Career Pathways for Women in Chemistry

While much has been done in the years since the enactment of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to ensure that sex is not a factor in one’s employment, there is still an ongoing discrepancy in the number of women entering, and remaining in, the fields of chemistry and its allied sciences.

For example, according to the National Science Foundation, women received roughly 50 percent of the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in chemistry in 2004, yet they only received 30 percent of the number of doctoral degrees awarded. In addition, according to Chemical and Engineering News, only 27 of the top 50 chemistry departments in the United States could boast a 15 percent or greater critical mass of women faculty members.

The purpose of the Career Pathways for Women in Chemistry Oral History Project is twofold:

  • To collect and make available to scholars oral histories of women in the chemical sciences who entered the workforce in the first and second generations after the establishment of Title IX in order to gain insight into the careers of women who have chosen, and then persevered in, chemistry as a profession; and
  • To provide a forum in which undergraduate and graduate students can learn from the experiences of their elders about the trials and tribulations of a career in chemistry and discover potential avenues to overcome limitations facing women in chemistry in order to ensure success in their own careers.

The interviews, which complement the Women in Science oral history program, focus on four key areas that reach to the heart of the interviewees’ careers:

  • Influences and inspirations;
  • Mentors and motivations;
  • Women’s social and professional networks; and
  • The balance between one’s private and professional life.

Understanding the dynamics of these scientists’ lives reveals fundamental interconnections that have been central to their remaining in the fields of chemistry and its allied sciences.

As mentioned above, recording and preserving the perspectives of women in chemistry is a means to another end, that is, developing a network of women in the Greater Philadelphia area who can come together on a regular basis to talk about being a woman in chemistry, learn from others already in the field, and discuss the experiences that our oral history interviewees highlight in their interviews. These Career Pathways conferences are a venue in which we develop an outreach program that contributes to the dialog about ways in which to ensure that women not only enter chemistry as a chosen discipline, but also that they remain in that field for their profession.

Individuals interviewed for this collection so far are:

Michelle V. Buchanan Catherine T. Hunt Amy H. Newman
Cynthia Burrows Nancy B. Jackson Geraldine L. Richmond
Susan B. Butts Madeleine Jacobs Marion C. Thurnauer
Sally Chapman Catherine H. Middlecamp  
Judith C. Giordan Donna J. Nelson  


Click here for a more detailed description of each of the oral histories in this collection.