Difficult tasks are often very simply stated. This committee was asked by Congress to “conduct a study to assess gender differences in the careers of science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) faculty, focusing on four-year institutions of higher education that award bachelor’s and graduate degrees. The study will build on the National Academies’ previous work and examine issues such as faculty hiring, promotion, tenure, and allocation of institutional resources including (but not limited to) laboratory space.” That such an assessment would be daunting was well understood by the committee. The importance of the study provided more than ample motivation to keep the committee engaged and focused on crafting an objective report that would advance our knowledge on the status of women academics in science and engineering at the nation’s top universities.
To address its charge, the committee drew on a large number of scholarly studies, survey data collected by federal agencies and professional societies among others, self-assessments conducted by universities—as well as a number of experts brought in to meet with the committee. After reviewing the above information, the committee determined to conduct two comprehensive surveys. These surveys were sent to the major research universities across the United States during 2004-2005. The surveys focused on biology, chemistry, civil and electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics. One focused on almost 500 departments in these disciplines, and the other was sent to more than 1,800 faculty. These surveys bring much needed additional information to the table. The survey of departments collected information on departmental characteristics, hiring, tenure and promotion decisions, and related policies. The survey of faculty focused on demographic characteristics, employment history, and institutional resources received. The committee was delighted with the response to the surveys. The departmental
survey had about an 85 percent response rate, and the faculty survey had about a 77 percent response rate. The committee extends its thanks to everyone who filled out the questionnaires, which were undoubtedly time consuming. Respondents were very open with their information, as they were promised confidentiality. While the data must remain restricted to maintain that confidentiality, we believe these data could be used in further studies for the benefit of the scientific community without violating the confidentiality of respondents.
A related point is that while the committee examined a tremendous amount of information, a comprehensive and conclusive assessment of faculty careers remains in the future. The committee has done all it can given its resources to advance our understanding of this important issue, but additional research and study remain. If it could, this committee would have continued expanding, refining, and enhancing its analysis. The committee trusts that others will be encouraged to pursue further some of the avenues that the committee has started down and to answer some of the questions that arose in this report, drawing on their own innovative approaches to examining the trajectory of academic careers of men and women.
Claude R. Canizares
Sally E. Shaywitz