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Excellence in the Life Sciences Area

Final Report Summary - ELSA (Excellence in the Life Sciences Area)

In order to address the issue of gender and excellence a conference ELSA was organised at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden 5-6 October 2006. The work was organised by a organising committee that worked in close contact with the programme committee.

The speakers addressed the aspects of excellence and gender in a wide range of themes, for example, during financing research, recruitment of researchers and evaluation of research. The recurring factors requested in order to ensure excellence in all evaluation procedures were transparency and clearly defined evaluation criteria. Drs Berry and Hosek demonstrated the difficulties of evaluating gender aspects in research financing when information on underlying factors are missing. In their study, 'Gender differences in major federal external grant programs', they found large gender differences in grants awarded by the USA's National Institute of Health. However, the results were difficult to interpret, as lack of data hindered adjustment for factors such as amount of grants applied for. In the light of their findings, they provided valuable recommendations for financing agencies.

Representatives of public and private granting bodies shared their practices in how to ensure transparency and accountability in order to finance excellent research. Dr Ingrid Wünning, of the Robert Bosch-Stiftung, represented a private grantor with vast experience of addressing gender issues. Female applicants are encouraged to apply for funding, and the foundation has established a fast track career programme, aimed at young female researchers. The Academy of Finland and the Swedish Research Council presented their equality plan and gender equality plan, respectively. Their plans include the ambitions to achieve equality in peer review processes, with equal numbers of male and female evaluators, as well as gender balance in power and decision-making. The Swedish Research Council shared the experience reported by NIH; larger gender differences exist in the awarding of larger grants. The underlying reasons for this are not clear and need further address.

The conference ensured us that we have in our hands several factors allowing for excellent research to be performed in Europe. We have devoted individuals with brilliant ideas and exceptional research environments. In addition, we were encouraged by the dedicated work performed at European research institutes and funding bodies in order to ensure gender balance and excellence in the life science area. However, the slow progress of women into top positions in the scientific community as a whole, within faculty, as well as in decision-making, is worrying. We hope that the recommendations given and experiences shared by the speakers can be taken into consideration around Europe and will add to the development of a thriving European Research Area (ERA) accessible to all.

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