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Lack of Women

Women are under-represented among genomics faculty, according to a new study.

"Our findings in molecular biology, particularly genomics, are what surprised us the most," Northwestern University's Luís Nunes Amaral says in a statement. "There is a lot of research money in this high-profile area, and women are not represented proportionally. This raises all sorts of questions as to what kind of cultural environment has been created in the field."

As they report in PLOS Biology, Nunes Amaral and his colleagues assessed researchers' tendency to collaborate by analyzing the publication records of 3,980 faculty members hailing from six science, technology, engineering, and mathematical disciplines at various research universities in the US. From this, they found that women had fewer distinct co-authors over the course of their scientific careers, which the investigators noted could be accounted for by female researchers' lower publication rate and shorter career length. They also found, though, that women had fewer repeat co-authors than men.

When the investigators focused on molecular biology and its sub-disciplines, they found that women were underrepresented among large research teams in genomics. Nunes Amaral and his colleagues noted that women are well represented in telomere research, an area of study in which women have been encouraged. They added that the top three most prolific researchers in this sub-field — Elizabeth Blackburn, Virginia Zakian, and Carol Greider — all conducted their doctoral research under Joseph Gall, who was known for supporting women in science.

"We want to understand ways in which males and females live different experiences in STEM disciplines, so that a level playing field can be created where needed," co-author Teresa Woodruff adds in a statement.

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