Science Faculty Survival
Young scientists hunting for their first academic faculty appointment face a daunting prospect: dozens to hundreds of candidates for each opening; the necessity to raise scarce grant dollars in order to pursue scientific dreams; years of concentrated, draining work with no guarantee of sufficient productivity to ensure success.
Only the truly idealistic and dedicated would accept such challenges. Luckily, those of scientific bent don’t just accept them, but leap eagerly and with gusto. Naturally one wonders: how many make the grade and navigate an initial faculty appointment to promotion and a secure tenured university professorship?
A recent publication offers some heartening insight and draws on a surprising source for data. The authors cleverly used publically available university catalogs to track the time from initial appointment to either departure or promotion. They followed nearly 3000 individuals at 14 universities in a broad range of science departments.
The most interesting conclusions are:
- Less than half of those tracked last longer than 11 years at their institution of first appointment.
- Almost 2/3 (64.2%) of those appointed as an assistant professor are promoted to associate professor (presumably with tenure) at the same institution. Notably, the data set is mostly upper tier public and private research universities where one expects a highly competitive environment.
- Women and men are retained and promoted at the same rate in all disciplines except mathematics. The math types leave earlier and make it harder for women to be promoted.
The data also show that women claim a growing percentage of science faculty appointments. At the current rate, however, it will take another century before women are 50% of the faculty in STEM departments. We can call that progress, but without enthusiasm for its rate.
There are lots of other questions that can’t be answered from this data. When people depart do they leave science altogether or take another similar position elsewhere? What happens to those highly trained people who never get initial university appointments? And what’s with the mathematicians?
Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.