Biased grant funding in science have career implications for minority scientists

The key to success in an academic career once hired is to win grant funding for your research. If you fail to win grant funding you will be unable to build your research program into a functioning lab that conducts research, trains graduate students, and publishes research results. These three critical functions are the basis of most institution promotion and tenure. Many universities place an increased emphasis on winning prestigious national grants. In biological sciences the most prestigious grants are awarded by the National institutes of Health (NIH).

It has been generally known that minority and women researchers have a lower success rate at getting grants than their white counterparts. In 2011 the NIH sponsored an in depth analysis of their data regarding granting records (Ginther, et al., 2011). The results confirmed that white scientists accumulate advantages throughout the granting process leading to higher success rates. It also found that black scientists in particular were less likely to receive funding from the NIH than other minorities in competition with white scientists with similar backgrounds. This gap was as large as 10 percentage points and was named the Ginther gap. After this publication the NIH has invested in trying to minimize the Ginther gap. In 2014, the NIH implemented a list of 13 recommendations to work on narrowing the gap in funding. While their efforts have led to the elimination of a racial funding gap for smaller awards the top tier funding that is essential for career success has only seen a narrowing of the racial funding gap (National Institutes of Health, 2019). In addition to the work reported by the NIH recent studies have come out in the past 2 years explaining reasons behind the Ginther gap.

The original publication about the Ginther gap posed some potential reasons for the gap in funding of black applicants. Black proposals may not be as strong a their white counterparts due to their greater likelihood of having mentors and training opportunities (Ginther et al., 2011). It is also possible that there are reviewers that may infer the race of the applicant and allow that to affect their assessment of the proposal either through malicious intent or implicit bias (Ginther et al., 2011). In 2018, a study on a similar set of grant data from the NIH reported a 7% gap and associated it to the biosketch of the applicant (Ginther et al., 2018). The biosketch is short CV/resume like document that highlights contributions to science. The component of the biosketch that was found to be the most detrimental is the publication history. The study found that the papers listed were in less prestigious journals and on average they listed fewer publications than their white contemporaries (Ginther et al., 2018). Considering that black applicants are applying for grants to fund research for future publications and that they are penalized for having lower numbers of publications it seems like the NIH is creating and perpetuating a system that traps black scientists and prevents them from succeeding in academia. Earlier this month a study was published explaining some of the remaining Ginther gap. This new study again using NIH grant data, found that topic choice was the second largest contributor to the gap, behind previous publications (Hoppe et al., 2019). The authors attribute the negative impact of topic choice to have more to do with NIH funding priorities over reviewer bias. The NIH promotes and funds a lot of basic science research and black scientists tend to propose more applied research (Hope et al., 2019). One article discussing the Hoppe et al., publication quoted Stephen Thomas at University of Maryland College Park saying

“As an African American who came up through the academic ranks and has the scars to prove it, I can understand why someone growing up among people who have been systematically discriminated against may be motivated to become a scientist because of a desire to address those problems… I’m not saying that doesn’t motivate white scientists, too. But I’ve seen it in many of my students (Mervis, 2019).”

I think this quote is a powerful example of a why that the current granting system is rigged against minority scientist success. Institutions and granting agencies have been working on minimizing the Ginther gap for funding of black scientists but it seems to me that the system will need to be structurally changed if the gap is to be completely eliminated because there are too many variables outside of the purview of a grant application that affects funding success. Black scientists are not the only minority group experiencing grant funding disparities as well but these are the most well researched. I strongly encourage everyone to take a moment to learn more about grant funding disparities and think about just how important grant funding is in the current academic evaluation system.

-SE

Ginther, D. K., Schaffer, W. T., Schnell, J., Masimore, B., Liu, F., Haak, L. L., & Kington, R. (2011). Race, ethnicity, and NIH research awards. Science, 333(6045), 1015-1019.

Ginther, D. K., Basner, J., Jensen, U., Schnell, J., Kington, R., & Schaffer, W. T. (2018). Publications as predictors of racial and ethnic differences in NIH research awards. PloS one, 13(11), e0205929.

Hoppe, T. A., Litovitz, A., Willis, K. A., Meseroll, R. A., Perkins, M. J., Hutchins, B. I., … & Santangelo, G. M. (2019). Topic choice contributes to the lower rate of NIH awards to African-American/black scientists. Science Advances, 5(10), eaaw7238.

Mervis, J. October 2019. Study identifies a key reason black scientists are less likely to receive NIH funding. Science Magazine. Retrieved on October 16th 2019 from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/10/study-identifies-key-reason-black-scientists-are-less-likely-receive-nih-funding

National Institutes of Health. June 2019. Racial Disparities in NIH funding. Retrieved on October 16th 2019 from https://diversity.nih.gov/building-evidence/racial-disparities-nih-funding

Intersectionality

My introductions to Intersectionality

I first learned about intersectionality while I was training to be a resident assistant at Michigan State University. We were talking about identities and assumptions and the leader of our training introduced the term. As soon as I heard it I felt it was the perfect way to think about identities. It reminds you that you are composed of multiple identities and that others are too. I also feel that the term reminds you that you can find connection with other people who may seem to be extremely different from you. I have moved away from residential life but I still think about intersectionality frequently.

Mainly I think about intersectionality with regard to its connection to life experiences. As a graduate teaching scholar I spend a lot of time reading about pedagogy and theories related to learning. I feel that good teaching requires the instructor to embrace intersectionality in their classroom. The revelation came to life for me when I learned about Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Critical Pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a style of teaching that connects classroom material with student’s past life experiences (read more here). Most recommended teaching techniques in critical pedagogy revolve around discussion where students are asked to connect their own life experiences to the classroom. This teaching style makes the most sense for me because it is how I learn. I need to find a connection to the material- either to my own interests or with respect to something I can apply in the real world. For example the semester I realized I loved metabolism was when I was taking courses in biochemistry, nutrition, and toxicology. It was a really hard semester but half way through I had a light bulb moment where I realized the material I was learning about in each class was just a variation of what I learned in the others. I saw the relationship between the disciplines under the larger umbrella of studying metabolism.

Applying intersection in the future

With regards to intersectionality in the traditional sense- “the complex cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect” (Merriam-Webster, 2019), I don’t do a lot with that currently. I would like to though. Intersectionality is not a topic that gets brought up much in the world of science. It has a lot of potential too though- there is a lot of discrimination in the scientific world, both in the past and in the present:

Race- and gender-based bias persists in US science

(More) Bias in Science Hiring

Gender discrimination holding women back in veterinary practice

I think if we integrated more training in issues surround diversity and inclusion- such as intersectionality- to science graduate programs and professional programs (medical, veterinary, pharmacy, etc.) we would be able to cut down on discrimination present in science today.

-SE

Intersectionality. 2019. In Merriam-Webster.com Retrieved October 7, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality

Veterinarian Suicide- How we prepare pre-vet students in Animal Science

Veterinarian suicide has been in the news recently as the tragedy it rightfully is (Link); however, this is not a new problem. In 2018 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a press release following a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research article which found that suicide among veterinarians was higher than the general population during a time frame of 1979 to 2015 (Link)(American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018). There are many reasons being blamed for the higher rate of suicide- crippling debt, limited job prospects, difficult job tasks, unhappy customers, etc. But the fact remains that veterinarians are killing themselves at an alarming rate- one suicide is already too many regardless of the population.

This issue has hit close to home to me as many friends and my sister are in the veterinary medical profession, but also because 85 % of the incoming freshman in 2018 to the Animal and Poultry Science department at Virginia Tech declared their intended interest was pre-veterinary medicine (VT APSC, 2019). That means in an average class size of 200, there are 170 students that intend to enter the veterinary medicine field- this is normal in animal science departments across the country. As an educator and mentor to these students this terrifies me, we are training students to enter a career field that may drive them to suicide.

There are programs for veterinarians and vet students to be exposed to well being practices and companies that employee veterinarians have made financial commitments to teach coping skills with the goal to reduce suicide (American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d.). I wonder if the Animal Science discipline, of which veterinary medicine is one small part, has a responsibility to dealing with this crisis. Currently, before vet school little discussion about suicide is provided to students. Do Animal Science faculty members have a responsibility to talk with pre-vet students about suicide? Should undergraduate faculty members who served as mentors to these students have a responsibility to stay connected to these now veterinarians and continue mentoring? The crisis of veterinarian suicide is heartbreaking and horrible, I think that animal science departments should be considering their role in mitigating veterinarian suicide.

References:

American Veterinary Medical Association. 2018, December 21.  AVMA combating suicide amongst veterinary professionals [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/News/PressRoom/Pages/AVMA-combating-suicide-amongst-veterinary-professionals.aspx

American Veterinary Medical Association. n.d. Wellbeing and Peer Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/PeerAndWellness/Pages/default.aspx

Virginia Tech department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. 2019. Animal and Poultry Sciences 2019 Departmental Review. Blacksburg, VA: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The personal impact of stereotype threat

As I mentioned in my introductions post I am hoping to become a faculty member in the future. I am aspiring to do this for a few reasons: 1- I love chicken intestines and that’s a little too weird outside of academia, 2- I am passionate about research and training students which is the hallmark of a faculty position but also because 3- I was told that I wouldn’t be able to get a faculty position. As my friends and family can attest I am quite stubborn so being told I can’t do something will motivate me quite extensively. Upon reflection one of the large reasons I decided to pursue a graduate degree was because a teacher of mine told me I wouldn’t be able to get one. I don’t know why they chose to say that to one of their students; but I have come to think that they said it because they probably didn’t see a female faculty member while attending university.

The lack of female representation in higher education has been seen as a problem for many years now- there are frequent articles about the issue of low female faculty numbers. Many universities have made strides in hiring female faculty members, over the last 10 years the number of female faculty in agriculture has increased from 12 to 23% (Cho, Chakraborty, and Rowland, 2017) but, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics 2016-2017 report only 33% of full professors are female which is below the national average (NCES, 2017). This issue has become more prominent in my life as I have progressed in obtaining degrees in animal science. At Michigan State University where I received my bachelors there were X number of faculty involved in research and teaching that was visible to undergraduate students. When I got my certificate in Poultry Science through the Midwest Poultry Consortium Center of Excellence scholarship program there were only two female faculty that taught in the program those numbers have shifted in more recent years but still remain less than half. In my master’s program at Auburn University there were only five female faculty members out of 14 total faculty positions in the poultry science department and only one of them was a full professor.

As a result of the lower number of female faculty members most of the mentors I’ve had have been men. There is nothing explicitly wrong with that except that in my case it is largely because I have not had the privilege of getting to work with many female faculty that could serve as a mentor to me. As a result I have worked to build peer networks with many of the female students I know in poultry science with the goal of providing support and sharing knowledge.

Another way this issue has impacted my life experience is the unspoken requirement that I excel at everything I do. I feel this pressure to be perfect because as soon as I screw up I feel that I will be dismissed as just another girl trying to do science. This sense creates an unnatural competitive environment that contaminates my experience working in the laboratory with my lab mates. I felt this most severely in my master’s position. When I started another female student was finishing her PhD- she was largely regarded as the most successful student to come out of that research program and had won many awards during her time there. The lab manager shared with me that I had been recommended to the research program as a younger version of that student and that another girl had just been asked to leave the program because she didn’t cut it. Knowing that made me feel an extreme sense of imposture syndrome and hypervigilant about everything that I did.(Insert citation for class paper) Looking back I see that this is a clear example of stereotype threat playing out. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the successful female in the lab and would be kicked out like the other girl before me. I started doubting my abilities and analyzing everything I did looking for differences that didn’t exist before.

Because of my negative experience I often think about what I would like to do differently when I (hopefully) have my own research program and am hiring students. I worry that I will pass on the same experience by inadvertently perpetuating the belief that any students I take on (especially female) will feel they have to be just like me. I worry about this for two reasons: mainly I don’t want any person to feel like I did during my master’s program but also stereotypes contribute to the continuation of the cycle of prejudice and discrimination that keeps society divided. (Check out this video by Khan academy that explains this much better than I could) So far my worrying has not been very productive and I have not come up with any solid suggestions for how to combat the stereotype threat I feel. I did appreciate that the article Dr. Grimes shared in the Week 5 module: Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice (Schamder and Hall, 2014). That article mentioned that those at risk of stereotype threat should understand the anxiety that they may feel as a result of stereotypes and to spend time reflecting on their values and purpose. I am a large proponent of self-reflection and encourage everyone to dedicate time to reflecting on their goals and experiences. I will definitely strive to pass this lesson on to any future students of mine.

References

               Cho, A., D. Chakraborty, and D. Rowland. 2017. Gender representation in faculty and leadership at land grant and research institutions. Agron. J. 109:14-22.

National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. 2017. Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty. Figure 2. Chapter: 4/Postsecondary Education Section: Postsecondary Environments and Characteristics: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_csc.pdf

Schamder, T. and W.M. Hall. 2014. Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences. 1:30-37.

If anyone has any similar experiences or ideas on how to prevent this from happening to others please share it with me. Thank you for reading enjoy this sassy chick pic as a break from the seriousness.

-SE