New Distinguished Scholar Award aims to mitigate gender gaps in medical research

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai—an international leader in medical and scientific training, biomedical research, and patient care—today announced the recipients of the first-of-its-kind Distinguished Scholar Award, a new annual grant sponsored by the Office of Gender Equity in Science and Medicine. The awards aim to mitigate gender gaps in medical research by supporting researchers with additional project resources while they serve as family caretakers.

Far too often, promising researchers and scientists miss professional opportunities due to caregiving responsibilities. This new series of grants, selected through an NIH-style review, will empower recipients to continue their groundbreaking work while they integrate caregiving into their lives. We look forward to the exciting work our recipients will be able to undertake with this support in the new year.

Carol Horowitz, MD, MPH, Dean for Gender Equity at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Although women make up half of all medical school graduates in the field, studies show that men hold the rank of full professor at a five-to-one ratio compared to women. One cause of this disparity is that many scientists simultaneously become primary caregivers as they begin careers in research-;something that disproportionately affects women.

The Distinguished Scholar Award, open to all genders, is designed to reduce gender-based disparities by delivering financial support to junior investigators just as they work to integrate family caretaking into their careers. Dr. Horowitz-;the first dean of gender equity in the nation at a medical school-;and Sandra K. Masur, PhD, Director of the Office for Women's Careers at Mount Sinai, conceived and distributed these highly competitive one-year $50,000 grants.

No one should have to choose between caring for a family member and advancing professionally, and no one should be hindered in their research because they welcome a child into the world. Equity and excellence go hand in hand, and this series of grants is an important step in tackling the systemic inequities that exist across medicine. At the Icahn School of Medicine, we are unwavering in our commitment to advancing equity and helping all of our employees to reach their highest potential.

Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The Awardees will provide four Assistant Professors, each extremely talented with unique research projects, a boost in funding that will allow them to maintain productivity while they face the significant demands of being a caregiver. Beyond the monetary award, grantees will be given access to career development resources, including programs through the Office for Women's Careers and the Office of Gender Equity.

Here are the recipients of the Distinguished Scholar Award and their research projects:

  • Denise Cai, PhD, Neuroscience: "Brain optimization of capacity and efficiency for memory storage"
  • Zhongwei Cao, PhD, Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine): "Tumor vascular niche recruits IGF1 receptor to induce aggressive lymphoma"
  • Sarah Stanley, MD, PhD, Medicine (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease): "The role of CNS glucose-inhibited neurons in glucose regulation"
  • Talia Swartz, MD, PhD, Medicine (Infectious Diseases): "Understanding purinergic receptors to reduce HIV infection and inflammation in human lymphoid tissue"

This past fall, the Office of Gender Equity in Science and Medicine invited Assistant Professors with independent research programs to apply for internal funding as they balance their responsibilities as caregivers. A diverse committee carefully reviewed the 29 outstanding applications received, and selected the top four for funding. Applicants were required to have active extramural support (including salary support) for their research program from a career development award or other research grant, be on a clear trajectory to a successful independent research career, show evidence of strong research training and productivity, and demonstrate a compelling case for why the funds will help them to maintain productivity while they are facing significant demands as a caregiver (most typically for child care).

The Distinguished Scholars Award builds upon the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai's commitment to diversity, inclusion, and gender equity, which includes the creation of the nation's first Dean for Gender Equity last year. A member of Time's Up Healthcare, Mount Sinai earned the No. 1 Ranking in Diversity and Inclusion in the "Top 12 Hospitals and Health Systems" list by DiversityInc in 2017 and 2018. The Diversity Innovation Hub (DIH) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai was launched in fall 2019 to address the lack of women and people of color in innovation and technology, to foster ideas and solutions that address social and structural inequalities, and to accelerate efforts to advance diversity and inclusion in medicine and science. It received a Diversity and Inclusion Award and was named among the Top 50 in Digital Health for 2020.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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