Wheel of (PI) Fortune January 13, 2015Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, feminism, science.
Tags: academia, career, engineering, research, science, women in engineering, women in science
I came across an article in Science from last summer discussing chances of being a PI. It included a calculator so that you could look at your various inputs (number of publications, first-author publications, etc.) and see what probability you have of becoming a PI. (I’m going to state the caveat that this probably is most accurate for biological sciences given that’s where the algorithm is presented, but I didn’t see that stated specifically.) Apparently, the dependency is most heavily weighted on two factors: number of first-author publications you have as well as highest number of citations on a first-author paper.
One interesting thing to note is that the chances of becoming a PI are better for men than women. When I was going through the various examples, it seemed like men generally had about a 12% better chance than women but it seemed to range from about 12% at the greatest and decreased with additional qualifications. The lowest difference I saw for people with the same qualifications was about 8%, but that was with the very highest qualifications.
Being of a somewhat practical bent, I decided to take this for a test run using both myself and my husband’s publication records. The thing that was a bit shocking for both of us is that the heavy weighting on first authors and citations on first author papers meant that, despite the fact that he has more publications than I do, my publication record actually is better in terms of chances at a PI than his. I have more first-author publications, and I also have more citations on one of my first-author papers. For most people who know us both professionally, I’m pretty sure that’s not what they would expect.
Despite my ‘better’ publication record, his chances at being a PI were still better than mine…by 8%. Given that delta seems to be close to the delta in general between men and women, it indicates to me that bias could be pretty significant factor in getting funding, especially early on in someone’s career when they’re low on some of those first-author publications.
Fortunately, I can happily write this off as a thought exercise given both of us have been PIs on our own projects. I’m glad I didn’t know the odds going in, however.