Women In Chemistry Departments

In our March 1, 2010, issue, we published our annual "scorecard" tracing progress women are making in the ranks of chemical academia. Assistant Managing Editor for ACS News & Special Projects Linda Raber compiled the scorecard, as she has done for the past several years. We base it on the 50 schools identified by NSF as having spent the most money on chemical research. This has clearly caused some problems and some consternation, which we find understandable. Jacob W. Petrich, professor and chair of the chemistry department at Iowa State University, for example, wrote: "Our department is comprised of 27.25 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women, giving us better than 18% women on our faculty." He continued: "Our department is working very hard to attract and to retain scientists to broaden its diversity, and to this end, we are part of an NSF sponsored ADVANCE program. We are disappointed that over the years, despite our providing the necessary information to ACS, we are nevertheless not included in your ranking of women in science." The problem is that Iowa State is not one of the 50 largest spenders on chemistry research according to NSF. Neil E. Schore, professor and vice-chair of the chemistry department at University of California, Davis, brings up a different problem: "When compiling information on programs at educational institutions, C&EN apparently makes use of lists of data from NSF. These lists make no distinction between departments that are exclusively chemistry (such as ours at UC Davis) and those that are combinations of chemistry and something else, such as chemistry and biochemistry. Thus any C&EN article that purports to rank departments using such lists is comparing apples and oranges, is misleading its readers, and is doing a serious and damaging injustice to chemistry-only departments." Schore points out that UC Davis' chemistry-only department has a higher percentage of women on its faculty than any on the list printed in C&EN, 12 out of 40 or 30%, nine of whom are full professors. And Gustavo E. Scuseria, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and vice-chair of the chemistry department at Rice University points out that Rice, which we can all agree is a truly outstanding university with an outstanding chemistry department, ranks 77 on the NSF list, but if you average expenditures on chemistry research over four years and divide by the number of faculty, Rice would rank 35 in something like research spending per faculty member. Rice is being punished, Scuseria maintains, because it has a relatively small chemistry faculty of 20, three of whom are women. We are sympathetic to all these complaints, but at a loss to know exactly what to do about it. We have to use some ranking. We're thinking of going to the 100 largest spenders on chemistry research for our next scorecard, but that would still leave someone deserving out. If you have any better ideas, let us know. And if you feel your school has created an outstanding environment for women to practice chemistry and were left out of the C&EN scorecard, bring that to our attention, too.

Author: Rudy Baum

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