Minority? We want you to get a PhD, but we don’t want you as a professor.

Lenny Teytelman Dec 10, 2014

Yesterday I wrote why I was encouraged by the ASCB session on the Future of Research. Today, I want to focus on data from this session that I found to be shocking and unacceptable.

Kenneth Gibbs gave a data-rich talk on the landscape of career outcomes and perspectives of research trainees. He shared informative statistics about the general trainee pool and the comparisons for women and minorities. During his talk, I tweeted the outrageous outlook for under-represented minorities (URM):

What I missed during my tweeting is the trend for this 2% number over the past 35 years. Luckily, I had dinner with Kenneth the following night and he filled in the gap. There has been no change in this 2% since 1980. As if that isn’t bad enough, the percent of the PhD-obtaining black, Hispanic and other URMs has increased over that time period from 2% to 13%. In contrast, the percent of female faculty has grown from 17% to 33% in the same time frame (still woefully inadequate, but at least improved).

Here is another way to put this in perspective. Out of 10 presidential elections in the United States since 1976, we have chosen a black president twice. That is 20%. The fraction of URMs elected president has grown from 0% in 1980, to 11% in 2008, to 20% in 2012. Yet, the fractions of URM faculty is flat at 2%.

Seems that through a concerted and vigorous effort, we have managed to recruit many more URMs into academia, only to turn around and then push them back out. We have a loud message everywhere of “We need more minorities in STEM!” But pushing people into a system that spits them right back out is counterproductive to science and probably actually detrimental to the minorities. Our message says, “Come to STEM.” But our statistics say, “Don’t get anywhere near!”

It’s not a “leaky pipeline” when it comes to URMs; we obviously have full-force fire hydrants ejecting URMs out of academia as they go through their graduate and postdoctoral training. As Kenneth told me at dinner, “The entire social justice movement seems to have skipped right over academia.” This must be fixed.


The numbers from Kenneth Gibbs:

Table 4D, the second column gives you % of women PhDs hired as faculty in basic science depts for 4 of 6 disciplines (biochem, microbio, pharmacology, phyisiology, it's <40%)

NRC report also has diversity numbers: the urm faculty number not changing since 1980 is on page 4. chapter 3 focuses on basic biomed and also has diversity numbers (for women and urms)

For more on this topic, see today's "Biomedical Science Ph.D. Career Interest Patterns by Race/Ethnicity and Gender" from Kenneth.

Article: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114736