February 2012

Task force report: ASBMB women in academe

Number of women among biochemistry
teacher–scholar applicants is low relative
to the number among postdoctoral trainees


The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, for the first time, has surveyed members and directors of departments with biochemistry Ph.D. programs about women in academic biochemistry, complementing a 1986 informal analysis.

President Suzanne Pfeffer appointed a task force (Elizabeth C. Theil, chair; Melanie Cobb; Judith P. Klinman; Frederick R. Maxfield; Janet L. Smith; and JoAnne Stubbe); Massachusetts-based consulting firm AltshulerGray provided advice and conducted the survey. Questions were targeted mainly toward practicing biochemists, traditionally the dominant membership of the society, rather than biochemists in training. Respondents’ comments indicated their appreciation of the opportunity to express opinions on the subject; a few respondents provided examples of inequalities in departmental resource allocation for women. 

About the survey participants 

Fig. 1

There were 1,780 responses from 11,262 members and 48 responses from 204 chairs and directors — typical response rates for society member surveys, according to AltshulerGray.

Of the respondents, 45 percent were women, 54 percent men, 88 percent Ph.D.s, 85 percent in academe, and 72 percent in tenured or tenure-track positions. The respondents reported that, on average, 61 percent of their professional effort is devoted to research, with the remainder being teaching, administration and other activities. Family issues were major concerns among all respondents, of whom 75 percent had children and 90 percent were or had been married. Below is an overview of the data showing the largest differences between men and women biochemists and some of the factors that influence career choices.

Teacher–scholars in academic biochemistry 

Teacher–scholars, who have the largest impact on the training of biochemists and future planning, are tenured or tenure-track faculty members engaging in teaching, research and institutional governance. By contrast, nontenure-track faculty members, an expanding academic group, are involved in either research or teaching.

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I have been working as a Biochemist although I received an MD degree in Venezuela. I not only received scholarship from the University of Zulia to specialize in Biochemistry, but I have been working in a Research Institute adscribed to the Faculty of Medicine in that University for almost 50 y, promoted from Assistant to Associate and then Full Professor without any gender problem. Moreover I received grants to do my research and have been elected Director of the Institute for two 3-year periods, and elected Editor in Chief of a journal of the Institue. Dr. Elena Ryder


I would like to first identify myself as a 56 years old female lab scientist holding a university tenured position. This report has certainly solidified the long-speculated cause of gender differences in university tenured position. I guess the ultimate goal of this survey is to help young women in their career development. I really like to help young women and this is the only reason that I spent time writing this. Editor's note to the writer of the above excerpted comment: Please email your full comment or a letter to the editor to asbmbtoday@asbmb.org. I'm afraid half of your comment was cut off, and we'd like to publish the entire thing. Thank you, and sorry for the technical limitation.



  • The more things change the more they remain the same. It shows the inherent bias of academics against women when considering biochemists for permanent faculty positions.

  • This shows the current trend in academe. With the decreasing number of tenure-track positions, this discrepancy is bound to increase. This difference is added to by the increasing struggle to obtain funding. Many of the talented women biochemists are leaving the academe and bench to take more family-friendly jobs. Though many universities as well as the government mention about recruiting of women scientists, unless something concrete is mentioned in the bylaws will this situation improve.

    Research fellow

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