Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why are there (still) fewer women professors than men?

A study of chemistry Ph.D. students in Britain reveals that academic careers start looking disproportionately unattractive to women compared to men as they progress through their studies. It appears that Ph.D. supervisors are largely to blame.

Here's a succinct summary: Why Women Leave Academia
"Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as Ph.D. candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great."

And here's the report, and its executive summary:

The chemistry PhD: the impact on women’s retention
A report prepared by Jessica Lober Newsome for the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET and the Royal Society of Chemistry

Executive Summary and Key Findings
This research attempted to establish what accounts for the findings of a RSC survey of the career intentions
of chemistry PhD students (RSC, 2008). It was a qualitative study which aimed to pin point the factors that
discourage women more than men from planning a career in research, especially in academia.

81 chemists, via eight focus groups (six with second year students, two with third year students) and 47 telephone interviews (23 with third year students and 24 with people who had recently completed a chemistry PhD programme) participated in the research.

The research identified that the following factors, which relate to the doctoral study experience, and deter a larger proportion of women than men from remaining in research beyond their PhD.

During doctoral study, a larger proportion of female than male participants had:

Been deeply affected by what might be termed ‘standard supervision issues’ (e.g. enjoying little pastoral care and having to cope with a supervisor who lacks interpersonal/management skills);
 Encountered significant supervision issues, which they felt powerless to resolve;
 Experienced a lack of integration with their research group, isolation and exclusion (and more rarely,
 Been uncomfortable with the culture of their research group (about working patterns, time and
expectations and the level of competition between group members), especially where the culture was
particularly ‘macho’;
 Developed concerns about poor (though normal) experimental success rates, apprehensive of what this may infer to others about their skills and competence;
Formed the impression that the doctoral research process is an ordeal filled with frustration, pressure and stress, which a career in research would only prolong; rather than short-term pain for long-term gain.

The research suggested that where women do not wish to pursue an academic career, this is because they perceived the rewards on offer insufficient to overcome the challenge and compromise entailed.

In contrast to male participants, female participants had:

Come to view academic careers as too all-consuming, too solitary and not sufficiently collaborative;
 Come to the conclusion that the short-term contract aspect of post-docing could not be reconciled with other aspects of their life, particularly relationships and family;
 Come to believe the competition for a permanent academic post was too fierce for them to compete successfully;
 Come to believe they would need to make sacrifices (about femininity and motherhood) in order to succeed in academia;
 Been advised in negative terms of the challenge they would face (by virtue of their gender).

The report concludes that the chemistry PhD programme and academic careers are modelled on masculine
ways of thinking and doing, which leaves women neither supported as PhD students nor enthused to remain in research in the longer term. Cultural as well as procedural change is required to address this.

In Economics, there are still fewer women full professors than men, although there are signs of change. Here's a story that takes note of the fact that three recent winners of the Clark medal are the mothers of young children...  Women making gains in economics, but progress is slow

1 comment:

Highgamma said...

Given the lack of decent jobs for science Ph.D.s, maybe women are just smarter than men. It's amazing that this post is 13 years old.