This is not a good news week for women.

Biology is one of those fields where the gender split is pretty even at the graduate level, but the representation of women quickly falls at the faculty level. A new study in PNAS shows a factor that could be playing a role- whether women are doing their training in the labs of award-winning biologists.


The authors looked at the labs of 2,062 faculty members across 24 of the top ranked research institutions in the US. Here's a break down of the average gender distributions (PI = Principal Investigator i.e. the head honcho):

Male PI: 47% female graduate students, 36% female post-docs

Female PI: 53% female graduate students, 46% female post-docs

Nobel Laureate Male PI: 36% female graduate students, 24% female post-docs

Nobel Laureate Female PI: There's only two! So not enough for meaningful numbers =/, but they both run labs with more women in training.


Obviously, coming from a prestigious lab greatly increases your chance of doing cutting edge work, getting notice from others in your field, and landing a good faculty position.

It's still not clear whether women are less likely to apply to those labs, or whether there is bias going on from the lab heads. From my personal experience, both happens. I have seen female (and male) graduate students decide to join a smaller lab in order to get better mentorship, and have more of a work-life balance. I have also been told by a male PI that he would always hire a man over a woman when he can (which let's be honest, is pretty much all the time). And labs run by men like him are very apparent by the huge number of men in those labs, and the "boy's club" mentality that exists in them.

Any top PIs that are (un)consciously biased are doing themselves a disservice by excluding the very bright minds that just so happen to be female. Hopefully the research culture will continue to shift so that more women and other underrepresented groups will be recruited to top labs, allowing them to go on to head top labs of their own.