Women on a Mission
Recently, I took a look at the demographics of the PIs, Project Scientists, Co-Is, and Participating Scientists selected by NASA to implement a mission in the Discovery Program. The Discovery missions, if you don’t already know, are NASA’s least complex planetary science missions and can be characterized as relatively low in cost (less than $425M), straightforward in development (less than 35 months from the beginning of implementation to launch), and without constraint of a particular management structure imposed by NASA. I knew that there had been only one woman selected as mission PI in the program’s 17 year history, but I expected to find more women in the Deputy PI, Project Scientist, Deputy Project Scientist, and Co-I roles. I also thought that I’d find a large percentage (30%?) of women in the Participating Scientist Programs.
Boy, was I wrong!
What I found was this: ONE female Principal Investigator, ONE female Deputy Principal Investigator, and ONE female Project Scientist in this class of low-cost planetary science missions. That’s a grand total of three, out of 23 people to fill these positions in the last 17 years. (Note: since the study was completed this summer, another woman has been named a Deputy Project Scientist.)
But surely there would be more in the Co-I and Participating Scientist roles, right?
Actually, not so much. The study showed that women made up just over 10% of the Co-Is, and 12% of the Participating Scientists.
I was really surprised by this. So I stepped back to look at the field as a whole. Surely there would be more women on the other missions, right? And this was a fluke?
Nope. Over the last 30 years, only 2.6% of mission or instrument PIs (where there was no single mission PI) have been women. 10% of Deputy PIs have been women (that’s one), 7.2% of the Co-Is have been women, and 8.6% of Participating Scientists have been women. Only in the category of Project Scientist/Deputy Project Scientist has the proportion of women exceeded 10%.
But women in our field now make up more than 10% of the population, at nearly all levels, up to age 65, and significantly more in the under-55 category. Yes, the number varies over time, but there’s a great technique that you can use to study the progression of a given demographic group over time. It’s called cohort analysis, and the AIP uses it in their studies of the field.
I won’t spoil the ending, or make this post into a full-fledged paper, but you can read more if you’re interested in a new journal article coming out today in Space Policy.
Here’s a look at the raw data I collected for the article.