AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grants: Closing Funding Gaps and Expanding Research
Several years ago, the AACR’s Scientific Review and Grants Administration Department decided to reassess its grants portfolio for demographic funding gaps. At the time, only 25% of AACR independent investigator grants were awarded to midcareer scientists, with the majority going to established, senior investigators. Additional research revealed that other non-profit biomedical funders and the NIH offer very few funding mechanisms specifically for midcareer scientists. Lack of sustained grant funding particularly impacts scientists midcareer, a tenuous period without guaranteed salary support when many are at risk of closing their labs and dropping out of research altogether.
At the same time, several studies have shown that female scientists face significant structural barriers and pervasive gender bias throughout their careers, resulting in less institutional and grant funding, fewer publications and citations, and a more difficult pathway to career advancement and security (1-4).
The AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grant was consequently designed to address this compound problem by providing $225,000 over three years to talented female physician-scientists and researchers working in the field of immuno-oncology. This grant, which was launched in 2019, is the AACR’s first dedicated funding mechanism for midcareer scientists, as well as the first dedicated for women. The goal is to ensure that midcareer female researchers have the resources they need to successfully establish themselves as independent investigators with productive research labs.
So far, the AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grant seems to be serving the needs of grantees exactly as intended. “I received the AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grant right as my first R01 was ending and before I was funded on my second R01,” notes the inaugural recipient, Julie Schwarz, MD, PhD, a professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, “and this award provided my lab critical funding not only to bridge these NIH awards, but also to allow us to explore new areas in our research.”
Likewise, Laura D. Wood, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pathology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the 2020 recipient, is utilizing her grant funds to broaden her lab’s research agenda. Much of her group’s previous work has focused on how genomic alterations in neoplastic cells drive pancreatic tumorigenesis. “With it becoming increasingly clear that cells in the tumor microenvironment also play an important role in tumorigenesis,” Wood explains, “this AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grant will allow my group to expand our studies in human precancerous pancreatic neoplasms to include profiling and functional interrogation of the immune microenvironment.”
While Schwarz and Wood view funding opportunities such as the AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Midcareer Female Investigator Grant as crucial for their continued success as female scientists, they also both stress the importance of having engaged mentors to provide guidance on science and career decisions. “The need for mentors does not end when you get a faculty position,” says Wood, “these relationships are invaluable throughout your career.” They also both agree that despite all the challenges, pursuing a career in cancer science is worth it. Schwarz’s advice for aspiring female scientists is simple: “Believe in yourself and persevere!”
- Huanga J et al. Historical comparison of gender inequality in scientific careers across countries and disciplines. PNAS 2020;117:4609-16.
- Sá C et al. Gender gaps in research productivity and recognition among elite scientists in the U.S., Canada, and South Africa. PLOS One 2020;15:e0240903.
- Sheltzer JM, Smith JC. Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women. PNAS 2014;11:10107-12.
- Witteman HO et al. Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency. The Lancet 2019;10171:531-40.