More women receive Ph.D.'s, but female senior faculty are still rare

August 19, 2005

Despite gains over recent years in the number of women who receive Ph.D.'s in science and engineering fields, a relative few go on to assume high-level faculty positions. Writing in the Aug. 19 issue of the journal Science, several top women scientists and university administrators attribute the imbalance to four pervasive elements:

small numbers of women in the faculty pipeline a hostile or "chilly" campus climate toward women junior faculty unconscious bias that results in covert discrimination sacrifices to balance family and work "While we as a nation have made considerable progress in attracting women into most science and engineering fields, we still see fewer women at the full-professor and academic leadership levels than we would expect..." said Alice Hogan, director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) ADVANCE program, which aims to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers.

"After investing in creating this pool of highly trained talent," she said, "we should see a high rate of return--productive, creative and respected teachers and researchers attracting more students into fields that might have seemed closed to them given the traditional profile of science and engineering faculty."

Lead author Jo Handelsman, a professor of plant biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues focus on the "cultural issues that manifest in the behavior of individuals and the policies of institutions because these factors make a difference and can be changed."

The article goes on to identify results from participants in the ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program, which the authors say "appear to work."

To address the pipeline shortage, for example, Georgia Tech engineering and ADVANCE professor, Jane Ammons, has developed a "speed mentoring" workshop, in which junior faculty consult for 15 to 20 minutes with experienced, tenure-case reviewers to learn ways to strengthen their odds with tenure committees.

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan's ADVANCE program hosts workshops that include an interactive theater program that portrays typical academic situations, such as hiring, retention, and climate for women faculty in the sciences and engineering, to raise awareness of personal thoughts and behaviors that affect the campus climate toward women faculty.

Workshops at UW-Madison train members of search committees in good search methods and sensitize the participants to bias.

Although systematic examination and critique of pipeline problems, campus climate, unconscious bias and work-family juggling can be "disquieting," the report says, it is necessary to create a "scientific community reflective of the pluralist society that supports it."

In addition to Handelsman, authors of the paper include Nancy Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse University; Molly Carnes, a UW-Madison Medical School professor and co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute; Denice Denton, chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz; Eve Fine of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute; Barbara Grosz, Higgins professor of natural sciences, Harvard University; Virginia Hinshaw, provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California at Davis; Cora Marrett, senior vice president of the University of Wisconsin System; Sue Rosser, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami; and Jennifer Sheridan of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison.
Read the full University of Wisconsin release.

NSF program solicitation: ADVANCE: Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers

Media Contacts: Leslie Fink, NSF, (713) 292-5395,
Terry Devitt, UW-Madison, (608) 262-8282,

NSF-PR 05-146

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.47 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official NSF news electronically through the e-mail delivery and notification system, MyNSF (formerly the Custom News Service). To subscribe, visit and fill in the information under "new users".

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page:
NSF News:
For the News Media:
Science and Engineering Statistics:
Awards Searches:

National Science Foundation

Related Engineering Articles from Brightsurf:

Re-engineering antibodies for COVID-19
Catholic University of America researcher uses 'in silico' analysis to fast-track passive immunity

Next frontier in bacterial engineering
A new technique overcomes a serious hurdle in the field of bacterial design and engineering.

COVID-19 and the role of tissue engineering
Tissue engineering has a unique set of tools and technologies for developing preventive strategies, diagnostics, and treatments that can play an important role during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Engineering the meniscus
Damage to the meniscus is common, but there remains an unmet need for improved restorative therapies that can overcome poor healing in the avascular regions.

Artificially engineering the intestine
Short bowel syndrome is a debilitating condition with few treatment options, and these treatments have limited efficacy.

Reverse engineering the fireworks of life
An interdisciplinary team of Princeton researchers has successfully reverse engineered the components and sequence of events that lead to microtubule branching.

New method for engineering metabolic pathways
Two approaches provide a faster way to create enzymes and analyze their reactions, leading to the design of more complex molecules.

Engineering for high-speed devices
A research team from the University of Delaware has developed cutting-edge technology for photonics devices that could enable faster communications between phones and computers.

Breakthrough in blood vessel engineering
Growing functional blood vessel networks is no easy task. Previously, other groups have made networks that span millimeters in size.

Next-gen batteries possible with new engineering approach
Dramatically longer-lasting, faster-charging and safer lithium metal batteries may be possible, according to Penn State research, recently published in Nature Energy.

Read More: Engineering News and Engineering Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to