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  September 20,  2004
Volume 82, Number 38
pp. 64-65

Chemistry recruiters will find more women and fewer foreigners at traditionally favored schools


Within the next 10 to 15 years, many chemistry faculty members are expected to retire. When replacing these faculty members, university search committees will find that their historically preferred candidate pool--doctoral graduates from 10 universities--has changed substantially in recent years. The pool has shrunk in size, and the percentage of women has substantially increased.

Along with my colleagues at Seton Hall University, Cecilia H. Marzabadi, Janine P. Buckner, and Susan A. Nolan, I recently reported that half of the 1,595 tenured and tenure-track faculty members at the top 50 National Research Council ranked chemistry departments (NRC-50) in 2001 received their doctoral degrees before 1979 [J. Chem. Ed., 81, 356 (2004)].

A rough estimate of the age distribution of faculty members at these schools was obtained by determining the year of doctoral receipt for tenured and tenure-track faculty from the American Chemical Society's "2001 Directory of Graduate Research." It is highly probable that a large percentage of the 546 professors who received their doctorates before 1971 will retire in the next 10 years.

In the same paper, we reported that the NRC-50 preferentially hired doctoral graduates trained at a select group of universities. For example, in 2001, 60% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty members who were hired after 1978 at these departments had received their doctorates from 10 universities: California Institute of Technology; Columbia; Cornell; Harvard; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford; University of California, Berkeley; University of Chicago; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Yale.

The pool of candidates for new faculty jobs is shrinking overall. Data obtained from the National Science Foundation's WebCASPAR database show that the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents receiving doctorates in chemistry remained fairly constant from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. In 1995, the number of doctorates granted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents peaked at 1,624 and then slowly fell to 1,227 in 2002, a 24% decrease.

The number of doctorates awarded to foreign students has been slipping, too. The number of doctorates awarded to temporary residents reached a high of 727 (33% of the total) in 1992. It then fell slightly and has hovered around 630. In 2002, temporary residents received 595 (31%) doctorates, a drop of 18% since the 1992 peak. Indications are that the number of doctorates earned by temporary residents will continue decreasing in future years.

Of the many possible reasons for this decline, one is the chilly atmosphere of the U.S. government regarding foreign nationals. Since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, foreign students seem to be less interested in or less able to pursue their educations in U.S. schools. Data from the Department of State's Immigrant Visa Control & Reporting Division show that overall student visa applications decreased from 400,000 in 2001 to 326,000 in 2003.

The Educational Testing Service recently reported that from 2002­03 to 2003­04, the number of applications for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) from China dropped 50% and from India, 37%. This decline is noteworthy because, in 1998, these two countries supplied 50% of the foreign GRE applications and made up 36% of the science doctorates, according to NSF.

Two other studies indicate that there will be fewer foreign students in graduate school in the near future. In a survey of 113 graduate schools, which altogether enroll nearly one-half of the foreign graduate students, the Council of Graduate Schools found a 32% decrease in the number of foreign applications for fall 2004 in physical sciences programs from the 2003 enrollment. Moreover, in June 2003, NSF reported that the enrollment of temporary residents who were first-time, full-time graduate students in the physical sciences during 2001­02 had dropped 7% from the preceding year.

These changes are reflected in the Ph.D.-recipient populations at the 10 schools that we identified as the preferred recruiting campuses (the top 10 suppliers). In 1992, the total number of doctorates granted at these schools reached a high of 333 and has since decreased; 263 degrees were conferred in 2002, a 21% decline. The rise in the number of chemistry doctorates granted by these institutions in the 1980s and early 1990s reflects the influx of foreign students at the 10 universities. In 1982, U.S. citizens and permanent residents received 285 doctorates (90% of the total); however, in 2002, they received 202 doctorates (77%), a 29% decline in 20 years. Since 1995 alone, there has been a 23% drop in the size of this doctorate pool.

In addition to the smaller numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, significant changes also have occurred in the gender distribution of Ph.D. recipients at those 10 universities. There has been a consistent decline in the percentage of doctorates earned by men. In 1982, men obtained 86% of the doctorates, whereas in 2002 they received 66% of the doctorates. If these trends continue, women should reach parity with men in 10 years.

Projections of the trends observed for the top 10 suppliers indicate that search committees will be challenged to find a sufficient number of traditional candidates in the pool. Hiring at the top 10 suppliers will be affected most by the decline, as 77% of the faculty who were hired since 1978 at those 10 schools were doctoral graduates of those same departments. Also affected will be the departments that have been slow to hire women or have been unable to retain female faculty members, as they will find it hard to attract enough new faculty members from the top 10 pool.

A similar pattern of shrinking pool size with an increasing percentage of female doctorates is also seen with the top 25 faculty supplier departments that have trained 87% of the NRC-50 faculty members hired since 1978. Considering the total number of doctorates granted after 1980, a high of 786 was reached in 1992; but in 2002, the number had decreased to 641, an 18% decline. Similarly, the greatest number of temporary residents receiving degrees was achieved in 1992, with 222 doctorates; by 2001, the number had dropped 32% to 151.

Between 1995 and 2000, doctorates obtained by U.S. citizens and permanent residents from the top 25 supplier departments fell by 31%. They peaked at 594 in 1995 and reached a low of 409 in 2000. Since then, they rose to 470 doctorates in 2002. Like the top 10 suppliers, the gender distribution of this pool also has changed. In 2002, women received 39% of the doctorates from these departments, and women will reach parity with men in about 10 years, similar to the projection for the top 10 pool.

If the percentage of graduates electing to do postdocs falls from its current level (60% for doctoral graduates from the top 10 suppliers) or if the percentage of students interested in positions at Ph.D.-granting institutions (49%) decreases, the situation will be exacerbated.

The decline in size of the doctoral pools from the top suppliers will affect not only research institutions, but also four-year colleges and industrial and government laboratories. Hiring candidates from these universities will become far more competitive, with educational institutions concerned about having sufficient numbers of faculty to teach undergraduate courses. This situation most likely will result in the hiring of new faculty members who have been trained at a more diverse group of institutions and the acceptance of women faculty at a faster pace than that seen over recent years.

Valerie J. Kuck is a visiting professor at Seton Hall University's Center for Women's Studies and Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. She retired in 2001 from Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, N.J,. after a career of 34 years. There she worked on a number of projects, including the development of materials and devices for use in telecommunications. She has been very active in local and national activities of the American Chemical Society, and this year she was the first recipient of the ACS Award for Volunteer Service. She is an avid promoter of the careers of women chemists.

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2004

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