BOX 3-1

Models of Faculty Representation

Most analyses of career trajectories of women scientists and engineers use a pipeline analogy, positing that women are underrepresented at senior levels of academe because they are disproportionately “lost” along the journey from interested high school student to tenured faculty. However, analyses must take into account the number of years it takes for a person to progress from a newly attained PhD to a tenured faculty position. There is a lag between earning a degree and advancing to the next level and “without considering lag time, we are left with erroneous conclusions about what the distribution of women faculty should be without enough information about what the available pool of women is.”a

Senior-level academics attained their PhDs a number of years before reaching the level of full professor. One study reports that in 2002 the middle 50% of full professors in physics earned their doctorates in 1967-1980.b Therefore, in considering the representation of women in this faculty rank, it is most appropriate to consider that representation in terms of the cohort of PhDs granted in 1967-1980. Similarly for associate professors the appropriate cohort (again using the example of physics) is 1984-1991 and for assistant professors (the “entry level” of the professoriate) it is 1991-1997. That is what is meant by considering “lag time.” Although the specific length of the lag time may vary from field to field (based on such factors as number of postdoctoral fellowships required before receiving a faculty appointment), the general principle applies in fields other than physics.

When lag time is considered, one notices that when the current cohort of senior faculty received their doctorates there were fewer women in the pool than there are now. In some fields, that almost completely explains the low numbers of women in senior faculty positions. For instance in physics, in 2005 5% of full professors were women; in 1967-1980 (when the current cohort of full physics professors would have attained their PhDs) an average of 4% of PhDs were awarded to women. At the associate professor level, 11% were women in 2005; and in 1984-1991 (the appropriate year range for this cadre) 9% of PhDs went to women. At the assistant professor level, 16% were women in 2005; and in 1991-1997 (the appropriate year range for this cadre) 12% of PhDs went to women.c Similar findings are not confined to the discipline of physics. Using a similar type of analysis a National Research Council panel reported, in a general non-discipline-specific finding, that “much, but not all, of the difference in men and women in their success in becoming faculty is due to differences in the stage of their career.”d The panel predicted, in the coming decades, increases in the percentages of female faculty.

However, other work presents an alternative view. Nelson, in a study of faculty representation at “top 50” science and engineering schools, reports that “in most science disciplines studied, the percentage of women among recent PhD recipi


aR Ivie and KN Ray (2005). Women in Physics and Astronomy, 2005. College Park, MD: American Institute of Physics,


bIvie and Ray (2005), ibid.


cIvie and Ray (2005), ibid.


dNational Research Council (2001). From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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