Commercial Science: A New Arena for Gender Differences in Scientific Careers?



This paper examines gender differences in the participation of university life science faculty in commercial science. In part based on interviews, we develop hypotheses regarding how scientists’ career achievements—their productivity, co-authorship networks, and institutional affiliations—have different effects on whether male and female faculty will become “academic entrepreneurs”. We then statistically examine this framework in a case cohort dataset containing the career histories of 6,000 life scientists. We find that participation in for profit ventures, which we measure as the hazard of joining the scientific advisory board (SAB) of a biotechnology firm, is a new arena in which gender differences are sharp: compared to men, women life scientists are far less likely to receive compensated advisory roles at for-profit biotechnology companies. Moreover, the gap in participation rates persists after conditioning on numerous measures of human and social capital. We also find that this gender difference is contoured by a number of factors, such as co-authorship network structure and the level of institutional support for commercial science. Surprisingly, we find that the (conditional) gender gap is largest among scientists employed at high prestige institutions.