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NAS Study on Gender in STEM Faculty

June 14, 2009

Another study on gender in academia has a been completed – this by the National Academy of Sciences looking at women in science, engineering, and math positions.

The report is not yet out in print, but the full pdf seems to be available for purchase (I did not attempt to purchase it, though – the print version is available to pre-order.)

A summary of the findings is available on the science page at Ars Technica. It seems to boil down to some similar conclusions to earlier reports – women are earning PhD.’s but not necessarily choosing to continue to tenure-track positions (the author of the Ars article notes the statistic that 45% of biology PhD.’s go to women, but we represent only 26% of applicants for tenure-track jobs). Women professors still average lower salaries than their male counterparts, and still do not make up representative portions of higher-ranked faculty (associate or full professors).

The report does suggest, though, that women are as likely to be awarded tenure as men. The time-to-tenure is longer, on average, which is not necessarily a bad thing – this may well mean that many women are taking advantage of more flexible tenure clocks (essentially putting off tenure review while taking a leave of absence to raise children).

But this still does leave a few questions – why do we seem to lose women in between receiving their doctorate and applying for academic positions (especially as universities become more accommodating for women faculty choosing to have children)? And why do we continue to see a low percentage of women in tenured/promoted positions, especially if we believe the statistics that there appear to be fewer gender biases in recent tenure decisions?

Any thoughts?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan K permalink
    June 16, 2009 4:37 pm

    Looking at my grad school experience (not biology, but planetary geology). Of the couples who hitched up during grad school (some of them). 1) He did a one year post doc at near by school (1 hour commute each way) while she finished, searched for jobs “together” (he was a chemist) and neither ended up in academia (but not sure they were looking, she was not). 2) She graduated first and got a temporary industry job while he finished (doing long distance thing for a year plus). They searched for and sold themselves as a ‘shared’ single academic job – that morphed over time into two. 3) He finished first and went to a lab. She followed to the same lab about a year later. Neither academia, he sort of still doing science, she not. 4) He finished first and got industry job. Did long distance thing for 2plus years; he landed Fed job, she looked for academia in the geographic area with no luck, now doing non-academic job that barely uses degree. 5) He got biology academic job, she followed to that location and took a lab job – finished at same time.

    Timing is sooo important. (s)he who finishes first maybe ‘wins’.

  2. June 16, 2009 11:37 am

    In biology in particular, I think the post-doc scene can be brutal. There are “postdoc-mills” where long hours are expected, with little gain for the post-doc unless she can battle through her labmates (with similar skills and training) to end up at the top of the heap. I know many women who simply are not willing to do this and therefor are lost from the potential academic workforce.

    I also think that women in general are more likely to compromise their career goals for their spouse/family than men are. In stressful situations, we often want to find a solution that is less stressful. So in a job hunt we may take the non-tenured position to eliminate the stress of the job-hunt and marital discord. I think this is slowly changing, and male partners are becoming more willing to compromise, but it is still likely the statistical norm.

  3. June 15, 2009 12:23 pm

    Good questions – I don’t believe the study was specific enough (or designed) to ask them, either.

    But the two-body problem doesn’t quite make sense to me for women applying for positions — if both spouses are on the job market, why would one of them choose not to apply to as many appropriate jobs as possible? Have most of the women with biology PhD.’s decided to limit their job applications to accommodate their husband (so we can account for the discrepancies noted above)?

    Is there a perception that it’s easier for the husband to get a spousal hire for the wife, rather than the other way around – or that it might be easier in terms of raising a family (spousal hire, probably non-tenured, less pressure so easier to take time off)?

  4. Susan K permalink
    June 15, 2009 10:21 am

    Two body problem. What fraction of those women PhDs are married, and what fraction of those are married to academics?

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