(Cross-posted from http://datahound.scientopia.org/)

The diversity (or relative lack thereof) across university campuses is a central issue in academia. Many institutions have ongoing diversity programs including several high-profile institutions (e.g. Yale, NYU, Brown) that have recently announced new initiatives. The diversity of the faculty represents a crucial subset of this issue and the diversity of the science and engineering faculty is an important component of this.

The development and implementation of programs intended to increase diversity depends, in part, on the availability of data to provide baselines and to monitor progress. The university (as opposed to medical center) based community is blessed with the Nelson Diversity Surveys, robust data sets regarding the representation of women and minorities in university science and engineering departments, generated through the efforts of Professor Donna Nelson and her colleagues. These surveys include essentially complete information regarding the number of faculty members in the top (in terms of federal funding) 50-100 departments in  Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Astronomy/Astrophysics, Physics, Mathematics/Statistics, Computer Science, Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, Economics, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Earth Sciences, broken out by rank, gender (Male, Female) and race/ethnicity (White (non-Hispanic), Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American). Importantly, these data are not samples, but complete snapshots taken in 2002, 2007, and, more recently 2012, obtained by polling and relentlessly following up with each department. The reports including data for 2002 and 2007 are freely available and the 2012 data should soon be available once the data validation and initial analysis are complete. I first became aware of these data when I was at NIGMS and we subsequently had Professor Nelson speak at one of our Advisory County meetings.

To give an example of the richness of these data, one Table (for the top 50 chemistry departments in 2007) is shown below. Note that the numbers presented as decimals represent women faculty members.Chemistry-Nelson-07Report-RotatedSome overall statistics for this subset of the Nelson Diversity Survey can be derived. Overall, these chemistry faculty were 13.7% women, 1.6% Black, 2.2% Hispanic, 10.0% Asian, and 0.2% Native American. These data can be compared with other population statistics. For example, the percentages of Ph.D.s awarded in Chemistry from 1995-2006 (also provided in the report) were 32.4% for women, 3.5% for Blacks, 3.4% for Hispanics, 12.8% for Asians, and 0.6% for Native Americans. Thus, the data reveal (not at all surprisingly) that the representations of all of these groups within the faculty is lower than they are in the recent Ph.D. population.

The availability of data broken down by department makes it possible to examine these averages in much more detail. The departments ranged in size from 18 to 56 faculty with a median of 33. Below is a histogram of the number of departments versus the percentage of women in each department. For comparison, a Poisson distribution with a mean of lambda = 13 (the distribution that would be expected if recruitment of women faculty into a given department were random with the same overall rate).


The fit to the Poisson distribution is approximate, but with substantial probability density moved out of the center toward departments with lower or higher percentages of women. Being cautious not to over-interpret this small data set (although it is certain possible to examine other fields to see if similar trends are observed), this supports the hypothesis that departments that already have a higher percentage of women tend to recruit more women (keeping in mind the low overall percentages for chemistry departments in general).

Below are histograms depicting the number of departments with a given percentage of faculty in each minority racial/ethnic group.


62% or more of the departments did not have a single Black faculty member. Similarly, 50% of the departments did not have a single Hispanic faculty member. The distribution for the percentage of Asian faculty members resembles that for women with an approximately Poisson distribution with some probably density moved out of the center. Only three departments identified have even one Native American faculty member. Thirteen of the 50 departments did not have a single Black, Hispanic, or Native American faculty member.

This quick pass through a small subset of the Nelson Diversity Surveys reveals some of the potential for exploring details and developing and testing hypotheses. Expanding this across different fields and, most interestingly, across time with the release of the 2012 data, should provide insights to help focus discussions of diversity and implementation strategies for improving diversity for the benefit of all.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

About The Author

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Jeremy Berg is a scientist and science administrator who firmly believes that, just as in science, discussions of science policy are most productive when reasonable data relevant to the topic are available to analyze, criticize, and interpret. He received his Ph.D. in Chemistry, did a post-doc in Biophysics, spent 4 years on the Chemistry faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Arts and Sciences, 13 years as Director of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 8 years as Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at NIH, and is now at the University of Pittsburgh in Computational and Systems Biology and the Institute for Personalized Medicine.