 2 (competing renewals) and research project grants overall. When we look at the representation of women, we see in recent years that men and women are nearly equally represented percentage-wise in training and career development programs. However, looking at representation as principal investigators (PIs) on research grants overall, we see women constitute only about 30% of overall research project grant PIs, and only about 20% of NIH research center and small business research program PIs.
Another persistent trend is that far fewer women apply for NIH funding and it takes longer for them to return to apply for NIH funding. For example, a 2011 evaluation of NIH’s career development awards (Ks) found that of the K PIs tracked in the 10 years following their award, men applied for and received subsequent NIH grants at higher rates than women. But interestingly, among the K PIs tracked for more than 10 years, there were no differences between the rates at which men and women applied for or received NIH funding.
A specific issue that recently has recently created interesting conversations in the blogosphere is whether female K99/R00 awardees were less likely to receive a subsequent R01 award compared to male K99/R00 awardees. We at NIH have also found this particular outcome among K99/R00 PIs and have noted that those differences again stem from differential rates of application. Of the 2007 cohort of K99 PIs, 86 percent of the men had applied for R01s by 2013, but only 69 percent of the women had applied.
Another area of focus here at NIH is examining what contributes to, or hinders, the advancement of women in science and biomedical research careers. I encourage you to read Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health Dr. Janine Clayton’s blog about this issue. NIH has several initiatives for advancing women in science and research careers, and also actively studies why women migrate into faculty level research careers at lower rates than men.
In response to the National Academy of Sciences Report “Beyond Bias and Barriers,” NIH established a Women in Biomedical Careers Working Group that issued a request for applications to foster research on the causal factors and interventions that promote and support the careers of women in biomedical and behavioral science and engineering. This led to workshops in 2012 and in June 2014 (report forthcoming)concluding that we need a continued focus on advancing the careers of women in biomedical research, and that ultimately the problem must be owned and managed by all of us in the research community, as well as NIH.
Diversifying the biomedical workforce leads to the improved quality of the educational and training environment and a broadened perspective on research. I am encouraged more and more each day by the whirlwind of discussion and action in support of including women in science, not just around the nation, but also around the world. Diversity is so important to the NIH mission and the advancement of science, and I’m happy to continue to talk to you about what we at NIH are learning about women’s participation in our programs and other aspects of scientific workforce diversity.