Time-to-Credit Gender Inequities of First-Year PhD Students in the Biological Sciences

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Equitable gender representation is an important aspect of scientific workforce development to secure a sufficient number of individuals and a diversity of perspectives. Biology is the most gender equitable of all scientific fields by the marker of degree attainment, with 52.5% of PhDs awarded to women. However, equitable rates of degree completion do not translate into equitable attainment of faculty or postdoctoral positions, suggesting continued existence of gender inequalities. In a national cohort of 336 first-year PhD students in the biological sciences (i.e., microbiology, cellular biology, molecular biology, develop- mental biology, and genetics) from 53 research institutions, female participants logged significantly more research hours than males and were significantly more likely than males to attribute their work hours to the demands of their assigned projects over the course of the academic year. Despite this, males were 15% more likely to be listed as authors on published journal articles, indicating inequality in the ratio of time to credit. Given the cumulative advantage that accrues for students who publish early in their graduate careers and the central role that scholarly productivity plays in academic hiring decisions, these findings collectively point to a major potential source of persisting underrepresentation of women on university faculties in these fields. 

Our results show that, after controlling for variance at the institutional level, men spend significantly less time engaging in supervised research, are less likely to attribute their time allocation to the demands of assigned tasks, and are 15% more likely to author published journal articles than their female counterparts per 100 hours of research time. Collectively, these findings suggest that gender inequality manifests in the form of differential time-to-credit payoff as early as the first year of doc- toral training. The men in our sample were better able to procure or were provided with better opportunities to capitalize on publishing prospects as a function of time spent on research than their female counterparts despite the reverse trend for time spent on research. These results provide convergent evidence for the conclusions of Smith et al. (2013), who found that female graduate students perceive a greater investment of effort to be necessary for success in their academic programs compared with their male counterparts. Although perceived effort and time invested are not identical constructs, it is possible that experiences of discrepant time-to-publication ratios may contribute to such beliefs. 


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