At this time of the year, academic life in Finland is particularly hectic. The end of September is the deadline for grant applications to the Academy of Finland, the most important research funding agency of our country. It seems that almost everybody is engaged in the application process, either writing research proposals or commenting on others’ plans. This creates a special atmosphere with a mixture of collective support and individual competition. All are participating in a shared endeavour and exertion, yet only very few will have success.
Last summer, I and Sandra Acker (University of Toronto) prepared a presentation for the ISA World Congress of Sociology on what we called ‘grant hunting’. As part of this, we looked at studies on gendered differences in research funding. The findings were ambiguous. Following the general gendered pattern in academia, the common trend seems to be that the number of applications from women is smaller than that of men and accordingly, women receive less research funding than men (e.g. Leberman et al. 2017). However, the studies do not reveal any systematic and clear-cut gender bias in success rates. Furthermore, there are differences between disciplines and national contexts. For instance, a bias in favour of male applicants was found in funding health research in Canada (Tamblyn et al. 2018) but not in the social sciences in the UK (Boyle et al. 2015). According to Tamblyn et al., one reason for the male bias in Canadian health sciences was that funders prioritize basic research and peer reviewers gave lower scores for applied science applications, which acted against female applicants who tended to be interested in more applied topics.
From the gender perspective, it was especially delightful to look at the statistics from the year 2017 on the Academy of Finland funding for social sciences and humanities. In project funding, the overall success rate was 14.9%. Altogether 60 applicants received funding and from these successful applicants 34 were female and 26 were male. In postdoctoral researcher funding, the success rate was 13% and the share of women of the successful applicants was 73%. In academy research fellow funding, the success rate was 11.5%, and the share of women of the successful applicants was 50%.
This is encouraging for female academics writing their applications at the moment. The competition is hard and there are so many things to worry about in the process, but perhaps and hopefully not gender bias.
Boyle, P., Smith, L.K., Cooper, N.J., Williams, K.S., & O’Connor, H. (2015, Sept 9) Women are funded more fairly in social science. Nature, 525: 181–183.
Leberman, S., Eames, B. & Barnett, S. (2016). ‘Unless you are collaborating with a big name successful professor, you are unlikely to receive funding’. Gender and Education, 28(5), 644–661.
Tamblyn, R., Girard, N., Qian, C., & Hanley, J. (2018). Assessment of potential bias in research grant peer review in Canada. CMAJ, 190(16) E489-E499. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/190/16/E489.