2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM


HOLMES, Mary Anne, Geosciences, Univ of Nebraska-Lincoln, 214 Bessey Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340, FREY, Connie, Bureau of Sociological Research, Univ of Nebraska-Lincoln, 730 Oldfather Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340 and O'CONNELL, Suzanne, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan Univ, 265 Church St, Middletown, CT 06459, mholmes2@unl.edu

Data from the National Science Board indicates that the numbers of males receiving the Bachelor’s degree in geoscience declined in the last five years, from nearly 3,000 in 1996/1997 to 2,430 in 2000, while the numbers of females increased slightly, from around 1,500 in 1996 to 1,617 in 2000. However, the proportion of females receiving the PhD (31%) is below the proportion receiving the bachelor’s or Master’s (40% bachelor’s, 38% Master’s in 2000). To study what causes the loss of female students in the academic “pipeline”, we conducted twelve focus groups comprising 96 academic geoscientists, separate male-female groups, six categories: 1) administrators, 2) full and associate professors, 3) non-tenure track personnel, 4) assistant professors, 5) post-docs and PhD candidates, 6) Bachelor’s and Master’s candidates. When asked why they entered the geosciences, female respondents focused on personal relationships: people who had an influence on their lives. Male respondents were less likely to mention people, but mentioned books, classes, and an interest in the subject matter. Both male and female students cited the relaxed atmosphere of the geoscience department, “blue jeans and carhartts”, and the opportunity to work outdoors as attractors. They acknowledged that some friends thought them odd for associating with unfashionable people. When asked whether they considered leaving the geosciences, most males responded, “no”. Those that responded affirmatively mentioned the job market or a difficult advisor. Most females beyond the B/MS group said “yes”, citing a lack of encouragement, difficult co-workers or superiors, some family concerns and discomfort with a narrow focus, again indicating that personal relationships are key to females’ interest in their field. When asked whether they felt encouraged to stay in the field and progress towards an advanced degree, males responded mostly positively but voiced concern over financial difficulties of graduate school. Females gave mixed responses. Those that felt un-encouraged often switched advisors or schools to find that encouragement. In short, interpersonal relationships between students and faculty of either gender are particularly important given the significance that focus group members placed on encouragement received from colleagues and faculty.