The ones and zeros in the table compiled by Donna Nelson don’t come as much of a surprise. But they are a stark reminder that the overwhelming majority of physics professors at top US universities are still white men. Earlier this year, Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma, surveyed the makeup of faculty in chemistry and chemical engineering by rank, race, and gender for the country’s 50 best-funded universities. Now she has done the same for physics.
The 50 universities surveyed have a total of 1987 physics faculty members. The full data can be viewed online at http://www.awis.org/statistics/physicsTable.html. Here are some highlights:
▹ Of the physics faculty members at the 50 universities, 131, or 6.6%, are women.
▹ Twelve physicists at the 50 universities, or about 0.6%, are African American. They are all men.
▹ Half of the 10 Hispanic physics faculty members are women.
▹ There is one Native American physics professor at the universities surveyed; he is at Yale University.
▹ Asian Americans represent 11.2% of the physics faculty; of those, about 10% are women.
“Nelson’s data agree pretty well with ours,” says Rachel Ivie of the American Institute of Physics’s statistics division. (AIP’s most recent report on employment by gender and race, 2000 Physics Academic Workforce Report, is available on the Web at http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/awf01.pdf.) “What Nelson has that we don’t is women by race and the breakdown by rank,” says Ivie. Most black academic physicists are at historically black colleges and universities, Ivie adds. “The question is, Why are they there? Are they not going to the top 50 universities because they don’t get offers, or because they choose not to? I don’t think anyone knows the answer.”
Nelson, who is one quarter Native American, started doing her own surveys after seeing one that showed the breakdown of chemistry faculty by gender and wondering why it didn’t look at minorities. She compiled the data by sending out questionnaires and then following up aggressively. When universities didn’t respond, she says, “We got the information from the Web and from talking to people in the department. That’s how we got a 100% response rate.” Physics, she adds, “is doing a pretty good job in using the available female base, but it lags in hiring minorities.” One surprising result, Nelson says, is that chemical engineering outstrips both chemistry and physics in hiring from their respective pools of African American PhDs.
“My students were extremely interested in the surveys,” says Nelson. “I think the females have been taught they will have a full chance, and they expect it. And when they see this sort of statistics, they are even more outraged than professors. All I am asking is for people to listen—and not to punish females and minorities when they try to discuss the disincentives for going into these fields.”