The Royal Society is to investigate why so few female researchers secured its University Research Fellowships in 2014.
It announced on its In Verba blog that, of the 43 individuals who won the funding, just two were women – giving female scientists a success rate of 4.6 per cent.
The fellowships, for early career scientists with the potential to become leaders in their field, provide five years of funding with the possibility to extend for a further three years.
Writing on the blog, Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said he was “very disappointed” by the statistics. “[T]his sends out a bad message to young female scientists,” he said.
In 2012 and 2013, 18.9 and 17 per cent of the grants, respectively, went to women. Prior to this, the success rate for female candidates was higher, and in 2010 sat at 36.6 per cent before dropping to 22.5 per cent the following year.
In 2012 the Society launched a new early career research fellowship specifically for biomedical scientists, a field in which women are generally better represented than in other branches of science. As a result, fewer women applied for URFs in subsequent years.
Data provided on the blog show that 75 female researchers applied to the scheme in 2014, comprising 18.9 per cent of the total. Just 17 of these, or 13.5 per cent, made it on to the shortlist and the Society subsequently interviewed six, or about 8.8 per cent, of these. In the previous year women accounted for around 20 per cent of candidates at each stage of the process, according to the blog post.
Sir Paul wrote: “It is possible that this year is an anomaly, as 2010 appears to have been, but we cannot assume that to be the case. It is important, however, to take account of the figures over a number of years to get a true picture.”
He added that women comprised around a fifth of the committee members who made the decisions on who should get the funding.
“We do not know why the numbers this year are so different to previous years but I have asked for an investigation. We need to find out what happened and if we identify problems in our systems we will correct them,” he said.