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The potential applicant pool consists of those individuals who could apply for one or more positions. In practice, universities know only the number of applicants who apply for any particular position for which they are recruiting, and the actual potential candidate pool remains unknown. Typically, the number of women receiving Ph.D.s in a field is used as a proxy for the eligible pool of women.2

As noted in Chapter 2 and Appendix 2-1, the number of women receiving Ph.D.s in S&E had grown significantly over the years—both numerically and as a proportion of all those receiving doctorates in S&E. On average, over the period from 1999 to 2003, the 5-year period preceding the survey’s focus, Research I institutions awarded women 45 percent of the Ph.D.s in biology, 32 percent in chemistry, 18 percent in civil engineering, 12 percent in electrical engineering, 25 percent in mathematics, and 14 percent in physics. In 2003, 4,005 women received Ph.D.s from all doctorate-granting institutions for the six fields studied (see Appendixes 3-4 and 3-5):

  • 2,598 Ph.D.s (45.7 percent) in biology;

  • 647 Ph.D.s (31.8 percent) in chemistry;

  • 125 Ph.D.s (18.7 percent) in civil engineering;

  • 179 Ph.D.s (12.3 percent) in electrical engineering;

  • 263 Ph.D.s (26.5 percent) in mathematics and statistics; and

  • 193 Ph.D.s (18.0 percent) in physics.

A majority of doctoral degrees are awarded by the 89 Research I institutions (see Appendix 3-6).

On average, one might expect disciplines with higher proportions of female doctorates would also see higher proportions of female applicants. Thus, a reasonable expectation is women will make up a larger proportion of applicants to positions in biology and chemistry, followed by mathematics, civil engineering, physics, and electrical engineering. This seems to be the case generally for tenure-track jobs in our study (with the exception that the rank order positions of chemistry and mathematics are reversed, but it does not hold at all for tenured jobs.


This measure is deficient in two ways. First, the potential applicant pool includes postdocs, individuals with Ph.D.s from foreign institutions, individuals from outside academia, and individuals with current academic positions who are interested in switching to a new position (Ehrenberg, 1992). For example, in a study of physics hires in 2000, Kirby et al. (2001) found that 34 percent of new hires in doctorate-granting institutions had earned Ph.D.s outside of the United States. Likewise, in computer science (Zweben, 2005:10), for 2003-2004: “Thus, more than 75% of the faculty hires made this past year by Ph.D.-granting CS/CE [computer science/computer engineering] departments appear to have been new Ph.D.s, with the rest consisting of a combination of faculty who changed academic positions, persons joining academia from government and industry, new Ph.D.s from outside of North America and from disciplines outside of CS/CE, and non-PhD. holders (e.g., taking a teaching faculty appointment).” Second, it fails to account for the preferences of doctorates.

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