Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physical Sciences. Whereas 34 percent of all geosciences doctoral degrees are awarded to women, just 8 percent of top faculty jobs in the field are held by women." data-pin-do="buttonBookmark">
A promotional picture for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physical Sciences. Whereas 34 percent of all geosciences doctoral degrees are awarded to women, just 8 percent of top faculty jobs in the field are held by women. Image: J. Paxon Reyes/Flickr
In surprising numbers, women in climate science in particular and the physical sciences in general are abandoning academic careers.
The reasons are as varied as the individuals - some leave for maternity issues or other family pressures, others give up in the face of subtle gender bias within the academic world. And others feel there are better platforms than a university position to apply the science they love and to speak out to a broader audience, with greater impact.
Regardless of the cause, the female brain drain from the academy has an impact on climate science, say researchers. A 2008 study found that while 34 percent of all geosciences doctoral degrees were awarded to females, women comprised only 8 percent of top-ranking geosciences faculty positions at U.S. colleges and universities.
Scientific inquiry is surely at stake, said Mary Anne Holmes, a mineralogist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and former president of the Association for Women Geoscientists.
"Women may have a different way of asking questions about the science and communicating the consequences," Holmes said.
Studies have shown that groups make better choices when group members have diverse experiences and points of view, Holmes noted. It's not that women look at the data and see some big feminine question that's not being asked or that men don't ask good questions, she added. Men "just don't ask all the questions."
Environmental scientist Amy Luers found the nonprofit setting more fitting than academia for her career goals. "I wanted to be at the intersection of science, policy and action," she said.