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Sex Differences in Attainment of Independent Funding by Career Development Awardees

Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil; Amy R. Motomura, BSE; Kent A. Griffith, MS; Soumya Rangarajan, MPP; and Peter A. Ubel, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Grant Support: In part by the American Medical Association's Women Physicians' Congress, through a grant from the Joan F. Giambalvo Memorial Fund.

Potential Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, UHB2C490, SPC 5010, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5010; e-mail, rjagsi@med.umich.edu.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Jagsi: Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, UHB2C490, SPC 5010, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5010.

Ms. Motomura: Department of Bioengineering, Stanford University, 318 Campus Drive, Clark Center Room S170, Stanford, CA 94305-5444.

Mr. Griffith: University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Biostatistics Unit, SPC 0473, 8D15 NIB, 300 North Ingalls Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

Ms. Rangarajan and Dr. Ubel: University of Michigan, Room 7C127, North Ingalls Building, 300 North Ingalls Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

Author Contributions: Conception and design: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura, P.A. Ubel.

Analysis and interpretation of the data: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura, K.A. Griffith, S. Rangarajan, P.A. Ubel.

Drafting of the article: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura.

Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura, K.A. Griffith, P.A. Ubel.

Final approval of the article: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura, K.A. Griffith, P.A. Ubel.

Statistical expertise: K.A. Griffith.

Obtaining of funding: R. Jagsi.

Administrative, technical, or logistic support: R. Jagsi, P.A. Ubel.

Collection and assembly of data: R. Jagsi, A.R. Motomura, S. Rangarajan.

Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(11):804-811. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-151-11-200912010-00009
Text Size: A A A

Background: Concerns have been raised about the career pipeline in academic medicine, including whether women with a demonstrated commitment to research succeed at the same rate as male colleagues.

Objective: To determine the subsequent academic success of recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) career development awards.

Setting: United States.

Participants: 2784 of 2799 (99.5%) recipients of K08 and K23 awards for whom sex could be ascertained from the NIH Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects database and other publicly available sources.

Measurements: Actuarial rates at which recipients of K08 and K23 awards from 1997 to 2003 went on to receive R01 awards. Sex-specific rates of R01 award attainment were calculated by using the Kaplan–Meier method, and sex differences were assessed by using a Cox proportional hazards model.

Results: Overall, 31.4% of the 1919 K08 awardees and 43.7% of the 865 K23 awardees were female (P < 0.001). Women were less likely than men to receive an R01 award (P < 0.001). The actuarial rate of R01 award attainment at 5 years was 22.7% overall, 18.8% among women, and 24.8% among men. At 10 years, the rate was 42.5% overall, 36.2% among women, and 45.6% among men. Sex persisted as an independent significant predictor of R01 award attainment (hazard ratio, 0.79 [95% CI, 0.68 to 0.92]; P = 0.002) in multivariate analysis controlling for K award type, year of award, funding institute, institution, and specialty.

Limitation: Whether the lower rate of R01 award achievement among women is due to lower rates of application or lower rates of success in application could not be determined.

Conclusion: Only a minority of K awardees studied achieved R01 award funding during the period assessed, and a significant sex disparity was evident.


Grahic Jump Location
Appendix Figure 1.
Flow diagram of method of searching for new institutional affiliation or surname change among female recipients of K awards, part 1.

CRISP = Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects.

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Appendix Figure 2.
Flow diagram of method of searching for new institutional affiliation or surname change among female recipients of K awards, part 2.

CRISP = Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects.

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Actuarial rates of R01 attainment by the K awardees studied, by sex.
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Women Career Development Awardees: Applying for Funding is a Leading Factor in Receiving Independent Research Support
Posted on December 23, 2009
Jennifer Reineke Pohlhaus
National Institutes of Health
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Jennifer Reineke Pohlhaus, PhD, Hong Jiang, PhD, and Jennifer Sutton

Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health

In the article, "Sex Differences in Attainment of Independent Funding by Career Development Awardees," Jagsi and colleagues found a sex disparity in the achievement of NIH R01 awards by prior career development (K) awardees, and raised concerns about the progression of women in research careers (1). Several of their conclusions deserve additional scrutiny and discussion.

Most importantly, as the authors acknowledged, they did not have information about application rates. NIH analyses indicate that the rates at which K awardees subsequently apply for research grants are higher for men than for women. Among K08 recipients from 1995 to 1998, for example, 74% of men and 67% of women applied for an R01 award within 10 years (P=0.0147). Those disparities also were evident in the broader category of research project grants, where 80% of male and 74% of female K08 recipients applied within 10 years (P=0.0291). However, when women K awardees apply for subsequent research grants, NIH data show that they are equally or more successful than their male peers who hold the same types of degrees (e.g., comparing male and female MDs). Additionally, in the total pool of applicants for Type 1 R01s, success rates for men and women are equivalent (2). Combined, these data suggest sex disparities in the receipt of NIH awards are more attributable to differences in application rates than differences in success.

Furthermore, we know that it often takes several years for individuals to completely transition to research independence after receiving a K award. Over the long history of the K08 award, 55% of awardees who receive a subsequent R01 award do so within 5 years; the percentage rises to 76% for 8 years and to 83% for 10 years. As a result, the analyses in "Sex Differences" (which, in some cases, were limited to five years of follow up) likely excluded many K awardees who will later receive an R01 award. NIH data, however, do support Jagsi's finding that women progress from K to research awards somewhat more slowly than men, at least in the beginning of their careers. To help women - and men - who need more time to transition to research independence, NIH recently introduced new policies to allow career development awardees to pursue their projects part-time and new investigators to request an extension to their status as early stage investigators if they have had a lapse in research due to family or other responsibilities (3, 4). We expect these policies to foster continued participation in research by a broad population of investigators.

Finally, Jagsi and colleagues concluded that K awards are smaller for women than for men by comparing average total costs for all K awards. Because the entire pool of K awards includes mentored awards to junior investigators, individual awards to mid-career and senior investigators, and institutional awards to established investigators, true similarities - or differences - in direct costs between men's and women's awards were likely obscured. Furthermore, because individual K awards largely consist of salary support, any observed differences could be due to differences in institutional salary structure. NIH continues to study these and other issues related to women in research, and urges others to do the same (5, 6).

The authors realize that the transition to research independence will continue to be shaped by personal circumstances for both women and men. Nevertheless, we hope that concerns about sex-related differences in NIH funding are allayed and that all potential investigators will be encouraged to apply for NIH research support.


1. Jagsi R, Motomura AR, Griffith KA, Rangarajan S, Ubel PA. Sex Differences in Attainment of Independent Funding by Career Development Awardees. Ann Intern Med. 2009; 151:804-811. [PMID 19949146]

2. National Institutes of Health. Facts and Figures on NIH Extramural Programs 2008; 20. Accessed at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/award/research_training_investment/women_in_research_2.ppt on 21 December 2009.

3. National Institutes of Health. NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts; NOT-OD-09-036. Accessed at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice- files/NOT-OD-09-036.html on 21 December 2009.

4. National Institutes of Health. NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts; NOT-OD-09-034. Accessed at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice- files/NOT-OD-09-034.html on 21 December 2009.

5. National Institutes of Health. NIH RePORT; Investigators and Trainees. Accessed on http://report.nih.gov/investigators_and_trainees/index.aspx on 21 December 2009.

6. National Institutes of Health. Women in Biomedical Careers. Accessed at http://womeninscience.nih.gov/ on 21 December 2009.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Author's Response to Pohlhaus
Posted on January 15, 2010
Reshma Jagsi
Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Pohlhaus has provided useful data supporting our identification of a leakage problem, especially for women, in the academic pipeline. We wish to clarify a few points in response.

First, there is no reason to expect that female K awardees have less research desire or talent than males; thus the lower rate of RO1 applications among women is a cause for concern. We need to understand why a lower proportion of promising women reach the point of applying for an R01.

Second, the rates of RO1 attainment that we presented were calculated through actuarial analysis, censored to account for follow-up. Pohlhaus has shown no evidence that we "excluded many K awardees who will later receive an R01 award." In fact, if one extrapolates from the information she shares that "over the long history of the K08 award, 55% of awardees who receive a subsequent R01 do so within 5 years and 83% within 10 years,"one concludes, based upon both the 5-year and 10-year rates we observed, that about half of K awardees in this cohort will never receive R01 funding.

As noted in our manuscript, "may have a longer time course to R01 receipt, given the exigencies they face with regards to childbearing." Nevertheless, the actuarial curves in our study showed no sign of convergence, raising the likelihood that the gender differences we observed will persist even with further follow-up. Another point deserves repeating: "the duration of follow-up in our study spans the time period within which most medical schools require research faculty to apply for tenure."

Third, when we speculated about the potential impact of career award size, we could only refer to published data pooling together 472 K02 and K04 awardees with 2956 K01, K08, and K23 awardees. This pooling may have obscured differences across award type. We encourage Pohlhaus to consider analyzing these data further (or sharing their data with us), including whether there are in fact, as they speculate, differences in K award size that are due to gender differences in salary. This would be a great opportunity to explore associations of salary with institution type and specialty and to assess whether there are gender disparities among similarly situated male and female biomedical researchers.

Finally, we applaud the NIH for developing policies to allow grantees to pursue their projects part time or to extend their status. We hope such initiatives lead to the retention of more promising researchers in biomedical careers.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

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