Study Led by Northwestern University Scientists Finds Women Vastly Underrepresented in Genomics Scholarship

220px-Northwestern_University_SealA new study led by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, finds that women are at an extreme disadvantage in publishing collaborations by scientists in the field of molecular biology, particularly genomics.

The authors examined the publication records of nearly 4,000 faculty members in six different STEM fields: chemical engineering, chemistry, ecology, materials science, molecular biology, and psychology. The researchers found that in general female faculty (for the six different disciplines in the study) have as many collaborators, or co-authors, as male faculty and that female faculty tend to return to the same collaborators a little less than males. By digging deeper, the researchers found that females are underrepresented in large teams in genomics (a subdiscipline of molecular biology). This could be an indication of a negative cultural milieu in this particular subfield, the researchers said.

“Much more progress needs to be made for underrepresented groups to feel welcomed in STEM disciplines,” notes Luis Amaral, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study. “In fact, the degree of progress is not even uniform within a single discipline, so one needs to make sure females are not being excluded from specific subdisciplines.

“Our findings in molecular biology, particularly genomics, are what surprised us the most,” Dr. Amaral said. “There is a lot of research money in this high-profile area, and women are not represented proportionally. This raises all sorts of questions as to what kind of cultural environment has been created in the field.”

The study, “Differences in Collaboration Patterns Across Discipline, Career Stage, and Gender,” was published on the website of PLOS Biology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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