Women Underrepresented Among “Super Principal Investigators” on NIH Grant Projects

A new study, led by Mytien Nguyen, an MD/Ph.D. student at Yale School of Medicine, examined the gender makeup of “super principal investigators.” These researchers received three or more concurrent grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The study found that in 2020 women were 38.3 percent of all principal investigators on NIH grant projects. In 1991, women were only 20 percent of all principal investigators.

Between 1991 and 2020, the proportion of all principal investigators who were super principal investigators increased threefold from 704 (3.7%) to 3,942 (11.3%). Women were significantly underrepresented among SPIs, even after adjusting for career stage and degree. Of all women principal investigators in 1991, 2.1 percent were super principal investigators. By 2020, 8.7 percent of all women principal investigators were super principal investigators. Women were 38.3 percent of all principal investigators but only 26.6 percent of all super principal investigators in 2020. Women were 34 percent less likely than their male colleagues to be an SPI.

In their conclusion, the authors state that “while the cause of the gender, ethnic, and racial gap in SPI status reported in this study is likely multifactorial, disparities in mentorship available to women faculty may contribute to this gap. Mentorship not only guides early career faculty on a path to success but also exposes faculty to a network of peers that will facilitate collaborations and support. Women scientists are less likely than men scientists to be mentored by high-impact senior mentors, and therefore less likely to acquire the scientific network, tacit knowledge, and sponsorship that are inherently required for securing grants. Furthermore, even when mentored by senior faculty, bias may affect the relationship that women faculty have with their mentors, resulting in negative mentoring that harms women.”

Mytien Nguyen holds a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Cornell University.

The full study, “Gender, Racial, and Ethnic and Inequities in Receipt of Multiple National Institutes of Health Research Project Grants,” was published on JAMA Open Network. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study

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