Has the leaky pipeline really been fixed?

The ‘leaky pipeline’ is a familiar metaphor to those interested in discussions of women in STEM. The pipeline – the process of going from school to undergraduate level and on into academia until reaching professorship – is seen to leak people, particularly women and minorities, at each successive rung of the academic ladder. Despite its ubiquity, there are growing concerns that the leaky pipeline metaphor is harmful and inaccurate.

A recent paper by David Miller and Jonathan Wai suggests that the pipeline is no longer leaking. The paper examined the percentage of students who go from undergraduate level to PhD level using retrospective analyses of data from US citizens. The data itself seems sound, as do the analyses, but I am concerned about the conclusions drawn.  The authors found that while women, in general, used to be awarded PhDs at a lower rate than their male undergraduate counterparts, this is no longer the case: the sexes have converged. This means that male and female un...



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Posted in Navigating Academia.

Notable Replies

  1. Here’s another interesting piece of research, concerning the leaky pipeline and research grants:

    After they secure their first major research grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), women are almost as successful as men at netting further awards from the agency, according to an analysis published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1.

    The study of almost 35,000 researchers that applied for NIH funding calls into question the commonly held belief that women leave science at a higher rate than men at all stages of their careers, which is often described as a leaky pipeline of talent.

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