Understanding Women's Career Choices in Chemistry. By Megan Grunert and George Bodner


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The goals of this research study are to better understand the choices women in chemistry make with regards to career, to identify rewards and obstacles associated with available career choices in chemistry, and to compare graduate students’ perceptions of careers with the descriptions of women in those careers. Ten women graduate students in chemistry from two different institutions participated in a series of three interviews with the researcher. These interviews examined their chosen career path, their perceptions of available career options, their values about work-personal life balance, and their experiences as women in a graduate chemistry program. Women faculty members were also interviewed and asked to reflect on their career choices and provide insight into their lifestyle as academic chemists. Ten faculty members were interviewed, six from three different research-intensive universities and four from three different primarily undergraduate teaching institutions. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and subsequently analyzed using the qualitative methods of thematic analysis and the constant comparative method (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

Preliminary analysis shows that women graduate students have negative perceptions of the research professor lifestyle at large universities. They feel there is little to no balance between work and personal life. Careers at primarily undergraduate teaching schools, at government labs, and in industry were viewed much more favorably. These findings add a depth of understanding to the numerous studies showing women’s tendency to favor academic careers at teaching institutions over research institutions (see Bentley & Adamson, 2003; Kuck, Marzabadi, Nolan, & Buckner, 2004; Kulis, Sicotte, & Collins, 2002; Sears, 2003).

Women faculty members at large research institutions report deciding on their careers fairly early on in their graduate studies. They pursued this path even though they recognized the challenges associated with this career. Their primary motivation for continuing in their career was the intellectual freedom they experienced, followed by being able to work with students and help them develop into independent researchers. In contrast, the faculty members from smaller teaching institutions felt rewarded and fulfilled by teaching and working with students, rather than through chemical research. They valued the flexibility of their schedules and the ownership they had over their teaching and the research they did with undergraduates.

The findings from this study offer suggestions for future interventions with graduate students, as well as faculty recruitment at research-intensive institutions. Women graduate students felt that women faculty in their department were not positive role models with respect to balancing a career with a family. They also did not see or value the intellectual freedom associated with this career or the rewards of working as an advisor to graduate students. Candid conversations or mentoring relationships outside of the advisor-advisee dynamic could shed insight into what life is really like as a faculty member at these institutions. Hiring and benefits packages at research institutions could also be modified with the addition of family-friendly benefits and policies, including maternity leave, on-site childcare, flexible tenure clocks, and clear departmental expectations for work schedules, to appeal to more women.

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  • Just a slice of the results presented here, also preliminary findings-still a work in progress
  • The real issue is: why don’t women want these jobs? They won’t even apply!!! How much time, energy, money, will be invested without knowing what women are looking for, what will motivate them to apply for these jobs. Stories of women being offered these jobs and then not taking them.
  • Find out what grad students want, what informed the career choices of women faculty members
  • More information regarding data collection and analysis is available-please ask!
  • Education to make the world a better place.
  • Basing career choices on these perceptions
  • Major difference is how time is spent, what the breakdown is between teaching and research. Grad students don’t see the value reported by research faculty, overly romanticize the lifestyle of teaching faculty. Definitely a gap between what grad students perceive and what faculty report.
  • Just scratching the surface!! There is an accepted academic researcher lifestyle that must be contended with to make research careers more appealing and accessible to women. Must change these expectations in the academy to really make a difference. Improve collaborations and partnerships instead of competitiveness-don’t have to do it all alone.
  • Improve hiring and benefits packages ▫  Family-friendly policies ▫  Maternity/Paternity leave ▫  On-site childcare ▫  Flexible tenure clocks ▫  Clear departmental expectations for work schedules –Clearer, more explicit expectations for tenure
  • Understanding Women's Career Choices in Chemistry. By Megan Grunert and George Bodner

    1. 1. Career Choices of Women in Chemistry: Understanding the Roles of Motivation and Perception<br />Megan L. Grunert<br />George M. Bodner<br />Purdue University <br />Department of Chemistry<br />
    2. 2. Overview<br />Motivation and Purpose<br />Data Collection, Participants and Data Analysis<br />Career Perceptions and Motivators for Graduate Students<br />Comparison of Graduate Student and Faculty Findings<br />Implications and Moving Forward<br />
    3. 3. Motivation for Study<br />Women are under-represented in chemistry at the graduate and research faculty levels<br />Between 1993-2003, women made up 32% of chemistry PhD graduates, but only 18% of applicants for tenure-track positions at research universities<br />Federal and university funds and resources have been used to increase the number of women hired and retain current female faculty members with limited success <br />
    4. 4. Purpose of Study<br />To better understand the choices women in chemistry make with regards to career <br />To identify rewards and challenges associated with available career choices in chemistry <br />To compare graduate students’ perceptions of careers with the descriptions from women in those careers <br />
    5. 5. Data Collection Methods<br />Three unique interviews with each graduate student participant   <br />Chosen career path   <br />Perceptions of available career options <br />Values about work-personal life  balance<br />Experiences as women in a graduate chemistry program<br />One interview with each faculty participant   <br />Reflect on career choices  <br />Lifestyle as academic chemists <br />Rewards and challenges in their career <br />
    6. 6. Participants <br />
    7. 7. Data Analysis<br />Interviews transcribed verbatim <br />Reviewed by the researcher <br />Identify themes and relationships <br />Representative quotes <br />Qualitative analysis methods <br />Thematic Analysis <br />Constant-comparative Method <br />Theoretical frameworks <br />Expectancy-value theory (Eccles) <br />Standpoint feminism (Harding) <br />Gender Analysis (Schiebinger)<br />
    8. 8. Graduate Students<br />Have a positive impact on the world <br />“Like everybody wants to change the world in some way. Or most people aspire to do that and whether or not they do it through understanding something like fundamental science or getting people to adopt a different world view. And I would rather work with people and try to make them more aware of how the situation is than to hole myself up in a lab. And so I think I feel there’s an opportunity to make a more immediate change…” [Sarah] <br />
    9. 9. Graduate Students<br /> Interact with people <br />“My dream job, I would love, absolutely love to find a position somewhere where I could continue teaching chemistry to non- majors. That’s my favorite teaching…taking a group of freshman that are like, ‘I hated chemistry, I didn’t know I’d have to take this,’ and linking things to the real world.” [Julie]<br /> “…seeing how [this university] operates, I love the school as a grad student, but I don’t think I would like it as a professor because you don’t get to interact as much with your students, you don’t get to know their names, and I mean, I like being a TA here because I get that one-on-one connection, but that’s something that is really important to me.” [Natalie] <br />
    10. 10. Graduate Students<br />Difficult to have a family with academic research career <br />“…it takes so much time out of your life to do that kind of research, that if you want to start talking about, you know, having kids or having a family, juggling that on top of trying to get tenure and you know, trying to do really good science…just seems impossible.” [Sarah] <br />
    11. 11. Graduate Students <br />Little to no balance between work and personal life for academic research career<br />“…[when] you’re shooting for tenure, you’re here 70 to 80 hours a week, you’re driving your grad students…all the grants…and I see so many professors here, even once they have tenure, they’re here Saturdays and Sundays…it’s just totally unappealing.” [Natalie] <br />
    12. 12. Role of Motivation and Perception on Career Decisions<br />
    13. 13. Faculty Findings: “Reality check”<br />Flexible schedules mean as much or as little time can be spent working as deemed necessary<br />Challenges and obstacles exist with regards to family and balance issues for all faculty members<br />Rewarding student interactions exist at both types of institutions<br />Research obligations exist at both types of institutions<br />Research faculty value the intellectual freedom offered by careers at research institutions<br />
    14. 14. Improving Perceptions of Academic Research Positions<br />Candid conversations between women faculty and graduate students <br /> Mentoring relationships between women in the department outside of the advisor-advisee dynamic <br />Making explicit the relevance and impact of chemistry research<br />Career seminars and Q&A sessions with chemistry professionals<br />
    15. 15. Food for Thought<br />What do we need to do to make institutions more accessible? <br />How do we change the expectations and accepted academic researcher lifestyle?<br />How do we make explicit the sociocultural relevance of science? <br />How do we make science more collaborative and interdisciplinary when departments and faculty want “credit” for funding? <br />
    16. 16. Ongoing Research Activities<br />Finish analyzing data <br />Fit data to Expectancy-Value framework (Eccles) <br />Work on gender analysis (Schiebinger)<br /> Develop graduate student narratives <br />Indentify career-specific themes <br /> Identify over-arching themes <br />
    17. 17. Acknowledgements<br />Study Participants<br />Bodner Research Group<br />Thank you for your questions and input!<br />