Questions for Future Research
This study raises many unanswered questions about the status of women in academia. As noted at the onset of this report, the surveys did not capture the experiences of Ph. D.s who never apply for academic positions, nor of female faculty who have left at various points in their academic careers. We also recognize that there are important, nonacademic issues affecting men and women differently that impact career choices at critical junctures. Fuller examination of these issues (for example, topics relating to family, children, home life, care of elderly parents) will shed greater light on career choices by women and men and should yield suggestions on the types of support needed to encourage retention of women in academic careers. Below are suggestions for future research:
A Deeper Understanding of Career Paths
1. Using longitudinal data, what are the academic career paths of women in different science and engineering disciplines from receipt of their Ph. D. to retirement? Most importantly, where do women Ph. D.s go who do not apply for academic positions, and where do women faculty go who leave the university before tenure consideration?
2. Why are women underrepresented in the applicant pools and among those who are considered for tenure? How can we understand more fully the subtle but powerful influences of climate and family life on career decisions? While it is true that the lives of female faculty have become more similar to those of men in recent years, the discrepancies remain very large, which may be a major reason why women don’t consider careers in RI institutions. The demands of family life are also a large deterrent. Universities can do a lot by mentoring of female graduate students that it is possible to have a career at an RI institution and still have a family life.
3. Why aren’t more women in fields such as biology and chemistry applying to RI tenure-track positions, as discussed in Finding 3-3? Such a study might examine the career preferences of graduate students and postdocs (and what factors shape those preferences) as well as the efforts of departments and institutions to recruit faculty in these disciplines.
4. Why do female faculty, compared to their male counterparts, appear to continue to experience some sense of isolation in more subtle and intangible areas? The findings on institutional climate indicate several areas that still need to be examined to facilitate the full participation of all faculty. Finding 4-7, for example, reports that female faculty are less likely to engage with other faculty in conversations about research or salary.
5. What is the impact of stop-the-tenure-clock policies on faculty careers?
Given the significant increases in the number of faculty invoking stop-the-tenure – clock policies there is a need to collect longitudinal data on the career patterns of these faculty including data on time in rank, tenure, and promotion statistics. Does this extension of uncertainty regarding tenure for assistant professors who utilize their institutions’ stop-the-tenure-clock policies deter a certain fraction of women (and men) from applying or have a negative effect on the promotion and retention of faculty who utilize these policies?
6. What are the causes for the attrition of women and men prior to tenure decisions, if indeed attrition does take place? This is particularly relevant given Finding 5-9, which indicates that female faculty spend significantly longer in time in rank as assistant professors, and this may have an impact on retention of female faculty.
7. To what extent are female faculty rewarded beyond promotion to full professor? There are career milestones beyond promotion to full professor in academia. A future study that looks at chaired professorships, salary increments, and continued access to institutional resources would be useful.
8. What important, nonacademic issues affect men and women differently that impact their career choices at critical junctures? While the committee was not able to investigate them in this study, a fuller examination—for example, of issues relating to family, children, home life, care of elderly parents, etc.—might shed light on career choices by men and women and offer suggestions on the nature and types of supports to encourage retention of women pursuing academic careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.