While numerous studies have described the funding discrepancies among researchers at Minority Services (MSIs), there is relatively little information on the participation of MSI-based researchers in the grant review, the process used by research funders to allocate their budgets. A new article from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) sheds further light on grant review and the factors underlying scientists’ ability to participate in them.

In an article in the journal BioScience, AIBS scientists Stephen A. Gallo, Joanne H. Sullivan, and DaJoie R. Croslan describe the results of a survey distributed to thousands of MSI-based scientists to identify discrepancies in participation in licensing exams between Educate MSI-based scientists and those who work in traditionally white institutions (TWIs). The survey questions addressed a range of topics, including researchers’ recent experiences with funding and peer review and their motivations for participating in the grant process. In the opinion of the survey authors, the uncovering of differences in the participation in the assessment of funding is particularly important due to the close connection with the eventual funding results. “The bias will remain embedded in the review process until the makeup of those reviewing is sufficiently diverse,” they say.

The survey results indicate serious problems with the approval check: Only 45% of the respondents from MSIs said they had participated in the approval process, compared to a previous survey which was 76% of the scientists from TWIs. This discrepancy cannot be explained by differences in the frequency of grant submissions (which are roughly the same) or in scientist preferences, say the authors; 76% of MSI scientists said they participated in the grant review.

In order to shed light on the causes of the approval gap, the study authors asked a series of free-text and multiple-choice questions. In their replies, the participants named a lack of invitations to the assessment and time pressure due to teaching and service obligations as the main obstacles to participation. One respondent commented, “It seems like you have to be a member of a club to be invited to participate. Although I am a successful one [principal investigator] on several well-funded government and foundation grants in my 34 years in [higher education], I was only invited once to participate in an external scholarship committee. “

The authors argue that grant review disparities may even play a key role in sustaining harmful feedback loops that hinder efforts to achieve greater inclusion and equity in science: “URM [underrepresented minority] Scientists are underfunded and therefore underrepresented in peer review committees, as success in funding is often a prerequisite for participation in expert reports, which leads to future funding differences – the “cycle of exclusion” that is currently haunting URM scientists.


American Institute for Biological Sciences


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