Results of the Latest Demographics Surveys: Women in Astronomy and Planetary Science
The retention of women in STEM fields is of enduring interest. Since I’m preaching to the choir, I won’t describe all the gory details again. Rest assured, though, that people interested in astronomy and planetary science, and how these fields are recruiting and retaining women, are surveying the fields and reporting interesting results. I’m optimistic that these results should help to shape policies at institutions around the country, if the right people see the data.
The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) has been conducting demographics surveys of major astronomy departments and divisions since 1992 to track the representation of women across the field. The latest survey was conduced in 2013 and includes data from 40 PhD-granting universities and 7 national research centers. CSWA member Meredith Hughes presented a town hall at the 223rd AAS Meeting near Washington, DC, describing the results of the 2013 version of the CSWA demographics survey. The results were compared with those from 1992, 1999, and 2003, and the slides from this presentation can be found here.
I compared the results from the 2013 CSWA survey to those of a survey conducted in 2011 by Fran Bagenal and others. This survey was sent to “university departments around the country that were thought to include faculty involved in planetary science research and/or offer planetary science undergraduate or graduate degrees”. Dr. Bagenal presented these results at the October 2103 DPS meeting in Denver, and they are summarized here.
In my opinion, the simple take-home messages from both of these studies are
1. ~37% of graduate students in planetary science and astronomy are female (~38% in planetary and ~35% in astronomy);
2. 15% of full faculty in astronomy are female (tripled since 1992: 5% to 15%!), while just 13% of all faculty in planetary science are female; and
3. the proportion of female assistant faculty in astronomy roughly reflects the proportion of female graduate students in the field (27% vs. 34%), while all female faculty in planetary science is less than one-third the number of females who received PhDs in planetary (13% vs. 38%).
The more difficult take-home message is that both surveys report results that reflect more graduate students than faculty positions in these fields. Additionally, in astronomy, women have “advanced to the assistant professor level at rates approximately proportional to their representation at lower levels” (CSWA survey). Thus, it appears that efforts to recruit and “retain junior women in astronomy faculty positions are working” (CSWA survey). Planetary has some work to do.
What do you think about these results? How does your department compare? What other data would you like to see disseminated or collected? Let us know by posting your comments here.
For more CSWA-sponsored presentations at AAS meetings, see: