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the National Science Foundation (NSF) to contract with the National Academies for a study assessing gender differences in the careers of science and engineering faculty, based on both existing and new data. The study committee was given the following charge:

Assess gender differences in the careers of science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) faculty, focusing on four-year institutions of higher education that award bachelor’s and graduate degrees. The study will build on the Academy’s previous work and examine issues such as faculty hiring, promotion, tenure, and allocation of institutional resources including (but not limited to) laboratory space.

The committee interpreted its charge to imply three tasks: (1) update earlier analyses, (2) identify and assess current gender differences, and (3) recommend methods for expanding knowledge about gender in academic careers in science and engineering. It developed a series of guiding research questions in three key areas to organize its investigation: (1) academic hiring, (2) institutional resources and climate, and (3) tenure and promotion.

The committee also limited its exploration of science and engineering to the natural sciences and engineering, defined here as the physical sciences (including astronomy, chemistry, and physics); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; mathematics and computer science; biological and agricultural sciences; and engineering (in all its forms).


Recognizing at the outset the need for new data, the committee conducted two national surveys in 2004 and 2005 of faculty and academic departments in six science and engineering disciplines: biology, chemistry, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics. The first survey of almost 500 departments focused on hiring, tenure, and promotion processes, while the second survey gathered career-related information from more than 1,800 faculty. Together the surveys addressed departmental characteristics, hiring, tenure, promotion, faculty demographics, employment experiences, and types of institutional support received. In addition to results from the surveys, the committee heard expert testimony, examined data from NSF, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and professional societies, and reviewed the results of individual university studies and research publications.

As it would be impossible to survey all “science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) faculty at four-year institutions of higher education,” the committee limited the scope of the surveys in four important ways. These limitations must be kept in mind in the interpretation of the survey results:

  1. The data present a snapshot in time (2004 and 2005), not a longitudinal view.

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