Gender Imbalance in Postgraduate Chemistry
In 2018, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), conducted a UK wide report entitled “Breaking the Barriers: Women’s Progression and Retention in the Chemical Sciences”. In this report they highlight the issue of the “Leaky Pipeline” of female retention in chemistry from school pupils to professors. They found that in the UK, 44% of Chemistry undergraduate students are women, dropping to 39% at postgraduate level. Beyond that, only 29% of non-professorial staff are women and only 9% of professors. These findings are supported by the makeup of the chemistry department at the University of Warwick, with fewer female applicants to postgraduate courses, with only 10% of the highest paid professorial positions held by women.
I decided to investigate the stories behind the statistics of the lack of female professors in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick. To do this, I interviewed 15 male and female postgraduate chemists at Warwick to compare their student experiences and identify the barriers to their retention and progression in academia.
I identified 5 main themes from the interviews that contributed to female postgraduates not wanting to stay in academia: Lack of female role models, poor work-life balance, lack of supervisor interpersonal skills, research group culture, low self-assessment.
The University is trying to address these barriers but female students believe that positive action in the form of women only talks and societies undermine and devalue their achievements. They also believe that for positive changes to occur, men need to be involved in the debate. One future scheme the university is introducing is a postgraduate mentor scheme, which will provide women with a role model and someone to provide them with reassurance and support throughout their time at Warwick.
Future study should look at the effectiveness of the mentor scheme, to see if it has had a positive effect on the retention of women in academia in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick.