Recently PhD graduates can apply for a so-called Veni grant from research financier NWO. They will then receive up to 320,000 euros to conduct research as they see fit. For many, the grant is an important step in their career.

But by no means everyone gets this money. A selection process precedes it. In this, women now stand a better chance than men, calculated professors Casper Albers (Groningen), Sense Jan van der Molen (Leiden) and Thijs Bol (University of Amsterdam).

NWO has taken steps to increase the success of women in science. Perhaps this policy was too successful for Veni grants, writes Albers on social medium Mastodon.

In their article, the authors warn against hasty conclusions. With these figures in hand, you cannot say with certainty why women score slightly better than men. Nor can you simply say that men are at a disadvantage just because they are men.


But the three authors do suggest that there is ‘overcorrection’, after men first had a slight advantage. An earlier study showed that women get worse reviews from external experts assessing their applications, but that NWO selection committees adjust these assessments in the final distribution. Perhaps they overshoot in this, the article speculates.

“We only used public data,” Albers says in an explanation. “It seems very important to us that NWO should now, with more detailed information, find out where the difference comes from.”

This kind of statistic is full of pitfalls, he says. For example, you cannot lump all men and women together. In physics and chemistry, applicants are more likely to succeed, and more men work in those fields. In psychology, the honours rate is lower and more women work there. “We tried to account for such differences as much as possible,” says Albers.

Still, a difference remains visible, although it is small. It is about a 15 versus 13 per cent chance of getting a Veni grant. “An excellent proposal gets through and a lousy proposal is rejected, from both women and men,” says Albers.


Data on differences between men and women is readily available, while equity in other forms of diversity (such as ethnicity or functional impairment) are harder to assess. Albers: “But if you think about ways to make the system fairer, hopefully that will help others as well.” If you give women more time to apply after pregnancy, the obvious thing to do is to do the same for other forms of force majeure, such as care leave or illness.

NWO cannot yet comment, says a spokesperson. “We didn’t know about the study yet, we only saw it today. We obviously want to read it properly before giving a response.”

The Veni grants are followed by the Vidi and Vici grants. In these, the researchers saw no clear differences in success rates between men and women, although that may be because that group is too small to see these differences.

Despite the difference in Veni grants, a scientific career still seems more difficult for women than for men. Of all Veni applicants, 46 per cent are women. For Vidi and Vici grants, the figures are 40 and 33 per cent, respectively.

1280px-Siege-alesia-vercingetorix-jules-cesar-1 Veni Vidi Vici

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