Women Are Slower Than Men on the Path From Mentored to Independent Research in the Biomedical Sciences

Mytien Nguyen

The transition from mentored to independent research is an important career junction for biomedical researchers. A new study by researchers at Yale University and New York University finds that women researchers in the United States reach that point at lower rates than men.

The researchers evaluated all recipients of what are known as mentored K awards (grants offered by the National Institutes of Health to early-career scientists that incorporate a mentorship component) and R01-equivalent awards (a class of grants that fund specific research projects and provide around $500,000 per year for multiple years) at U.S. medical schools between 1997 and 2021. To determine how many of those researchers made the transition from K to R awards within 10 years, the research team separated the data into two bins: 1997 to 2011 and 2012 to 2021. They then assessed award distribution and K-to-R transition rates by gender and medical school department.

Across both time periods, women received fewer K awards than men. Around 43 percent of K awards granted between 1997 and 2011 were awarded to women. That rate dropped to less than 34 percent in the following 10 years.

“Women K-awardees were less likely than male K-awardees to have a successful K-to-R transition within 10 years,” said Mytien Nguyen, an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study. Overall, 37.7 percent of women who received mentored K awards between 1997 and 2011 successfully applied for R01-equivalent grants within 10 years, compared to 41.5 percent of men.

“When we looked by department, there were several where female K-awardees had a significantly lower rate of 10-year K-to-R transition, including internal medicine, nonclinical departments, and surgery,” Nguyen added.

The full study, “Transition From Mentored to Independent NIH Funding by Gender and Department,” was published on JAMA Open Network. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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