The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has chosen 50 early-career biomedical scientists to each receive a 6-year, $1.5 million grant to chase their research dreams
. The winners, chosen from nearly 2100 applicants, include experts in fields as varied as stickleback fish evolution, organ regeneration, and biophysics of DNA repair. What the list does not include, however, is an abundance of women.
Forty-one of the new hires are men; nine are women. The overwhelmingly male ratio (more than 4 to 1) is consistent with past outcomes, says HHMI spokesperson Avice Meehan. “The number [of women] is within the ballpark percentage of prior competitions—they oscillate between a quarter and just under a quarter,” she said.
It’s “disappointing” to hear that, notes Donna
Nelson, an organic chemist at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, who
has conducted studies of women in science. The ratio of men to women
receiving Ph.D.s in the biological sciences in the United States is
now roughly 1 to 1, recent data from the National Science Foundation
show, and has been that way for more than a decade. The last time the
male-female ratio for Ph.D.s hovered at 4 to 1 was in 1978.
explains that HHMI’s selections were “based on scientific
accomplishment and future promise without regard to gender, race,
ethnicity, or other protected categories.” HHMI also made an effort to
distribute awards among geographic locations, by gender, ethnicity, and
scientific field, she said. She adds that only about one-quarter of the
applicants were female, which helps to explain the outcome.
President Thomas Cech, who steps down today after 10 years at the helm,
pushed these early-career awards because he and others felt that
government institutions had become too slow to recognize talent-risking
career gridlock. Tomorrow marks the first day on the job for Robert Tjian.