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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
professional astronomers. For example, this cohort accounts for only 4 percent of astronomy Ph.D.s awarded in the United States and 3 percent of faculty members, and yet even these small fractions represent growth. To achieve parity would require increasing the annual rate of minority Ph.D.s in astronomy from around 5 percent to a sustained value of about 40 percent over a period of 30 years.16
There are many reasons that improving these abysmal statistics should be a matter of the highest priority. First, failing to tap into such a large fraction of the population is hurting the country through not accessing a large human resource, and this is a statement applicable also to science in general. Second, because of the prominent position of astronomy in the public eye, the absence of minority role models sends a strongly negative message to young people considering careers in science and engineering. The Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy of the AAS works as both a focus and an information dissemination group for these important issues and as a support and mentoring group for minority members of the AAS.
There have been many well-intentioned and thoughtful programs over the past decades to increase minority representation in astronomy and other scientific fields, but they have not yet succeeded in achieving the goal of equal representation in the Ph.D. scientific workforce. There has been some success in increasing the number of minorities who obtain bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, to about 18,500 in 2007.17 However, minority groups remain underrepresented at the master’s and Ph.D. levels and in the professional workforce in these fields. This underrepresentation might be overcome by creating programs to bridge minority undergraduates from physics, computer science, and engineering into master’s programs that would allow them to enter the astronomical workforce directly or to move on to a Ph.D. Given the increasing numbers of minority undergraduates in physics, computer science, and engineering and the current workforce needs in astronomical computation and instrumentation, recruitment into astronomy and astrophysics careers and Ph.D. programs could be pursued.