Increasing numbers of women are studying science and engineering—in fact, more women than ever are receiving Ph.D.'s in these fields—but a recent study shows that they are not going on to serve in science and engineering faculties.
The study, conducted by University of Oklahoma researchers, confirmed that women and minorities are vastly underrepresented on the science and engineering faculties of the top 50 research departments of U.S. universities, and added new field-specific detail to previous studies.
Researchers Donna J. Nelson, associate professor of chemistry, and Diana C. Rogers also discovered that:
- The top 50 computer science departments had no African American, Hispanic, or Native American tenured or tenure-track women faculty.
- Some women in engineering and science still never encounter a female faculty member in their field during their Ph.D. program.
- Even in disciplines where more women than men earn Ph.D.'s, white male assistant professors outnumber women.
- Women represent only 3 to 15 percent of full professors in science and engineering.
There is a drastically disproportionate number of male professors acting as role models for female students, says the study, which found that although 48.2 percent of the students graduating in 2000 with a BS in math were women, in 2002, only 8.3 percent of the faculty was female.
A lack of female role models for women and minorities in these traditionally white, male-dominated fields has an effect, the study's authors conclude. "When female professors are not hired, treated fairly, and retained, female students perceive that they will be treated similarly," they write. "This dissuades them from persisting in that discipline."
MentorNet Academic Career E-Mentoring Helps Support Women in Academic Careers
To help women interested in academic careers careers, MentorNet launched the Academic Career E-Mentoring Program in August 2003. The program, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, partners graduate and postdoctoral students with tenured faculty in structured online mentorships that last eight months.
"Our initial focus was industry because that's where women in engineering typically went," says Jennifer Dockter, MentorNet's director of programs. "But we knew there was a need for mentoring for women who want academic careers. People asked for a program like Academic Career E-Mentoring, so we started it as soon as we could support it."
Almost 200 students have signed up, and so far, MentorNet has successfully matched 32 of them with a faculty mentor. MentorNet is actively seeking to enlarge its pool of tenured science and engineering faculty—both men and women—who would like to serve as mentors.
"Judging by the initial response, there's clearly a demand for more mentoring from women pursuing faculty careers," says Dockter. "We're working hard to build a program that fills their needs as effectively as we have for students in our industry program."