Mind to Market

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Leaky Pipeline

I shared a cup of tea last week with friend and fellow climber Dr. Fran Bagenal, Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado. Fran is the editor of STATUS; the newsletter of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and has been particularly active in encouraging young women to enter the fields of astronomy and physics. Statistics show that the ratio of men to women entering the field of physics their freshmen year is 1:1 but that the number of women switching to different fields is higher than the number of men over the course of their education; the pipeline of women students is "leakier" than the one for men. The reasons are numerous; lack of female instructors, lack of role models, want a more exciting career, male dominated institutions, etc. But the proportion of women in physics has been increasing steadily for the past couple decades and a "tipping-point" may soon be reached where the environments and institutions will become more female and family friendly. However, we are currently experiencing an overall decline in interest from undergraduates in the fields of science and engineering, a decline which has been sited as detrimental to any claim the U.S. still has as a leader in technology.

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