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Sex/Gender Research: Resources for the Early Integrator to the Advanced Champion

Author: Jennifer Williams, PhD Candidate, McMaster University | Twitter: @jennyswilliams

The importance of integrating sex/gender in health research has been evident in the calls for action by researchers, funding organizations, and peer-reviewed journals alike. Especially in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, this remains at the forefront of study design, illuminated recently by the first of the Women’s Health Research Cluster blogs. Over the past few years as a graduate trainee, I have been involved in research projects either integrating sex-based differences or examining female-specific conditions to fill gaps evident in cardiovascular research. Mentored by leaders in the field, much of my passion for sex/gender research has also been directed to supporting education of undergraduate and graduate trainees through mentorship, teaching, and volunteering with the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health Trainee Network

However, in reflecting on my research journey, it occurred to me that many trainees may be presently searching for resources and a network of colleagues considering these important questions. As the upcoming semester approaches, my hope is that this blog will serve as a useful guide to explore sex/gender in your future research studies, whether you’re an early integrator (like me) or an advanced champion (like many of my mentors). By no means is this an exhaustive list, so I encourage you to continue the conversation by sharing your favourite resource on Twitter with the #sexandgender.

Getting Started

What is Sex? What is Gender? When I started to ask myself these questions, I found the following definitions and infographic on the CIHR website helpful in finding the answers. Furthermore, this video (3min) provided me with an explanation about why learning about sex/gender is important. 

The CIHR Institute of Gender and Health curates an excellent list of resources for researchers to consider when integrating sex/gender into research. Check out their guide here, which is updated frequently with new resources and published studies. 

Training Modules

The following training courses/modules served as a foundation for developing my understanding of sex/gender in health research. 

Resources for Grant Applications

In addition to the training modules provided by CIHR, this video (5min) is a helpful resource for understanding what grant reviewers are looking for in assessing your integration of sex/gender into your research study design. This video, alongside a resource for reviewers, entitled “Key considerations for the appropriate integration of sex and gender in research”, can provide insight into what makes a strong research design, and hopefully a successful grant application.

The following article by Day et al. (2017) is a useful guide for understanding how to create your study proposal, based on some essential metrics outlined in their paper: “Essential metrics for assessing sex & gender integration in health research proposals involving human participants”. See Table 1 to do an early evaluation of your proposal (or your trainee’s proposal) and recognize gaps to fill prior to grant submission.

What are Researchers Saying? Research Articles & Guideline Documents 

The following article about the Sex and Gender Equity in Research (SAGER) guidelines are recommended for all researchers to review and include in their research study designs. Find out more here (Table 1 includes a comprehensive checklist of considerations).

Strategies have also been well detailed by the following articles:

Finally, this website from Gendered Innovations, curated by a worldwide group of researchers, has a Health & Medicine Checklist for considering sex/gender at each stage of the research process and case studies on sex/gender in health to use as examples for researchers and educators. 

Journal Clubs: One of the most impactful ways I’ve found for integrating sex/gender into discussions within my lab is in suggesting journal articles during journal club gatherings. Here’s an extensive list of articles curated by the NIH and a list of articles from the CIHR here.

Championing Sex/Gender Research: Organizations to Get Involved With 

Become a Sex and Gender Champion on collaborative research initiatives with CIHR. Similarly, consider joining the Institute of Gender and Health Trainee Network as a trainee mentee or Faculty mentor, and spearhead local initiatives at your institution with the support of this network. You can subscribe to the trainee network’s newsletter here.

CIHR Institute of Gender and Health also provides resources and events to engage with. Find out about Sex & Gender Events here, and consider becoming involved in the Organization of the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) through their annual conference and journal. 

Finally, look for mentors and collaborators who are experienced in exploring sex and gender in research. If exploring women’s health, the Women’s Health Research Cluster directory is useful for connecting with individuals from across Canada, but primarily in BC, and similar for this directory in Ontario.

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Have a resource to share not on this list? Continue the conversation by sharing your favourite resource on Twitter with the #sexandgender.