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  In this Section:  Statistics on Postdocs and Gender  |   Data Resources  |   References  

 

Special Note:
The statistics presented herein are the best available; we do not have a truly comprehensive statistical picture of postdoctoral scholars, including postdoc women, and within that population, postdoc women who are members of underrepresented groups including racial and ethnic minorities and women with disabilities. Those postdoc women who are members of underrepresented groups may face unique challenges. There is little available information, anecdotal or otherwise, about these challenges.

 

Statistics on Postdocs and Gender


For an overview of the findings of various studies on postdocs and gender, see NPA ADVANCE's "Postdoctoral Scholars, Gender, and the Academic Career Pipeline: A Fact Sheet"

 

The postdoctoral position - a temporary period of training and mentored research following the receipt of a doctoral degree - is a critical transition point in the academic career pipeline where the numbers of women scientists and engineers significantly decline. While the relative fraction of women in academic science and engineering decreases at every successive step along the career pipeline (see Figure 1 below), these decreases primarily occur before the tenure track and are greatest for the fields where the postdoctoral position is most common [1]. Increasingly, the postdoctoral position has become a required step for continuing into the professoriate in these fields, creating an additional career hurdle and lengthening the total elapsed time until the first permanent position. Moreover, the likelihood that a postdoctoral scholar (postdoc) obtains a tenure-track position also has decreased [2].

postdocpipelinefigure-paint-sm3
FIGURE 1: Percentage of women in each step in the pipeline for the disciplines with the largest numbers of postdocs: Biological Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Psychology. Careers steps include: Those receiving their PhD between 1996-2005 (Nelson 2007); Postdoctoral scholars in 2006 (NSF 2009); and Tenured and tenure-track assistant professors in 2007 (Nelson 2007)

Quick Facts:

Demographics

  • Women are a smaller fraction of the overall postdoc population than men; however, this seems primarily due to the fact that most postdocs are international (temporary visa holders) and most international postdocs are men (see Figure 2). The fraction of male vs. female postdocs who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents is roughly equal. (Sigma Xi)

  • The postdoctoral career phase coincides for many scientists with the time of family formation. The majority of postdocs (male and female) are between the ages of 30 and 35 and are married or partnered, and approximately one-third have children (Sigma Xi). The proportion of postdocs who are married/partnered or have children is higher among men than women (see Figure 3).

Postdocs and Families

  • Postdoc women with children spend more on childcare than men, spend more of their time on child rearing duties, and are more likely to have a spouse who also works. (Sigma Xi, Martinez et al. 2007)

  • Postdoc women are more likely than postdoc men to include children as an important consideration in their career planning  (Mason & Goulden 2002, Martinez et al. 2007).

Postdoc Careers

  • Postdoc women are more likely than postdoc men to opt against the academic or principal investigator (PI) path (Mason & Goulden 2002, Ley et al. 2008, Martinez et al. 2007, Goulden et al. 2009).

  • There have been a number of studies examining the possible reasons postdoc women leave the academic career path. Some of the key issues for postdoc women appear to be family considerations (c.f. Goulden, Frasch & Mason 2009) and confidence issues (Martinez et al. 2007).

    • Although a majority of both men and women biomedical postdocs feel their professional preparation is adequate, women are less confident they will obtain a PI position and tenure (Martinez et al. 2007).

    • Postdoc women who have had children since becoming postdocs are twice as likely as men who also have had children to change their career goal away from professor with a research emphasis. These women are also twice as likely to change their career goal from the professoriate as women who have not had children and have no future plans to have children (Goulden et al. 2009).

    • Postdoc women with children are significantly less likely than men and women without children to get a tenure-track job within nine years of the Ph.D. (Ginther & Kahn 2009).
postdocgender-visafig
FIGURE 2: The breakdown of postdocs by gender and visa status. SOURCE: Sigma Xi National Postdoc Survey 2005 postdoc.sigmaxi.org
postdoc-family-status-fig-sm
FIGURE 3: The fraction of male and female postdocs who are partnered or married and those who have children. SOURCE: Sigma Xi National Postdoc Survey 2005 postdoc.sigmaxi.org

 

Data Resources


Overviews

NPA Postdoc Fact Sheet

NPA ADVANCE Fact Sheet: Postdoctoral Scholars, Gender, and the Academic Career Pipeline

Data on Postdocs
NPA summary of existing data sources on postdocs.

NPA ADVANCE Focus Group Findings
In 2010, NPA ADVANCE conducted a series of four focus groups with current and former postdoc women about their career paths and the influences on their career decisions.

 

Presentations

Amber Budden: Postdocs & Gender: What Do We Know? Data from the Sigma Xi Postdoctoral Survey
March 2010 National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

Donna Ginther: The Postdoc and Women's Academic Careers - More Questions than Answers
March 2010 National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

Mary Ann Mason: Staying Competitive: Patching the Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences
March 2010 National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

Jeri Metzger Mulrow: NSF Data on Postdocs : What Do We Know? What Else Should We Know?
March 2010 National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

Diana Stavreva: Falling off the Academic Bandwagon: Why women are more likely to quit at the postdoc to principal investigator transition
March 2010 National Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate

 

Reports

Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey Results: Doctors Without Orders (2005)
Davis, G. 2005. Doctors without orders. American Scientist 93(3, supplement)
http://postdoc.sigmaxi.org/results

Postdocs: What We Know and What We Would Like to Learn (2002)
Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST). 2002. Postdocs: What We Know and What We Would Like to Learn. Proceedings of an NSF/CPST Professional Societies Workshop, 4 December 2002. Washington, DC. 

National Academies reports:

 

Databases

NPA Institutional Policy Database Now Available!

Sigma Xi National Postdoc Survey http://postdoc.sigmaxi.org/results/data

National Science Foundation Data:

 

References


Ginther, D.K. and Kahn, K. 2009. "Does Science Promote Women, Evidence from Academia 1973 1973-2001 2001" Science and Engineering Careers in the United States. Richard B. Freeman and Daniel F. Goroff (eds), Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press for NBER Science Engineering Workforce Project.

Goulden, M., Frasch, K., and Mason, M.A. and the Center for American Progress. 2009. Staying Competitive: Patching America's Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences. Berkeley Center on Health, Economic & Family Security. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/11/women_and_sciences.html (accessed March 2010)

Ley, T.J. & Hamilton, B.H. 2008 Science, 322, 1472

Martinez E.D., Botos J., Dohoney K.M., Geiman T.M., Kolla S.S., Olivera A., Qiu Y., Rayasam G.V., Stavreva D.A. & Cohen-Fix O. 2007. EMBO reports 8 (11), 977

Mason, M.A. & Goulden, M. 2002. Academe, 88(6): 21

National Research Council Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. 2007. Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11741 (accessed March 2, 2011)

National Research Council Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. 2001. From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=5363 (accessed March 2, 2011)

National Science Board. 2008. Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. Two volumes. (volume 1, NSB 08-01; volume 2, NSB 08-01A) http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/ (accessed March 2, 2011)

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2009, NSF 09-305 (Arlington, VA; January 2009). Available from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.Postdoc data source: NSF Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering 2006. (NSF 2009)

Nelson, D.J. 2007. A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universitieshttp://faculty-staff.ou.edu/N/Donna.J.Nelson-1/diversity/Faculty_Tables_FY07/07Report.pdf (accessed February 11, 2009)

Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey results by gender: http://www.sigmaxi.org/postdoc/by_gender/about_you_short.html (accessed June 2009)


[1] For a discussion of this issue, see for example, Goulden, Frash & Mason 2009; Ginther & Kahn 2009; Ley et al. 2008; NRC 2007 Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering; Martinez et al. 2007; Nelson 2007; NRC 2001 From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers.
[2] National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, see Figure 3-40.

 

 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0819994. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

 

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