Leaving Science

Leaving Science

Anne E. Preston
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Leaving Science
    Book Description:

    The past thirty years have witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of U.S. students pursuing advanced degrees in science and an equally dramatic increase in the number of professionals leaving scientific careers.Leaving Scienceprovides the first significant examination of this worrisome new trend. Economist Anne E. Preston examines a wide range of important questions: Why do professionals who have invested extensive time and money on a rigorous scientific education leave the field? Where do these scientists go and what do they do? What policies might aid in retaining and improving the quality of life for science personnel?

    Based on data from a large national survey of nearly 1,700 people who received university degrees in the natural sciences or engineering between 1965 and 1990 and a subsequent in-depth follow-up survey,Leaving Scienceprovides a comprehensive portrait of the career trajectories of men and women who have earned science degrees. Alarmingly, by the end of the follow-up survey, only 51 percent of the original respondents were still working in science. During this time, federal funding for scientific research decreased dramatically relative to private funding. Consequently, the direction of scientific research has increasingly been dictated by market forces, and many scientists have left academic research for income and opportunity in business and industry. Preston identifies the main reasons for people leaving scientific careers as dissatisfaction with compensation and career advancement, difficulties balancing family and career responsibilities, and changing professional interests. Highlighting the difference between male and female exit patterns, Preston shows that most men left because they found scientific salaries low relative to perceived alternatives in other fields, while most women left scientific careers in response to feelings of alienation due to lack of career guidance, difficulty relating to their work, and insufficient time for their family obligations.

    Leaving Sciencecontains a unique blend of rigorous statistical analysis with voices of individual scientists, ensuring a rich and detailed understanding of an issue with profound consequences for the nation's future. A better understanding of why professionals leave science can help lead to changes in scientific education and occupations and make the scientific workplace more attractive and hospitable to career men and women.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-460-6
    Subjects: Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    With the reduction in the percentage of U.S.-born men choosing science and engineering majors over the last thirty years, national attention has turned to recruiting and retaining women and minorities in science. In the 1980s, pipeline issues were prominent as it became clear that the educational conduit through which career scientists must travel was leaking, especially at critical junctures. Research into these phenomena created a host of explanations behind the leakage and has been the impetus behind the implementation of a number of seemingly effective policy proposals. But as the educational system graduates a growing number of women and minorities...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Science: The Period and the People
    (pp. 1-16)

    The focus of this study is the workplace experiences of men and women trained in the sciences between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s. As a field of study and work, science has been influenced by four important changes over this period. First, and maybe most important, federal research funds, which made up two-thirds of research and development (R&D) spending at the beginning of the thirty-year period, fell to just over one-third of R&D funds by its end, as shown in figure 1.1. Second, fields of study that were most successful at attracting public attention, research funds, and new students changed...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Magnitude and Character of Exit
    (pp. 17-35)

    Exit from science is a slippery concept since “in science” and “out of science” are not easily defined terms. Science encompasses a large number of fields, and scientific skills are used in countless jobs. The boundaries separating “science” from “nonscience” jobs are porous and shifting as, over time, science and technology find their ways into and out of various activities in the workplace. Furthermore, the interfaces between science and management, science and medicine, and science and education are complex and heavily populated “no man’s lands” in the attempt to define an “in” and “out” of science.

    The definition of “in”...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Leaving Science for Income and Opportunity
    (pp. 36-63)

    The topic of financial success and career growth was the issue on which the male and female interviews deviated most dramatically. In more than three-fourths of the male pairs, the desire for greater income and more promising career opportunities was the primary determinant of exit; a majority of these men left for management jobs. For many of the men remaining in science, career decisions were also dictated by monetary concerns. Even those who did not make decisions with salary in mind often pointed out that science was not a lucrative field. Women, however, rarely mentioned the lack of monetary rewards...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Family Responsibilities and Their Effects on a Scientific Career
    (pp. 64-91)

    Family responsibilities affect career outcomes in very different ways for men and women. Responsibilities associated with a spouse and children commonly result in the reallocation of the woman’s time away from work and toward the family. However, family responsibilities for a man lead to a reallocation of time toward work to increase the size and stability of his income. While the shift in time commitment for the woman leads to career compromise in a majority of cases, the reallocation of a man’s time can have a similar effect as short-term income and stability cannot be sacrificed for long-term advancement. This...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Mentoring
    (pp. 92-110)

    Mentoring stands out as an extremely important factor influencing career decisions and dictating career outcomes of science-educated women in the university sample. Mentoring early in the science career has an immediate impact on the woman’s probability of continuation and success in science. Although more prevalent, mentoring of men, especially in the academic arena, has a less pronounced effect on short-term career outcomes. The apparent differences in the extent and impact of mentoring for men and women is not surprising since science is a male-dominated field. Mentoring relationships may develop naturally for men because a large majority of the potential mentors...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Leaving Science Because of Discontent with Science Itself
    (pp. 111-122)

    According to the university data set (table 2.3), more than a third of both men and women who exit science relate that they find alternative careers more interesting and rewarding than scientific careers. The interview data (table 2.4), however, reveal that discontent with scientific work is more likely to be a primary reason for exit for women than for men, and many women who remain in science express similar reservations with their own work and the field in general. In this chapter, the interview data identify the forces that initially draw men and women to science and then the characteristics...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Does the Rapidly Changing Knowledge Within Science Affect Exit?
    (pp. 123-138)

    The most important defining characteristic of science as a field or body of knowledge is change. The constancy of change is the direct result of the nature and quantity of scientific research. Assembling building blocks that are dependent on the research that came before, scientific researchers are constantly expanding and reconfiguring the edges of our knowledge. They are conducting experiments, solving systems, and developing proofs to solve the mysteries of our bodies and environment. Although much of scientific research is expensive with highly technical equipment being a prerequisite for successful experiments, funds for scientific research dwarf research funds in all...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Perceptions of Discriminatory Treatment
    (pp. 139-157)

    While perceptions of discriminatory treatment and unequal opportunities were not a direct cause of exit for any of the interviewed women, a majority of the women recalled instances when they felt that they were not respected or not treated appropriately solely because of their gender. This unequal treatment may have led to fewer connections to potential mentors or less interesting assignments or lower pay that may ultimately have been the reasons for exit. As a result, we cannot rule out discriminatory treatment as an indirect factor behind exit of women. However, proving discrimination is almost impossible since differences in outcomes...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Policy Initiatives
    (pp. 158-170)

    The factors leading to occupational exit rates from science are likely to contribute to diminished entry as well. Although the number of women pursuing doctoral degrees in the sciences has been increasing steadily since the 1960s, with female representation increasing from about 5 percent of total recipients in 1960 to 25 percent in 1996, the number of men has not. Estimates of the percentage of men with a B.S. or B.E. who earn a Ph.D. in science within eight years of the undergraduate degree show a reduction from 15 percent in 1970 to 8 percent in 1990. Without the increasing...

  14. APPENDIX: Selected Analyses by Chapter
    (pp. 171-186)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 187-190)
    (pp. 191-196)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 197-201)