Some research attributes gender imbalances in the sciences, technology, math and engineering in part to women’s deliberate life choices; in other words, getting married and having children keeps some women out of the workforce. But a new study suggests that even women with undergraduate STEM degrees who planned to delay marriage and child rearing were no more likely than other STEM women to land a job in the sciences two years after graduation. The men most likely to enter STEM occupations adhered to significantly more conventional gender ideologies than their female counterparts, expecting to marry at younger ages but also to remain childless, according to the study.
Still, the study attributes the majority of the gender disparity in transitions into STEM jobs to women's underrepresentation in engineering and computer science studies.
“The Missing Women in STEM? Assessing Gender Differentials in the Factors Associated With Transition to First Jobs,” published in Social Science Research, analyzes data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It tracks young people’s career aspirations that year and their career paths periodically thereafter and focuses on 163 women and 353 men with undergraduate STEM degrees. Over all, 41 percent of women graduating with a STEM degree were employed in a STEM job within two years of completing college, compared to 53 percent of men -- a statistically significant difference, the study says.
The researchers attribute their major finding, in part, to employer bias against women and women’s underrepresentation in STEM majors. Another major reason for the employment gap was women’s underrepresentation in STEM majors (especially outside of the life sciences), the study says. And men in the study were more likely than women to have traditional views about women being responsible for housework and child care, leading the researchers to suggest that some women found the STEM climate too conservative to work in; many women in the study found non-STEM work.
“These women have the characteristics of the ideal worker. They expect to have few family distractions and work in STEM both within five years and at midlife. They really have strong aspirations,” Sharon Sassler, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University who co-wrote the study, said in a statement. “But they were no more likely to enter STEM jobs than women who anticipated marrying young and having two or more children.”
Sassler said this dynamic exacerbates the gender imbalance seen at other points in the career pipeline. “If women aren’t getting into these STEM jobs, then they’re not there to mentor other women. They’re not there to climb the ladder and help with hiring.”
Current research funding trends discourage innovative thinking, according to a new essay in a special issue of Nature. The essay, written by four early-career scientists who have been named by the World Economic Forum as part of a group of scientists under the age of 40 who “play a transformational role in integrating scientific knowledge into society for the public good,” says that the “scientific enterprise is stuck in a catch-22,” with researchers charged with advancing promising new questions, but receiving “support and credit only for revisiting their past work.”
The authors say that their most striking common challenge is “barriers to achieving impact,” in that their research “often led us to questions that had greater potential than our original focus, typically because these new directions encompassed the complexities of society. We realized that changing tack could lead to more important work, but the policies of research funders and institutions consistently discourage such pivots.”
One of the paper’s co-authors, Gerardo Adesso, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement that the key is allowing scientist to “pivot,” or to shift their focus during their career. Funders and institutions often hamper this, however, questioning researchers with no track record in the new area they want to explore, he said.
“We are not saying that scientists should dabble,” the essay argues. “Executing a pivot should still require conviction and risk, but the current strictures are too tight. Enabling early-career researchers to change trajectories is necessary to encourage the highest-impact research. Theories of brain plasticity and team productivity support this. Alongside specialization, diverse and varied experiences foster discoveries and promote the decision-making skills that are needed to lead research.”
In addition to promoting the pivot, the essay advises institutions to emphasize peer-review training, which it says could eventually change institutional cultures. “Equipping scientists with skills for more nuanced appraisal will help them to consider varied attributes, particularly how to address complex societal challenges and to evaluate broader interdisciplinary questions.”
“The greatest risk is that innovation will be stifled by failing to invest in the best emerging scientists, who are approaching the peak of their creativity,” the authors conclude.
Faculty members play a critical role in how ethnic and racial minorities and women interpret the rigors of graduate school, according to a new study to be presented at the upcoming meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Analyses of 29 student and alumni interviews and focus groups in four doctoral programs in the sciences and engineering suggest that faculty mentors’ reframing of student experiences of struggle or failure, honestly discussing the way social identity affects one’s experiences in academe, validating students’ competence and potential -- what the paper calls “cognitive scaffolding” -- all support persistence and well-being by warding off isolation and a sense of not belonging.
The paper’s author, Julie Posselt, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, said via email that “Ph.D. students, maybe counterintuitively, see faculty as a last resort for academic support” and feel safer approaching peers and postdoctoral fellows. Graduate students often worry that professors “will judge them negatively if they show signs of weakness,” she said, but “when faced with doubts about their ability to make it (for example, impostor syndrome) they benefited greatly from a faculty support,” in the form of cognitive scaffolding.
Professors help students reframe their struggles and self-doubts, focusing on growth and the long term rather than the stress of immediate experiences and perceived failures, Posselt said. “Also very meaningful to students was honest talk about the ways that race and gender affect their experiences in the academy; they appreciated frank conversations about this from both same-race and same-gender faculty as well as mentoring across social identity.”
Faculty members at the College of the Sequoias, a community college in California, are raising questions about a 33 percent raise that the board granted to President Stan Carrizosa, The Fresno Bee reported. The raise brings his salary to $300,000. Faculty leaders note that they recently received a 6 percent raise, after a decade without any pay increase. Board officials defended the president's raise, saying that he was on the low end of the salary range for his position.