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Gleichstellung und Diversität

Managing Unconscious Bias in Research Funding (January 2019)

Workshop led by Rob Barkworth a psychologist at Pearn Kandola

Web: Pearn Kandola

29 January 2019, 1 pm – 4 pm, University of Zurich

There is a growing body of research that shows that some groups perform less well in peer review[1].  In a classic study, Wenneras & Wold[2] found that women had to be 2.5 times as productive as their male counterparts to be rated as equivalently competent in Fellowship Awards.  A recent study[3] found that reviewers with access to demographic information about applicants were more likely to select proposals from famous authors, top universities and companies.

One of the explanatory factors for this is unconscious bias, which is defined as a misleading cognitive tendency or way of thinking that leads us to the wrong conclusion.


This 3-hour session will introduce you to the nature of unconscious bias, help you identify your own biases, explore the impact on the decisions you make and importantly, provide you with tools to manage your bias.

We will look at the possible impact of unconscious bias on the funding advice and support given to academics, as well as on funding decision making.

The workshop objectives are:

  • Explore the way in which we subconsciously process information
  • Review how our subconscious processes can result in suboptimal decision-making
  • Examine the key risks in your jobs
  • Understand techniques to help you reduce the impact of bias on funding decision making


The course will be led by Rob Barkworth, a Business Psychologist, who has worked with the UK Research Councils, the Wellcome Trust, and research funding organisations in Ireland.  Rob has not only trained staff in these organisations but has also observed and audited funding processes, to remove the impact of bias.

[1] BORNMANN, L, R MUTZ, and H DANIEL. "Gender Differences In Grant Peer Review: A Meta-Analysis". Journal of Informetrics 1.3 (2007): 226-238. Web.

[2] Wennerås, Christine and Agnes Wold. "Nepotism And Sexism In Peer-Review". Nature 387.6631 (1997): 341-343. Web.

[3] Tomkins, A., Zhang, M. and Heavlin, W. (2017). Reviewer bias in single- versus double-blind peer review. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(48), pp.12708-12713.