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On-ramping: following women scientists and engineers through their transition from nonacademic to faculty careers

Abstract

A popular strategy for increasing women faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) departments is to hire from other universities, but this strategy fails to increase the number of women faculty nationally. This research investigates a new approach to faculty recruitment called “on-ramping,” the process by which women with PhDs leverage their nonacademic careers and enter academia as faculty members. This study follows women scientists and engineers from their non-academic to faculty career and analyzes their experiences transgressing the boundaries of STEM knowledge production sites. We used qualitative methods to collect and analyze semi-structured interviews about the experiences of ten female PhDs who successfully on-ramped into faculty positions with the support of a feminist professional community. Our data revealed four phases of on-ramping that characterized the transition to academia for our participants. Attention to gender in on-ramping also highlights concerns that span the personal and the professional in women scientists and engineers’ lives. By illuminating cultural and political practices in STEM sites of knowledge production and the effects of feminist interventions on women’s experiences of producing knowledge in STEM fields, this study offers a unique perspective that can elucidate the strengths and weaknesses of these sites, especially in regards to gender politics and knowledge production.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the interview participants and Priti Mody-Pan for her valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this manuscript. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant HRD-0819407 and EEC-1136916. Any opinion, finding, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Coleen Carrigan.

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Carrigan, C., O’Leary, K., Riskin, E. et al. On-ramping: following women scientists and engineers through their transition from nonacademic to faculty careers. J Technol Transf 42, 98–115 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-015-9460-5

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Keywords

  • Women faculty
  • STEM
  • Gender
  • Knowledge economy
  • Feminism
  • Career path
  • University-industry partnerships

JEL Classification

  • O35
  • J210
  • J710