New Look at the Leaky Pipeline

Academic science no longer loses more women than men, a study shows; STEM fields are losing male and female PhDs equally.

By | February 20, 2015

WIKIMEDIA, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTENo longer is the loss of promising female scientists outpacing that of bright young male researchers. But what at first blush sounds like good news may be a function of the fact that fewer men are going on to earn PhDs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to a new study. A paper published in Frontiers in Psychology this week (February 17) indicates that the gap that existed in the 1970s—when men with undergraduate STEM degrees in science were about 1.7 times more likely than similarly qualified women to go on to get PhDs in those fields—had closed by the 1990s.

And that trend continues today, wrote the authors of the study. “The major finding of the study is the ‘leakage’ or loss of men,” San Francisco State University Provost Sue Rosser told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s not so much that women are leaking less; in fact, it’s pretty constant. It’s just that the [number of] men receiving STEM Ph.D.s [has] decreased.”

The authors noted that though the gender gap in young scientists going on to get PhDs may have closed, there are still several gender-based issues at play in STEM fields. The number of women in assistant professor positions, for example, has recently dropped. Study coauthor David Miller, a doctoral student in psychology at Northwestern University, told Inside Higher Ed that the findings should not be used to discourage programs at several universities that steer promising women to advanced degrees and careers in science and technology. Those programs, he said, are making real progress in encouraging women who may have otherwise left STEM.

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 172

February 20, 2015

"Those programs...are making real progress in encouraging women who may have otherwise left STEM."  Terrific!  Take them by the hand and walk them to the edge of the employment cliff, give them a push, and say, "Fly, my child."  Walk away and yell, "Next?"

Academia needs to be known as a business.  It takes in money to produce a product, courses that are taken and degrees granted.  Customers get sucked in by slick marketing to spend their money on the products institutions are selling.  Academia is not in the business to produce marketable, employable individuals.  There is no connection whatsoever between academia and employment.  That is the reason why there are fewer people going into STEM.  There are few jobs, and Industry has put thefix in by allowing more, lower-priced foreigners to take the few jobs there are.

Avatar of: Warren Gallin

Warren Gallin

Posts: 5

February 21, 2015

There are plenty of good reasons to study STEM disciplines as an undergraduate that do not involve moving on to a Ph.D.  Ph.D. is a specialized degree built around learning to do independent research - this is a small fraction of the possible avocations for people who study science and technology.  So the headline might better refer to a more refined filter than a leaky pipeline.

The fact that most people who take a science degree with the plan of going on to do an MD degree never end up in medical school is not a "leaky pipeline".  Why would anyone expect that training that can (but does not have to) lead to enrollment in a Ph.D. program would be any different?

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