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Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty
careers (e.g., hiring for tenure-track and tenured positions and promotions), women appear to have fared as well as or better than men in the disciplines and type of institutions (Research I) studied. The survey data show that female and male faculty have had comparable access to many types of institutional resources (e.g., start-up packages, laboratory space, and research assistants), in contrast to the COSEPUP committee’s general findings that “women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition”18 and that “evaluation criteria contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women.”19
Like the COSEPUP committee, however, this committee found evidence of the overall loss of women’s participation in academia, even though many of the actual transition points under the control of institutions (like interviewing, hiring, and promoting) do not show evidence of a loss. The loss is most apparent in the smaller fraction of women who apply for faculty positions and in the attrition of female assistant professors before tenure consideration. The former is especially apparent in the fields of chemistry and biology, where the number of female applicants for faculty positions in Research I institutions is much lower than the number of women doctorates in the pool. Unfortunately, our surveys do not shed light on why women fail to apply for faculty positions or why (or if) they leave academia between these critical transition points. Similarly, the reports agree that there are gender differences in time in rank, but we do not have any causal evidence as to why this is so.
The findings in both reports underscore the fact that our work is not done. Further research is needed, along with continued efforts to increase the number of women faculty in many disciplines and at key points in academic careers.
Sources of Information
The primary source of information for this report consists of two new surveys designed and conducted especially for this project by the American Institute of Physics during 2004 and 2005. The surveys were undertaken to fill in some of the current gaps in knowledge regarding faculty outcomes and institutional practices, which could not otherwise be addressed by existing data sets. One survey focused on departments; the other examined faculty.
The departmental survey was a census of biology, chemistry, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics departments at Research I institutions (N = 492). It gathered information on departmental characteristics, hiring practices and outcomes, and tenure and promotion processes and yielded an overall response rate of 85 percent. Data on attrition were not collected.