HHMI Early Career Awards

Mar 31 2009 Published by under Diversity in Science

While we are talking about stable funding, tenure and the value of scientists following their noses heedless of these issues, what should appear in my mailbox but a note from a reader about the HHMI Early Career Awards.

HHMI will provide each Early Career Scientist with his or her full salary, benefits, and a research budget of $1.5 million over the six-year appointment. The Institute will also cover other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment.

w00t! That sounds like a very GoodThing does it not?

The selected scientists, who are at 33 institutions across the United States, have led their own laboratories for two to six years. During that time, many have made considerable contributions to biomedical research. Energetic and passionate about a broad range of scientific questions, this group of scientists is at a career stage that many consider to be a scientist's most productive--and most vulnerable.
In today's constrained research funding environment, many early career faculty find it difficult to establish and develop their research programs. They often launch their own labs with start-up funds from their host institution. That support is provided with the expectation that the scientist will establish his or her own research program with independent funding.
The creativity and energy that researchers bring to starting their own labs can quickly be sapped by the time-consuming and often frustrating quest for funding. Within a few years of a new faculty appointment, a researcher's institutional start-up funds typically come to an end. Pressure to secure federal grant money may lead to "safe" grant proposals. As a result, creative and potentially transformative research projects may fall by the wayside.

Niiice. What a great idea. So who got lucky? See the slideshow here.
huh. anything strike you? no? lemme get a pencil here....hmmm.
2 African-American looking guys, another maybe. Six Asian guys. Maybe another four or five men who look other than standard model white guy. Nine women.
Really? That's the best you could do? Seriously? You couldn't even that gender ratio up even a little bit better than that?

96 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Surely, scientists in turbans count double.

  • Dave says:

    You can find a male conspiracy in anything, can't you?

  • Dave says:

    Does anyone have stats on what the demographics are for HHMI-relevant biologists? Without that, we can't know whether HHMI chose a fair cross section of available candidates or whether indeed their early career awards show bias.
    If HHMI chose a fair cross section, then they are likely choosing from the available pool in a reasonable manner. Then the problem reverts to how to get more women & minorities into science.
    If HHMI's choices are biased compared to the available pool, then it is fair to ask why. Perhaps HHMI is then indeed part of the problem with retention of women & minorities. Given that HHMI leaders tend to be overly-PC, I bet a nice letter to them would be effective.
    But you need data. Not just inflammatory horseshit.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    What bothers me is the significant decline in the number of Jews among the awardees. Do you think it has anything to do with antiSemithism?

  • whimple says:

    I know two of the people on the HHMI list. One of them is for sure the de novo real deal. The other one might be the real deal, or might not be. He has the success, but he also comes very heavily pedigreed, which obscures the degree to which he personally or his pedigree is responsible for this success. Both maybe.

  • Alex says:

    Surely, scientists in turbans count double.
    As far as the way they're treated by airport security, NSA wiretappers, etc., they are most definitely a disadvantaged minority group. For diversity in science purposes, well, they generally come from over-represented ethnic groups. (An NSF program officer actually told me once that she "didn't really care" about a student from a certain over-represented non-white group. Look, I didn't ask her to heap any praise on the guy, but in a discussion of broader impacts she asked me what the composition of my research group was, so I told her, and after praising me for 2 of the students she explicitly said "You know, we don't really care about your [insert group here] student.")
    Anyhow, moving past race and gender for a moment, what struck me is that a lot of these "early career" people didn't look all that young to me. That's a sad comment on the duration of the training path.

  • Hum says:

    DM, the prominence of male awardees is particularly noticeable in the beginning of the slideshow. Yeesh.

  • Of the six awardees whom I know personally, two are women. They both totally kick ass and clearly merit the awards.
    An interesting question to ask about these awardees as a group is how many of them have scientific lineages that include HHMI mentors.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If we can please nip something in the bud, I* was not at all questioning whether any of the individuals selected are sufficiently meritorious. They no doubt are. I guess if I have a point tangentially related, it is that there are undoubtedly 2 or 3 or 8 times as many other investigators that are similarly talented and promising that might have been selected as well.
    *in case this is where this is coming from.
    An interesting question to ask about these awardees as a group is how many of them have scientific lineages that include HHMI mentors.
    I see some that do. What, is it a mystery that HHMI-ness forms essentially a hereditary, landed-gentry type elite when it comes to science?

  • Of the six whom I know personally, one is a woman and the rest fall into the pasty-white dude category. One of those is a fantastic friend for whom I am ridiculously happy - I know how hard he worked to cobble together $$ to keep his lab running without an R01 for years, and this is just awesome for him.
    Five of the six are rockstars who deserve all the accolades that can be heaped upon them. The other is a slimy fucktard with the self-preservation instincts of a cockroach.

  • What, is it a mystery that HHMI-ness forms essentially a hereditary, landed-gentry type elite when it comes to science?

    Of course it's not a mystery. I was trying to be clever and subtle.

    The other is a slimy fucktard with the self-preservation instincts of a cockroach.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

  • Of the six awardees that I know personally, five of them are rockstars who deserve all the awards that can be heaped their way. One of them is a very close friend of mine, and I am remarkably thrilled that he got this award. I know how hard he worked to cobble together $$ when he was getting the shaft on his first R01, and this is just awesome for him.
    The sixth is.. well, I have nothing positive to say about the sixth.

  • Huh. Thought I deleted that comment; evidently posted instead. Oh well.

  • Anonymous says:

    8/50 are women. I know one of the women, and she's AWESOME.

  • jekka says:

    I'm curious how many of the more established recipients really needed this boost. Are any of them doing science that's so innovative, they have yet to secure federal funding? Of course 1.5 million is going to be a game-changer, but if you have already received multiple R01s, or even tenure, are you truly in the "most vulnerable" stage of your career? HHMI is absolutely doing the right thing here by funding new and talented investigators, but it's not as if, say, Karl Deisseroth is languishing in obscurity.

  • neurowoman says:

    Again, re gender skewing, we have to know how many folks applied. Women (myself included) need to be prodded and get ourselves to apply more often for these types of things of which we often think ourselves not worthy. Not the whole story, but part of the problem.
    I'm impressed at how many do not seem to be the standard protein/gene jockey/cell biology types. Lizards? Cool. Yay non-mammalian model animals.
    Also, a survey: do you prefer the 1) in-lab head shot, 2) in-nature, I have a life, head-shot or 3) Sears portrait?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Let's see, 30% of the awardees are women, 70% men. What is the distribution among the general, early career research scientist population? If it is not much different from 30/70, then, I see no problem with it. Moreover, isn't recognition of the best science should be gender-blind?

  • Anonymous says:

    9 out of 50 is 30%?
    No, this is way more depressing than that.

  • whimple says:

    No way does HHMI let themselves be exposed to serious discriminatory critique. Give it up people.
    My guess is that the HHMI awardees are already well-funded. Crisp can tell for sure. Of course, HHMI can spend their money any way they see fit, so no one can really seriously complain.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Annonymous, you're correct. My bad, I thought it is 9 out of 30.
    Does anyone knows what's the distribution of women/men among early career research scientists?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Links of interest to those of you who claim to want the data
    http://bluelabcoats.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/nih-for-girls-nih-for-boys/
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11741#toc
    go read that stuff and when you come back with "oh yea but the HHMI pool is different" you can feel free to provide your data on why that is so. in short, stop trying to shift the burden of proof when the data are already available with respect to the generalities. Given this, it shifts the burden to show why the very select elite pool is somehow unenriched in women.
    (and btw, if we credit PP's hypothesis about training in HHMI labs, well, the ones I know of have puh-lenty of women postdocs.)

  • Peanut says:

    OK, Sol, you're on.
    Summarizing HHMI award requirements:
    To be eligible for 2009, awardees 1) must hold a tenure track appt at one of 200 eligible institutions, 2) have 2-6 years since first appointed to position, and 3) have first held a faculty position beginning no later than 6/1/2002 and no later than 9/1/2006.
    For this effort, I assume eligible person had a postdoc, lasting 1-3 years.
    Eligibles would have PhD earned between approximately 1999 -2005, had postdoc(s), then landed position at 1/200 eligible institutions.
    The size of this pool and its gender composition are the $1.5 million dollar question, aren't they?

  • neurolover says:

    The lack of diversity was one of the first things I noticed, and especially the gender skewing (because, as we all know, Ph.Ds in biology are at or near gender parity as are postdocs). I'm disappointed in Hughes. They could have done better if they'd cared.

  • jc says:

    Things that come into play when talking about gender and awards:
    from Virginia Valian's "Why So Slow?"
    1) men get promoted faster than women, so "early career" differs between men and women in that women have longer "early career" stages. page 217
    2) remember also that women tend to adjunct more than men, so defining "early career" gets sketchy between genders. p 219
    3) "Women are overrepresented at the bottom and underrepresented at the top" for tenure track ranks. This would leave me to think that more women would be "early career" than men. p 241, 246
    4) "early career" start and stop times may differ with respect to maternity leave start/stops
    5) women tend to publish somewhat less than men and women produce work of somewhat higher quality, so "overall productivity" becomes difficult to standardize. p 265
    6) women profs receive lower ratings of competency in teaching evals than men. Students perceive women as less effective and less competent. p 265
    7) see doubledoc's rundown of grant funding for men and women. summary: women get screwed.

  • Peanut says:

    Summarizing PhDs awarded, Survey of Earned Doctorates:
    Life Science PhDs, 1999-2005
    Men - 19,173
    Women - 19,676
    Total - 38,849
    Yes, I know not all life science PhDs would be HHMI material, but I'm not going to cut it any finer than that. Someone else can take a crack at it, if they'd like.

  • Peanut says:

    My final analysis:
    Successful 2009 HHMI awards/PhD earned between 1999-2005:
    Men: 41/19,173
    Women: 9/19,676
    Ugh.

  • Alex says:

    OK, let's do some estimates:
    The drdrA post linked to by DrugMonkey shows a table with the fraction of NIH grant applications from men and women. omen apply for 28.2% for NIH grants (vs 71.8% for men). Among those requesting less than $7.39 million (to exclude center directors and other people likely to be late-career) women have a 26.2% success rate (vs 29.2% for men).
    If we assume that the pool of NIH grant recipients roughly corresponds to the pool of HHMI-eligible people, and normalize by success rates to focus on the more competitive women and men in the pool, you would expect about 25% female recipients, i.e. 12 or 13 out of 20. The actual number (9) is short of that, but for small sample sizes fluctuations can be significant.
    OTOH, before we hand-wave this away by invoking "small number statistics" fluctuations can be both positive and negative, so if this explanation were true then we would expect to see years in which the percentage of female awardees was disproportionately high. I don't have historical data on HHMI early career awards, but I would be willing to bet that years with under-representation are significantly more abundant than years with over-representation.
    Now, not every NIH grant recipient is necessarily HHMI Early Career material, either because of quality or because HHMI is not focused on that field. People at undergraduate institutions would probably not be getting HHMI Early Career awards (barring some super-achiever at a really elite place) nor would most nursing researchers, some of the social science people funded by NIH, and maybe a few biophysics/biomathematics people (although there was at least one computationalist on the list, IIRC). It is plausible that some of these groups skew female (I don't have the numbers in front of me), but some interdisciplinary fields less likely to get HHMI funds (e.g. biophysics) might skew male. Either way, these types of recipients are a fairly small portion of the NIH pool.
    So, correcting for these factors might drop the expected number of female recipients to 10 or 11 instead of 12 or 13.
    OK, now that 9 doesn't look so bad. But before we rest easy, we have to consider the fact that those NIH numbers that I'm working from don't just include early career people (although they do specifically exclude a handful of grants more likely to go to senior people). They span a wide range of ages, and women make up a larger percentage of early-career faculty than senior faculty. A very conservative estimate says that any disciplinary/institutional skew estimated above would be wiped out by the age effect, so we're back to an expected number of 12 or 13.
    And since the age effect correction is probably conservative, we're probably looking at something bigger than 12 or 13.
    So, the number is low.

  • Dave says:

    Nice work, folks. I'm convinced there's a bias. I emailed a link to this post (and discussion) to a female HHMI advisory board member whom I have great respect for. Maybe she'll pass it on or comment. Maybe not. If you have HHMI contacts, you could do the same.
    In general, I think HHMI does a pretty good job of identifying and supporting fabulously talented investigators. But given the $power$ they have to make or break careers, I agree they need to carefully consider whether, when it comes to gender & race discrimination in science, they're part of the problem or part of the solution.

  • Sean Eddy says:

    I helped review for this HHMI program. Tom Cech (HHMI's president) recently gave us a talk about the results of the competition.
    The gender ratio of the awardees reflects the gender ratio in the input applicant pool, which was a bit less than 20% female.
    This fact indicates that the HHMI selection process itself wasn't obviously gender-biased. It does, however, leave open plenty of questions about why our applicant pool started out with such a ratio.
    In contrast to what many people in this thread are implying, Hughes does care about this issue - a lot.

  • whimple says:

    In contrast to what many people in this thread are implying, Hughes does care about this issue - a lot.
    Not a surprise. In fact, my suspicion is that Hughes specifically quotaed the final result to match the applicant pool.
    If Hughes really did care, they could have simply declared they were awarding an equal number of male and female awards and had separate application pools. I wonder if the same 20% would have applied for the women's awards, or if having a women-only application pool would have drawn out some additional worthy candidates. Hughes cares, just not enough to make a tangible difference.

  • jc says:

    Here's a 2005 diversity article from HHMI. Another consideration is the gender of the evaluators. They stated that 20-33% of their review panels are women. They also show 25% of the candidates for awards are women, so that agrees with Sean's % from his panel. Sean, what was the % of women on your panel?
    http://www.hhmi.org/bulletin/pdf/winter2005/Cech.pdf

  • becca says:

    "It does, however, leave open plenty of questions about why our applicant pool started out with such a ratio.
    In contrast to what many people in this thread are implying, Hughes does care about this issue - a lot. "

    I'm glad to hear it. So what about the open question of what are you doing to increase the diversity of your applicant pool?

  • GirlPostdoc says:

    It certainly struck me as I was going through the slideshow of the paucity of women. I counted nine too. And 9/50 is not 30% it's 18%.
    You also can't just look at the number of male and female applicants. This number simply reflects a bias in who gets hired. Although true that women apply less often, they are also hired less often which means there are a lot fewer of them around.
    I looked up NSF reports and you can find my stats and analysis here:
    http://girlpostdoc.blogspot.com/2009/02/diversity-in-science.html
    Here's a little soundbite:
    "So is our academic landscape changing? If the full rank Professors represent the old guard, then we should really look at the Assistant Professors because these are people who have yet to get tenure and are likely to represent new hires. Fourty-four percent are white and male and 30% are made up of white females. Three percent are Asian females and 2.2% are black females."
    BTW

  • neurolover says:

    "The gender ratio of the awardees reflects the gender ratio in the input applicant pool, which was a bit less than 20% female."
    Interesting info Sean Eddy. I'm surprised, and somewhat troubled. If I remember correctly the young investigator awards were self nominated? that is, any qualified investigator could apply, with no limits for universities/external nomination process? If so,I wonder why the pool was so biased to start out with. That's a problem that should be discussed and analyzed.
    I remember hearing about a McKnight Endowment fund for Neuroscience review that said that they'd changed their application (to self nomination) after they realized that their applicant pool was being biased by the nomination process (women were less likely to come to mind when the mostly male establishment was asked for suitable nominations). University level limits also affect the applicant pool (like those used for the Pew & Searle grants, at least a few years ago) -- presumably because the universities don't have the statistics to make sure their nomination pools are balanced.
    I wonder if the 2-6 year early career range skewed away from women because of childbearing? I can't remember what the awards guidelines were on the question. Did Hughes have an explicit exemption for delays, and how was it worded? The Sloan Foundation has a broad all-encompassing suggestion that they will extend the early career nomination period that you have to read carefully and then correspond with the program director in order to take advantage of. A more explicit and automatic policy might produce more equity in the applicant pool.
    Oh, and it was cavalier of me to say that "Hughes could have done better if they'd cared." I do know they care. The question though, is what to do to make sure that the concern actually affects outcomes.

  • Peanut says:

    I never said that Hughes didn't care about the issue.
    I just took this as an opportunity to evaluate a particular cohort and its success rate for a high profile, competitive program.
    Specifically, what the hell is going on?
    The data clearly show leaks between PhD in life sciences awarded to receiving 2009 HHMI.
    Further info needs:
    # New post doc starts
    # Average length of postdocs
    # new positions in eligible 200 institutions by year
    # positions filled by year
    # applicants/position
    # HHMI applications by year
    Let's get beyond squabbling about whether there is a problem or whether a particular program cares about the problem.
    My point: Lots o' data out there. Let's analyze them. Find the leaks, and figure out how to plug them.

  • microfool says:

    In case anyone wants to read the bios like a normal person would like to (and not on a slideshow):
    Awardees' last name ending with:
    A-D
    E-K
    L-P
    R-T
    U-Z

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think the most important issue is identified by Dave.
    But given the $power$ they have to make or break careers, I agree they need to carefully consider whether, when it comes to gender & race discrimination in science, they're part of the problem or part of the solution.
    and we don't even have to say they are "part of the problem" but just ask what they are doing to solve it. HHMI is too small to be anything but a minor part of any systematic issues of diversity (or lack thereof) but they punch way above their numerical weight in PR impact and genuine BOOOOOOOOSSSTT to a research program that has it. Remember, the awardees sit on that pool of $$ and compete with everyone else for R01s as well. HHMI essentially arbitrarily decided to start the Early Career program (in Mar2008) and expect to have another call in 2012.
    It's arbitrary to focus on Early Career (although I totally get behind the rationale). Well, they could have just as arbitrarily said either overtly or covertly that they were making it a Women or Ethnic Diversity Award, right? That choice right there says something. And what they choose to do for the 2012 will say something as well.
    Are they part of the solution? They damn well could be if they wanted to be.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Still a tempest in a tea pot. According to the data, 20% of the applicants were women, 18% of the awardees are women. The majority here cries "bias" and the war is on. First general on the frontline is whimple: "If Hughes really did care, they could have simply declared they were awarding an equal number of male and female awards and had separate application pools."
    Right! back to segregation. Separate graduate schools for boys and girls (maybe also separate schools for other minorities, and those, too, separated into boys and girls).
    Of almost 40,000 PhDs in 1999-2005, 50 received the HHMI award for 2009, 9 women and 41 men. Wow, can't you see the bias all over? Look at the Nobel Prize winners over the years, do you think that the Nobel committee is biased against non-Jews? Or they simply award the prize to the most important scientific discoveries?
    As I said, a tempest in a tea pot!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Right! back to segregation. Separate graduate schools for boys and girls (maybe also separate schools for other minorities, and those, too, separated into boys and girls).
    You seem to miss the point that we are identifying what amounts to male segregation in the upper ranks via a diversity* of selection effects. To call for an elimination of this male-segregation is in fact a de-segregationist position.
    *It is not the fault of HHMI, per se.

  • bill says:

    But, but -- I was told that science was the last pure meritocracy!
    Sour jokes aside, I am confident that the 2012 award will show the same levels of bias. It's not as though this were a new issue that HHMI could not have anticipated, and as several commenters have pointed out above, if HHMI genuinely views the issue as a problem they have plenty of opportunities to DO something about it.

  • jc says:

    Here's the 2007 report of HHMI awards, which has plenty of verbage about diversity.
    http://www.hhmi.org/home/HHMI_AR07.pdf
    Here's the breakdown for a few different levels of the pipeline.
    1) Scientific Review Board = 23 men, 5 women
    2) Medical Advisory Board = 7 men, 3 women
    3) Physician/Scientist Early Career Award = 16 men, 5 women
    4) HHMI/NIH Research Scholars (for med school students) = 27 men, 18 women, 4 not sure of
    neurolover, the application info says that tenure clock extensions will be reviewed on a case by case basis.
    bill, you must have been reading "science was the last pure meritocracy" delusions by Sol.

  • As I said, a tempest in a tea pot!
    That's easy for a washed up senile asshole like you to say. When you got a job, all you needed was to be a white dude with a PhD, and you were guaranteed a tenure-track faculty position and NIH funding. I'd like to see your sorry "I RULE WHEN 3/4 OF THE COMPETITION ARE EXCLUDED" ass try to compete today on a more level playing field (although still with substantial way to go) that includes women and non-whites, where you really have to be a decent scientist to survive, and not just a privileged white dude motherfucker.

  • Dave says:

    I hate to be a Larry Summers jerk and all, but as long we're discussing this (again), we need to consider the possibility that HHMI does indeed select the best scientists, and the best scientists just happen to be mostly white guys.
    I mean, just as a formal possibility....
    In which case, the options are:
    1) Girlz and non-Caucasians lack something required for success as a scientist.
    2) Something about the scientific establishment equates white male science with good science.
    I know this is going to get me into trouble, but I think there are arguments to be made for number 1. Assertiveness, for example. We all know that assertiveness goes a long way in science. Yet women tend to be less assertive. That said, no one sensible (I am not sensible) is going to admit to thinking number 1, because it implies a eugenic solution to our technocratic challenges, and racist explanations to 21st century societal problems. Number 2 is more interesting, not just because it seems unfair. There is no reason that reality needs to be fair. No, number 2 is interesting because it raises the possibility that good science is not being recognized by the current scientific establishment. In which case our biases are crippling scientific progress, because excellent female and minority scientists are being excluded in favor of less-talented white guys. That's clearly a bad thing. So what do you think? Should we tweak the system until scientist demographics mirror world demographics (about one-third 'white' and one-half female), under the assumption that every race and gender is equally talented scientifically? Or do we accept the Larry Summers possibility that politically correct 'fairness' may not be the fastest route to 200 year lifespans and cheap cold fusion in every household?
    If that seems too abstract, imagine you're dying of cancer (most of us are biomedical scientists after all). Who do you want working on your cure? A team of 10 'top scientists' reflecting current science demographic biases (8/10 white male)? Or a racially-diverse mix of men and women chosen based on both scientific and demographic criteria? In other words, do you want HHMI to pick your cancer cure team or do you want a bunch of PC sociologists? Who do you trust with your life?

  • Alex says:

    Um, Dave, there are a million things that could be said against your musings, and no doubt others will say them, but I'm going to tear down your attempt to "reason" from the data before you:
    We have a situation where just under 20% of applicants are female and just under 20% of winners (presumably chosen for the best science) are female. That would seem to suggest that women in this group are just as likely as men to produce good science.
    Now, you could raise all sorts of questions about why the pool of applicants is the way it is, and proffer all sorts of explanations. But you specifically looked at a process that purports to select the best science (the HHMI Early Career selection process), noted that it selected 19% females, and then drew the conclusion that maybe females are less likely to produce good science. Even taken on its own terms, that is a ridiculous analysis, because the process for selecting the best science returned a result that exactly matches the pool of applicants.
    If the pool of winners was different from the pool of applicants in some way, then maybe one could consider the conclusion that certain sectors of the applicant pool are more likely to produce good science. There are a million reasons why such a conclusion could be wrong, but at least we could see the starting point for that analysis. This situation offers ZERO starting point for that analysis.
    I am forced to conclude from this limited data set that people named "Dave" are inherently bad at scientific reasoning. Then again, my thesis advisor's name is Dave, so maybe my hypothesis is wrong (or, given some group meetings that I can recall, maybe my hypothesis is right.....).

  • April says:

    Dave, April Fools.

  • Dave says:

    We have a situation where just under 20% of applicants are female and just under 20% of winners (presumably chosen for the best science) are female. That would seem to suggest that women in this group are just as likely as men to produce good science.

    Oh, but there are all sorts of assumptions you're making. I agree that the HHMI chosen ones represent the demographics of the applicant pool (as far as males and females are concerned -- we don't have racial data). But the 'problem' (if indeed there is one) is bigger than that. 50% (or slightly more) of the population is female, and as pointed out above, 50% of early career biomedical scientists are female. Yet still there are relatively few women among the HHMI chosen ones. Helpfully, the comments above pinpoint the leak in the pipeline: The application process. For some reason, less than half of eligible females applied. Why? If we assume that females and males are equally scientifically competent, then the HHMI goal of identifying the best scientists failed, in that the system weeded out most females before they even had a chance to be seriously considered. That's a failure of the HHMI system just as surely as if a bunch of old white guy panelists with subconscious biases overlooked female applicant accomplishments.
    So why did so few females apply?
    Maybe females just generally suck at science, but at least they have the good sense to recognize that. Maybe. In this case, there's no problem; the HHMI selection process is brilliant, in that it not only picks the best scientists, but it encourages effective self-selection before HHMI selection panels ever have to bother with the list of candidates.
    Or were there better-qualified females who didn't apply for some mysterious reason? If so, then HHMI's selection process was inherently flawed. And understanding exactly how it was flawed (e.g. why highly-qualified females didn't apply) will not just be the 'PC thing' to do, but it will ultimately lead to better selection strategies that strengthen HHMI's 'portfolio' of investigators, and the scientific endeavor overall. So it's worth thinking about.
    Sol says this is a 'tempest in a teapot'. Like Sol, I despise whiners who use gender as an excuse for failure. But I do think there are subtle systematic biases against women in science, and the HHMI selection process is a nice case study that might lead to some real insights.
    Why did so few women apply? What could HHMI have done to ensure gender equity in applicants? These are important questions.
    But let's go further...
    If HHMI gets applicant gender equity next round (50% male applicants and 50% female applicants) and STILL ends up with mostly male awardees, what will we say? That HHMI has an inappropriate bias against female scientists? Or do we conclude that males are generally better scientists based on the HHMI 'experiment'? Remember there is no a priori reason why both genders should be equally good at science.

  • Wako says:

    Dave, why do you insist on taking up the argument that women and minorities are "not equally good at science" while rejecting sexism or gender bias? Do you really think the problem lies at the application process?
    According to these numbers, opening the competition to self-selection still does not overcome the unequal numbers of men/women applicants. Don't blame women/minorities and assume their lack of self-selection is indicative of inferiority. Remember, other people still could have nominated a female (but didn't).
    There is no a priori reason why both genders shouldn't be equally good at science. Furthermore, what do you think it is about *white* men that affords them more opportunities over minority men? Clearly, this is not just a simple "men are better than women at science" issue.

  • dreikin says:

    Interesting - the women are clustered at the end, alphabetically. Using microfool's links to the alphabetized lists, almost all the women are in the last 2 out of the five groupings.

  • dreikin says:

    Just checked for more specifics: Dr. Kaech is the only female to occur before the P's. Dr. Przeworski, the last person on the 'L-P' list and second female overall, starts the female cluster at the end.

  • JaneDoh says:

    Perhaps the "leaky pipeline" for this award isn't with HHMI. Maybe it is with the hiring practices of the 200 eligible institutions? If they are only hiring ~20% women, then the applicant pool would be similarly restricted. The evidence is pretty strong that "prestige" research universities and institutes are far more likely to hire male candidates than female candidates, even given CVs reflecting equal accomplishment.
    Maybe if HHMI changed the list of eligible institutions, their applicant pool would reflect the current gender distribution of PhDs earned, or at least of current postdocs.

  • Dave says:

    Dave, why do you insist on taking up the argument that women and minorities are "not equally good at science" while rejecting sexism or gender bias?

    Because it's a formal possibility.
    The idea that women & men are equally talented is the null hypothesis, which we are testing. This isn't about fairness; it's about selecting and supporting the best scientists.
    Anyone know what the heritability of scientific prowess is? Can we breed a better scientist? If so -- and if science is really the answer to all our problems -- then shouldn't we start the breeding program ASAP? Are DM and CPP stepping up as sperm donors?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Comerade PhysioProfane,
    First, my "tempest in a tea pot" statement was aimed at the relatively very small number of HMII awardees and the big "bias" whine that erupted here.
    Second, you know nothing about my career track and your repeated assumptions only show how your emotional side of your brain comletely obliterates the rational side of it, if there is such a side to your brain.
    Third, doing good or bad science has nothing to do with how one has became a scientist. Good science, regardless of the scientist, remains in the annals of science as knowledge to build on, bad science ends up in the garbage.
    Now, back to the topic at hand. Even if we assume that the sample size of the HMII awardees is large enough to conclude any conclusion about the status of women scientists in academia today, many here still assume that the disparity is due to a bias against women. But women are free to apply to any scientific position, award or grant. If we begin the application process with equal number of women and men applicants yet, ending up with more men than women holding faculty positions and hence, with less women being awarded grants or other scientific awards, the immediate assumption is that the process is somehow biased against women. There is also the assumption that no differences exist between men and women where persistence and competitiveness are concerned.
    I would like to raise the possibility that such differences do exist and that on average, men are more persistent and more competitive than women. And since success in scientific research, at least in part, requires persistence and competitiveness, men are more successful than women.

  • becca says:

    "1. Assertiveness, for example. We all know that assertiveness goes a long way in science. Yet women tend to be less assertive."
    Fuck You Dave. Next point?
    If HHMI really wants to fund women, they could always go back to funding grad students. Or, perhaps more importantly for the structure of the scientific enterprise, fund post-doc-to-faculty, like the kangaroo grants. There are plenty of female postdocs, afterall.

  • Even if we assume that the sample size of the HMII awardees is large enough to conclude any conclusion about the status of women scientists in academia today, many here still assume that the disparity is due to a bias against women. But women are free to apply to any scientific position, award or grant...

    The percentage of women awarded a HHMI award is 18%
    My professional society is 22% post-trainee women
    At a recent conference I attended, 12% of talks were given by women
    In the department I completed my PhD in, 11% of faculty were women
    This is not a tempest in a teapot, Sol.
    And I concur with Becca. Fuck you, Dave.

  • BP says:

    So DrugMonkey, if the gender ratio in the HHMI Early Career awards was the same as in the applications for the awards, as one of the comments here says, would you 1) advocate that HHMI discriminate in favor of women or 2) hold the awards up as an example of the leaky pipeline in biomedical research? Or both.

  • whimple says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think how incredibly damaging this early career HHMI award is with respecting to detrenching the entrenched academic science power structure.
    I blame Tom Cech, HHMI's president. I heard him give a talk, and what I remember was that, unlike most of the other Nobel Laureate talks I've heard, it was uninspiring. He talked about his current-day research projects, like he was giving a lab meeting. He should have used his Laureate status to motivate, to push for system-wide improvement, to try to elevate the abilities of all scientists generally. As it was, one of his post-docs could have given his talk. No grand vision. Sad.

  • And as someone who was recently told that she was a bit too assertive in lab management, let me add--fuck you.
    When women are assertive--this sentence is so old I don't need to finish it.
    Small wonder only a fraction still have the gumption to apply for fancy funding.

  • Dave says:

    I said: Yet women tend to be less assertive.
    becca replied: Fuck You Dave. Next point?
    Isis added: And I concur with Becca. Fuck you, Dave.
    *sigh*
    The idea that gender disparities in scientific representation may be due, at least in part, to gender-specific personality differences such as assertiveness is hardly new or unique to me or even argued primarily by males.
    Do a Google search, or search the book "Who succeeds in Science? The Gender Dimension" for the word "assertive". You can do so here: http://www.amazon.com/Who-Succeeds-Science-Gender-Dimension/dp/081352220X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238599416&sr=8-1
    Second, I seem to remember you (becca), you (Isis), and also DM using potential differences in 'assertiveness' as an explanation for gender disparities in previous discussions of this subject: http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/12/problem-what-gender-problem
    However, I do not think any of us want to revisit that level of discussion. So let's keep everything appropriately civil. Profane outbursts are not going to help anybody.
    [It would obviously be useful if I knew how to insert links in my comments. Anybody want to post an explanation? Thanks in advance.]

  • becca says:

    It wasn't gratuitous profanity. It wasn't even profanity-for-art/entertainment-sake (ala CPP). It was profanity calculated to show you that assertiveness in women is Not Perceived the same way as profanity in men. You've been commenting on this blog how long and where have you ever *sighed* over profanity before?
    You proved my point. Women (particularly women in science, particularly women black belt martial artists, particularly women who are teamsters) are incredibly assertive. To a fault. The point is, the same level of assertiveness is viewed as a positive attribute in males.
    You don't really want assertive female scientific colleagues. You can't handled them.

  • Dave says:

    I should add that I chose 'assertiveness' as a particular example because I think we've determined that the gender leak with regard to the HHMI awards happened at the application step.
    It takes a big ego to think you are worthy of HHMI, and confidence to follow through with the application process. I think 'assertiveness' is therefore a factor in that process. If women are indeed less generally assertive, then we have explained (at least in part) the disparity in HHMI awards.
    Possible solutions (assuming what I say above is true):
    a) Figure out a way to make women more assertive.
    b) Revise the scientific enterprise so that assertiveness is not a required characteristic for success.
    Mrs. Hyde's comment in #57 suggests that option A might backfire. Which leaves us with option B. How do we do that?

  • Dave says:

    I see your point, becca, but the same point was actually made better by Mrs. Hyde. In any case, you assume wrongly regarding my reaction. I wasn't *sighing* because of the female assertiveness or profanity. I was *sighing* because your comment was inflammatory and unhelpful. It would have been equally so if it was written by a male.

  • msphd says:

    DM- Wow. Thanks for posting this.
    But I think that leaving the total = 50 out of your original post led to some confusion there in the comments. Still, worth it to see the slideshow. What an astounding display of cluelessness on the part of HHMI.
    I agree that since the pre-HHMI success of young scientists is already largely biased, this is probably a factor in how this year's awardees were judged and/or the lack of encouragement for women to apply.
    I am not impressed.
    btw, I agree with becca that assertiveness training will not solve all our problems, although it does to bring out the backlash.
    and JaneDoh is right on - if we didn't have to be faculty already, there would be PLENTY more women candidates to choose from. But we have to thank HHMI for changing that policy a few years ago.
    and Dave, I pick the random assortment of scientists to save my life ANY DAY over the "top" ones. Because I know how the "top" scientists are chosen, and they're NO BETTER than everyone else. They're just more white, more male, and more connected. And frequently incapable of actually doing anything themselves.
    To put it another way, what we said about Larry Summers. Maybe you're behind on your homework and need to read up on our systematic decimation of his argument for the "null hypothesis." You're not worth the space of repeating it all again.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    So DrugMonkey, if the gender ratio in the HHMI Early Career awards was the same as in the applications for the awards, as one of the comments here says, would you 1) advocate that HHMI discriminate in favor of women or 2) hold the awards up as an example of the leaky pipeline in biomedical research? Or both.
    Both. You see, they already have their Hoary-Auld-Prof program which is going great guns and supporting all kinds of gignormous labs. It isn't clear that they need a feeder program to keep that going (i.e., the people they selected aren't really facing the same chances of a long hard slog forward that the blurb suggests- they selected highly pedigreed people working in teh hawt science. these people are insulated).
    This new program would have been a great opportunity to do more.

  • BP says:

    DrugMonkey, I agree with everything you wrote in reply except the first word: "Both". I don't agree with discrimination for women as really being an effective way of fixing pipeline problems. Also, the notion of giving someone funding for proposing/doing the best work while being a woman as opposed to for doing the best work strikes me as wrong.
    I do agree that the rhetoric of the HHMI Early Career awards doesn't match up with the selections made. Though this may in part be do to HHMI's requirements effectively handing off some of the vetting requirements to other people, which I believe they make a habit of doing in their awards. Fewer requirements may have made for a more diverse application pool, although probably with significantly higher review demands.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    I certainly hope that the M/F ratio is FAR closer to 50/50 in the next round of applications! The gap is closing far slower that I think we all want.
    I would like to expand the discussion in a slightly different direction. I would like to see an average age of the group. . .I agree with the other posts about the average age looking older than I expected. Or maybe working that smart and hard just ages you some prematurely. The age issue also comes back to the M/F application ratio. A dear friend of mine has just accepted a job outside lab science/TT position pursuit after wrestling with her desire to start a family sometime. Her PI (female) practically begged her to stay in lab science/TT but my friend decided after getting her PhD @ 29 that she wanted out. She has two (soon to be three) CNS papers from her PhD is a rising star but didn't want to do a 4-6 year postdoc just to have a shot etc etc...we all know the rest of the debate that I'm sure every person posting and reading here has had with themselves, male or female. My friend is one of "those" that LOVES science. Loves working in lab and is a fantastic writer. Gives great seminars. One of the "WOWers" (see below). Fortunately for science she found a job where she will still have a lot of contact with research but unfortunately for all of us she will not be directing it.
    On an unrelated note,
    /quote
    msphd:
    and Dave, I pick the random assortment of scientists to save my life ANY DAY over the "top" ones. Because I know how the "top" scientists are chosen, and they're NO BETTER than everyone else.
    /quote
    BULL. SHIT.
    Anyone that has ever been to a conference and talked to the participants knows that while the great scientists come from everywhere (and are all colors, genders, and creeds) and there are some pretenders to the intellectual throne. Yeah you can get all pissed off that the pretenders/great salespersons but you'll find almost everyone sees right through it and you sound stupid for not realizing it. Scientists form a Gaussian distribution with a little blip in the rarefied "WOW" category. We're talking BIG fish in BIG ponds. I'm not taking the grab-bag of potential mediocrity over the WOWers, even given that mediocre scientists are generally far more intelligent than the average population. I've known more than a few WOWers at my graduate and current institutions and one of 'em is on that HHMI list. That person deserves every penny and will spend it wisely in thought-provoking, powerful, and humanity-benefiting ways.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Well, the majority here seems to suggest that applying the quota system for awarding HMII awards is the way to go.
    Dave, I don't think assertiveness is the real trait that help men to succeed in science better than women (assuming that gender bias is fading), rather, as I have mentioned earlier, the necessary traits are persistence and competitiveness.

  • becca says:

    "as I have mentioned earlier, the necessary traits are persistence and competitiveness."
    Yeah. And as I have mentioned before, I'm still more awesome than you.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    becca,
    Persistence in saying that you're still more awesome than me won't make you a better scientist. Trying to compete with CPProfane won't make your science hotter. Persistence and competitiveness probably reside somewhere on the Y chromosome. šŸ˜‰

  • becca says:

    Everytime males "women aren't this" it's obvious the only reasonable response is "AhHA! another person who can prove I'm not a woman!"
    Since I'm not a woman, I must admit I seem to have errrm... misplaced a certain appendage. You and Dave seem to know so much about everything, surely you can tell me where it is? (And what have you been doing with it all this time, anyway???)

  • Fucklington, did you have a wife at home taking care of children and the house while you were persistently and competitively doing your brilliant science?

  • Becca, do what I did and get knocked up. See, now I can be persistent and competitive and assertive and all those other male things up the wazoo because I'm the proud new owner of a penis. I bet this will be great for my science.

  • Anonymous says:

    It would be really interesting to take out the human element of either nominating one-self or being nominated by another person. Make a pool of all the people who fill the 'early career researcher' selection by a somehow automated selection of those who fulfill:
    To be eligible for 2009, awardees 1) must hold a tenure track appt at one of 200 eligible institutions, 2) have 2-6 years since first appointed to position, and 3) have first held a faculty position beginning no later than 6/1/2002 and no later than 9/1/2006.
    Quantify the definition of 'considerable contribution' and 'most vulnerable' and then make the selection process blind to the actual identity (and hence gender) of the person.
    The results of this would be most interesting.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    becca, I don't care whether your penis is internal or external. You either have certain traits that help you succeed in today's science or you don't!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPProfane,
    In my case, my wife went to school first, while I took care of the household and later the kids, then I went to school and she took over (that was the reason I finished my Ph.D. at age 36). We're both persistent and successful.
    How things are at your household? Are you bullying your wife and kids the way you do your peers, postdocs and students?

  • And after you got your PhD, did your wife continue to stay home and care for the home and your kids while you pursued your scientific career?

  • Peanut says:

    Tempest in a teapot, indeed. Thanks for missing the point.
    If you only ask the usual suspects, you will only get the usual suspects and the science that you've already known about.
    I challenge all of you to get out of your usual "invite the rock stars" approach to speak at seminars, workshops, and conferences.
    Go out of your away to invite people of all levels, ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds. Actually dig into the topic, you know, read the lit, talk to profs, post docs, grad students.
    I recently organized a regional workshop on hot topic of the moment, talked to people at all levels, and people from academic and nonacademic institutions.
    The results? It was a kick-ass workshop. Attendees commented that they hadn't realized the breadth and depth of the research out there.
    3 academic institutions
    3 government labs
    2 state government researchers
    5 professors
    3 post docs
    2 grad students
    2 Nobel laureates
    Gender ratio? 50:50
    It's not quotas. It's taking the time to pull your head out of your usual routine. Challenge yourself to find the kick ass science out there that you just weren't paying attention to.
    If you can't find it, you're not looking.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPProfane,
    You really are becoming a bit too nosey about my personal details. I am sure this is not because you like me that much. Would you be interested in receiving copies of both mine and my wife's CVs?
    Not like in your family, we make decisions together, we have raised our children together and we pursued our career goals simultaneously. Sadly and against her wishes, my wife had to retire from her college teaching position due to health problems and consequently, I also decided to retire sometime later.

  • You haven't answered my question. Did your wife stay home and care for your home and children after you received your PhD and while you were pursuing your scientific career?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Sorry, detective, for not answering your question. You haven't read me my rights yet and I would like to have my attorney now!!!

  • I figured you were totally full of shit as usual, with your "persistence" and "competitiveness" lies.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    You figured nothing!! I did answer your question before, but you want to know too many personal details and I do not trust you, bully.
    "In my case, my wife went to school first, while I took care of the household and later the kids, then I went to school and she took over (that was the reason I finished my Ph.D. at age 36). We're both persistent and successful."

  • Dave says:

    I see this comment thread is still active, although predictably degraded.
    As long as the thread is still active, I should mention that my HHMI contact (see #28, above) echoed Sean Eddy's comment's above: HHMI is very concerned about various social issues and puts a lot of thought into who they support and why. She said that "HHMI is very open to new ideas and input", and suggested that people send letters directly to HHMI if they have specific comments or suggestions.
    I think that's a good idea. Definitely more useful than simply blowing hot air here or grumbling pointlessly about a system you think needs fixing. I will leave it to DM to summarize the comments here any way he sees fit and contact HHMI. He was, after all, who raised the issue, and it's his blog.

  • I did answer your question before, but you want to know too many personal details and I do not trust you, bully.
    No, you didn't. After you got your PhD, did your wife stay home and take care of your home and children while you "persistently" and "competitively" pursued your scientific career?
    Your refusal to answer this question reveals that you are, as usual, totally full of shit. You claim that men and women have an equal opportunity for success in science, that all it takes is "competitiveness" and "persistence", and that women don't succeed to the extent that they lack these personal characteristics.
    Having a wife in the house doing the vast majority of the domestic work and caring for children has *nothing* to do with it. Sure thing, Fucklington.

  • becca says:

    -serious reply section-
    DM- I don't know that it is exactly 'your job' as Dave suggests, but I was serious about the HHMI doing something like the kangaroo grants. It would be hard to do those properly and not end up with a better gender mix, simply because the postdoc applicant pool is less homogenous than the "early faculty" pool. If you are going to make some suggestions, please consider that one.
    Dave- any idea where to send suggestions to within HHMI? I'm actually rather impressed Sean Eddy just popped by.
    /serious
    -juvenile thread hijack section-
    DJ&MH- check. I've got a 50% chance!
    Dija know that a few stemmy cells from the fetus can be PCR'ed out of you for years to come? So you'll get to keep the Y chromosome!
    "becca, I don't care whether your penis is internal or external. You either have certain traits that help you succeed in today's science or you don't!"
    *gets mental image of discussion a grant with HHMI reviewers, punctuating each adjective by beating them about the head and shoulders with a rambone* "I am Assertive, Persistent and Competitive can't you see?!!! Now fund my TOTALLY HOT SCIENCE!"
    *collapses with giggles*
    /juvenile

  • Dave says:

    becca (in response to #85),
    http://www.hhmi.org/contact/directory.html
    Note in particular emails comprised of names.
    HHMI appointments are made under advisement:
    http://www.hhmi.org/about/srb.html
    Remember that HHMI is people, mostly active busy talented and thoughtful scientists who really do care. If you have ideas, I'm sure they'd love to hear them. Please don't contact them if all you want to do is complain. Everyone loves the messenger bearing solutions. Messengers with problems? No.

  • Republica says:

    Please don't contact them if all you want to do is complain. Everyone loves the messenger bearing solutions. Messengers with problems? No.
    Fuck that. If there is a problem, you sure as hell should voice your opinions. It is helpful to identify the problem. That is the first step so that the brainstorming can begin. If enough people voice the same concern(s), there will be more emphasis and urgency to correct the problem. One does not have to have the answer to all of life's problems.

  • Fucklington, you gonna answer the question? Or are you gonna leave us with the inescapable conclusion that you are a lying hypocritical sack of bloviating shit?

  • anonymous says:

    Comrade Physioprof, you sound like a fat drunk trying to pick a 2AM bar fight. Stop it.

  • MC MAM says:

    Haha, what does a fat drunk sound like?

  • Hey, assholes. We do not use "fat" as an epithet on this blog. Now cut it the fuck out.

  • anonymous says:

    How about 'obese slob', Comrade? Got a problem with that? In any case, now you sound like a fat drunk who just got punched in the eye and cried in front of the girl he was trying to impress.
    My point being: Cool the vulgar attacks. Write something constructive, or shut up.
    You too, Dr. Rivlin.

  • How about 'obese slob', Comrade? Got a problem with that?

    You're damn right I do. Cut that bigotry shit right the fuck out or your ass is gonna be permanently banned.

    Write something constructive, or shut up.

    Sorry dude, these are the blog comments. The blog suggestion box is right here.

  • anonymous says:

    "You're damn right I do. Cut that bigotry shit right the fuck out or your ass is gonna be permanently banned."

    This is the equivalent of "I'm gonna tell my dad!" Go ahead. Do it, crybaby. But remember: I'm doing you a favor by telling you that you're acting pathetic. Trying to save you future embarrassment. You should be thanking me.

  • If I may add a bit of levity this far into the comment thread: I am deeply concerned that of the 41 men, a full 33 sport no facial hair. I'm being generous here in giving the dude with the soul patch a pass. Including him among the eight bearded, only three were goatees.
    How can a man do legitimate science without at least a goatee? From where will our future greybeards come? Have we gone mad?

Leave a Reply