MANAGING AN ACADEMIC CAREER IN SCIENCE: WHAT GENDER DIFFERENCES EXIST AND WHY

Postgraduate

ABSTRACT

The present study examines the career trajectories of academic scientists during the period from 1993 to 2001 to explore gender differences in mobility.  Data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Doctorate Recipients are used to examine and compare gender differences in the odds of promotion.

The effects of age, marital and family status, duration of time to complete doctorate, academic discipline, cumulative number of publications and time in the survey are considered as explanatory variables.  Event history analyses are conducted for all scientists, for scientists in four major academic disciplines and for scientists in various academic ranks.

While no overall gender differences were observed in the odds of promotion, several important similarities and differences were evident. Expectedly, publications had a significant and positive relationship with advancement for both women and men.  The role of parent influenced promotions quite differently for women and men.

Contrary to expectations based on prior research, academic women scientists who were mothers advanced at similar rates as women without children.  Consistent with expectations based on traditional roles, married men and men with children generally advanced more quickly than single or childless men, respectively.  Two surprising patterns emerged among subgroups of women. Marriage was associated with greater odds of advancement for women engineers and motherhood was associated with greater odds of advancement for among assistant professors. Possible explanations for these findings are presented.

Introduction

At 70 years of age, Janet Davison-Rowley works at the top ranks of the scientific community. She is Deputy Dean for the University of Chicago’s Biological

Sciences Division as well as the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine.  In 1998 she was awarded the National Medal of Science. Commenting on blending a career in science with family responsibilities Rowley suggests, “Women should be patient with the course of their careers and be willing to take chances and tackle new challenges.  The notion that you are over the hill if you are 30 or 35 and haven’t done something astonishing is absurd… I counsel women that you have to look at your life in chapters… It will evolve, particularly as your children get older and you have more freedom” (Guy 2002:74). Dr. Davison-Rowley (Guy 2002) suggests that women may need to adjust the timing of career advancement to allow for periods largely devoted to childrearing.

Stephanie Dimant (1995), a scientist turned writer, offers a less optimistic view of the careers of women scientists. In “Science is for Childless Women,” a New York Times Letter to the Editor, she explains her departure from a career in science (Dimant 1995). She argues that careers in bench science cannot accommodate the demands of child-rearing, demands that ultimately led Dimant to leave a career in the science. The absence of women in most scientific and engineering careers lends some credence to this conflict.  In 1997, only 22.8 percent of all scientists and engineers were women (National Science Foundation (NSF), 2000 Appendix Table 5-1), even though women represented 43 percent of the civilian labor force 16 years and older

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1998).

Sociologists Linda Grant, Ivy Kennelly and Kathryn B. Ward (2000) interviewed and surveyed scientists who taught at doctoral–granting departments of American universities and uncovered conflicts between science careers, marriage and family life, with greater conflicts for women.  In their sample of 602 scientists, Grant et al. (2000) noted that while most scientists were ever married and had children, fewer of the women scientists than men were ever married (84 percent of the women compared to 92 percent of the men). Similarly fewer women than men scientists had children, 72 percent of women compared to 89 percent of the men. Summing these observations, they noted, “Thus among scientists, but especially the natural and physical scientists, there was a widespread belief that scientific careers, as normatively structured, did not easily accommodate parenthood,” (Grant et al.

2000:74).

These three contradictory explanations suggest a need for a better understanding of the normative structure of science careers, particular those in the academic sector which employs the largest number of scientists and engineers. (NSF 2000:58). These three explanation also suggest how careers might differ for women in terms of the timing of career milestones or decisions about marriage and family formation.  Which of these three perspectives (the successful yet delayed career, the exit from science, and the modification of marital and family decisions) about career trajectories for women scientists is more accurate? Are there other more accurate descriptions of the gender differences and similarities in managing a career in science? Clearly one description will not fit all cases, and this project does not seek to identify a single normative career trajectory for all academic women scientists; rather it explores differences in the careers of women and men academic scientists that may be attributed to three primary factors: differences in the years of experience, differences in productivity and differences in decisions about marriage and family formation. Additionally other secondary factors that frequently appear in the mobility literature will also be considered; these include age, birth cohort, and academic discipline.

The academic focus is particularly interesting because of the limited research in this area.  Most studies of mobility among scientists focus on the business sector of the labor market and define mobility as a move into management.  Very few studies examine women scientists in the academic setting and the present study adds to that body of work.  In addition, the study capitalizes on differences in the business sector and academic sector.  The most important differences lie in flexibility and autonomy which are characteristic of the tenure system plus the formal timing and rules that guide promotions in the tenure system.

Rachel Rosenfeld (1992) organizes the literature on job mobility along three dimensions that are well-suited to understanding advancement in the academic setting: opportunity structures, individual differences and timing. Opportunity structures include the tenure system which organizes career advancement at most American colleges and universities. This nearly universal measure of career advancement provides consistent rules for tenure and promotion decisions. The second dimension, individual differences are measured in three equally wellestablished terms: service, teaching and research.  The third dimension, time, is often expressed as years of labor force experience and is strongly associated with mobility.