The Matthew Effect in NSERC funding

Megan Frederickson studies mutualism, so naturally she is fascinated by positive feedback loops. Positive feedback is a self-reinforcing process, and often very rapidly amplifies the effects of an initially small perturbation. (Remember Bob May’s description of populations of mutualists exploding out of control in “an orgy of mutual benefaction”? That’s positive feedback in action.)

In academia, positive feedback between early and subsequent successes is sometimes called the Matthew Effect, after a parable in the Bible. The Matthew Effect is likely one reason why measures of academic success are highly unequal across scientists. If early successes tend to snowball and increase the chances of future successes, then this runaway process may explain why some scientists are so wildly successful, while other (potentially equally talented or insightful) scientists labour in relative obscurity or end up leaving academia.

A Matthew Effect, if it occurs, will tend to exacerbate initially small or even non-existent differences among individuals in academic merit. Worse yet, the Matthew Effect will also tend to exacerbate any biases in the academic reward system. Thus, if gender or race have even slight influences on early academic success, these effects can build up over the course of long academic careers to result in large gender or racial gaps in later academic success.

Megan Frederickson analyzed the NSERC Awards Database for evidence of the Matthew Effect in NSERC funding. The NSERC Awards Database provides data on all NSERC grants, scholarships, and awards made to scientists at Canadian institutions since 1991. Because it includes 30 years of data, Megan can use the NSERC Awards Database to track awards to thousands of scientists over the course of their careers—in some cases, from winning NSERC Undergraduate Student Researcher Awards as undergraduate students, through M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs funded by NSERC Postgraduate or Canada Graduate Scholarships, through postdoctoral training funded by NSERC Postdoctoral or Banting Fellowships, to Discovery Grants to faculty members, and ultimately to NSERC’s very highest science prizes. Megan will present the results of her analysis, which finds that early NSERC successes do indeed beget later NSERC successes. In other words, her analysis suggests that the Matthew Effect operates in the NSERC funding system.

Panel Discussion on Designing EDI Grad Courses

This panel was moderated by Nicole Mideo and featured Maydianne Andrade (U of T Scarborough, Professor), Corrie Moreau (Cornell University, Professor), Rosalie Fanshel (Berkeley, PhD Student) and Kenzo Esquivel (Berkeley, PhD Student). Maydianne and Nicole ran an EDI course for graduate students in the department last summer, modelled after a course developed by Corrie Moreau. Rosalie and Kenzo were part of a team of graduate students at Berkeley that designed and ran an EDI course for their department.

Building a Better Fieldwork Future – Preventing Sexual Harassment + Assault in the Field Sciences Workshop

Fieldwork is an important and often necessary component of many scientific disciplines, yet research suggests that it presents a high-risk setting for incidents of sexual harassment and assault. This 90-minute online workshop has been developed by a team of field researchers at UC Santa Cruz. It identifies the unique risks posed by fieldwork and offers a suite of evidence-based tools for field researchers, instructors, and students to prevent, intervene in, and respond to sexual harassment and assault. Through a series of practical intervention scenarios, this workshop guides participants on how to be an active and engaged bystander, how to report incidents, and how to plan field settings to minimize risk. Armed with these tools, participants can play a role in ensuring that field settings are safer, more equitable, and more welcoming for the next generation of field scientists.

This session was organized and hosted by Jessica Leivesley and was run by May Roberts (PhD Candidate, UC Santa Cruz and Amanda Adams (lecturer at Texas A+M and Conservation Research Program Manager at Bat Conservation International;

Recommendations to the Departments of EEB and Biology at the University of Toronto, on the Decolonization of Department-Affiliated Field Work, including Increasing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Undergraduate Field Courses

Field research is performed widely across EEB/Biology at the University of Toronto. We surveyed whether tenured or tenure-track EEB professors incorporated fieldwork into their research programs. Over 75% of faculty were identified as incorporating fieldwork in their research. Further, our departments offer a number of field course opportunities for undergraduates. For these reasons, we were motivated to develop department-level recommendations and instructional-level guidelines for decolonizing fieldwork. We will discuss those recommendations and some resources available to decolonize biological fieldwork-based research, including increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in undergrad field courses.

Religion and Science

Simon Coleman, Amin Mansouri, Pamela Klassen, and Suzanne van Geuns discussed different ways to approach the domain of religion and science, emphasizing how permeable and arbitrary the boundaries between the “religious” and the “secular” can be. The conversation focused especially on teaching and evolution, from the idea of “local” secularism to the intellectual contributions that religious traditions have made to techno-scientific development.

Lab agreements, lab culture & expectations

Lab agreements – documents that outline the key expectations a PI has for members of their lab – are correlated with positive experiences among graduate students and postdocs, yet they are not widely implemented (Eren, 2021). On Friday, June 18, EEB’s very own Danielle de Carle presented a seminar*discussion all about these documents and their implementation, outlining the benefits of lab agreements for all lab members, discussing what types of information should be included, and providing guidelines & examples for how to draft one in your own lab. See attached for a summary of the presentation and additional resources, such as sample lab agreements.

The history and legacy of colonialism in tropical field biology

Miriam Ahmad-Gawel, Maxwell Farrell, and Mariel Terebiznik discussed the colonial origins of field sites and how geographic and cultural biases have shaped how field work is both conducted and taught. They also discussed ways of decolonizing scientific methods and consider these in the context of field work and other modes of research. See attached for more details!

Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Online and Crisis Edition

Teaching is hard! Teaching online during a crisis is extra hard, but it is precisely during precarious times such as this that it is important than ever to ensure our classroom is inclusive and every student is given the same opportunity to achieve their goals. Here, Amber Gigi Hoi shares some of the things she learned through the wisdom of the Academic Twitter community, as well as some personal reflections as she bumbles her way through getting her third-year biostats course running online.

(This is a transcript of Amber’s workshop for EEB’s TA training day, September 16, 2020)

Summary: Feb. 27th, 2018 Discussion

Megan Frederickson led a discussion on the gender gap in faculty salaries. The gender pay gap is an ongoing problem in many workplaces, and universities are no exception. It persists despite legislation and other efforts aimed at closing the gap, and even though the principle of “equal pay for equal work” is fairly uncontroversial.

With the aim of improving awareness of this issue among Canadian academics, Megan wrote an article on the gender pay gap at Canadian universities that was published by The Conversation and re-published by Macleans.

Briefly, Megan analyzed publicly available data from several sources to measure the gender pay gap at Canadian universities and explore its causes:

1) She used Statistics Canada data on faculty salaries to get a Canada-wide perspective on the gender pay gap. This revealed that the gap between male and female faculty salaries at the University of Toronto is $23,275 a year, or 14%. Also, Canada’s research-intensive universities, known as the U15, tend to have larger gender pay gaps than other institutions. Megan made her code publicly available at:

2) Megan then used salary data for Ontario professors available through the Ontario public sector salary disclosure, also known as the sunshine list. These data are interesting because they provide salary information for over 14,000 individual professors, going back in some cases over 20 years. Importantly, because there is a minimum salary of $100K to be included on the sunshine list, the sunshine list data underestimates the gender gap by about $3K a year. Nonetheless, the gender pay gap measured from the Ontario sunshine list is highly correlated with the gender pay gap measured from Statistics Canada data. Again, Megan has made most of her code publicly available (with the rest forthcoming) at:

The sunshine list salary data allowed Megan to explore four factors that may contribute to the gender pay gap, specifically gender differences in:

a. Seniority: The median male professor has been on the sunshine list only one year longer than the median female professor. This accounts for about $5400 a year, or less than half, of the gender pay gap.

b. Merit: Megan used publicly available data on operating grants made to professors through the NSERC Discovery Grant and SSHRC Insight Grant programs as a measure of “merit” or “performance.” The gender gap in salary is almost unchanged after adjusting for grant size, suggesting that differences in performance do not drive the pay gap.

c. Area of study: The gender pay gap is actually slightly larger among SSHRC (social sciences and humanities) than NSERC (natural sciences and engineering) recipients, suggesting it is not driven by a scarcity of women in natural sciences and engineering fields. Differences among fields within these two broad categories (NSE versus SSH) are more difficult to assess and should be explored further.

d. Starting salary: Megan measured the gender pay gap among faculty who joined the sunshine list in the same year. Faculty appearing for the first time on the sunshine list in 2016 already faced a $6900 gender pay gap. This suggests that differences in starting salary may be important contributors to the gender pay gap.

In summary, to a first approximation, about 44% of the gender pay gap at Ontario universities is due to seniority and about 56% is due to gender differences in starting salary. The difference in seniority should narrow as (disproportionately male) senior faculty retire, but universities should do more to address the gender gap in starting salaries.