Teaching load could put female scientists at career disadvantage

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Female academics report spending more time on teaching and public-engagement tasks, and less time on research, than their male counterparts, according to a survey of UK university staff in science-based subjects.

The study of 2,495 male and 2,374 female academics at 43 UK institutions, published by the London-based charity Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) on 5 April, found that the gender difference was small but statistically significant. This was the case even when the effects of factors such as age, seniority and contract type were accounted for.

The finding echoes past research, which found that teaching and non-research-related administrative tasks have a greater impact on women’s careers than men’s, says Elizabeth Pollitzer, director of Portia, a non-profit organization in London that seeks to address gender issues in science.

If men spend more time on research, this could improve their career prospects when research productivity is used as a proxy for scientific merit, “which is nearly always”, says Pollitzer. It could also help to explain why many bibliometric studies have reported lower research productivity for women than for men, she adds.

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