Most alumnae science majors go on to science careers
By Alice Gomstyn, Staff Writer
Published on Wednesday, May 10, 2000
A strong majority â€“â€“ 80 percentâ€“â€“ of female Dartmouth science alumnae currently work in or have most recently held jobs in science-related fields, according to findings recently released in a report by the Women in Science Project.
The report, part of a broader Alumnae Connections initiative funded by AT&T, focused on how female science majors from Dartmouth classes 1973 through 1996 feel that their undergraduate experiences at the College affected their career choices.
The study was prompted by a 1993 report released by researchers at Wellesley College, which found that 36 percent of Wellesley science alumnae failed to pursue careers in the sciences.
WISP began its study in 1997, with the creation of a survey about respondents' current employment status as well as about their reflections on their undergraduate experiences as science majors. In the August of 1998, WISP mailed the survey to 1,308 alumnae and provided an electronic version of the survey on the Internet.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed responded to the questionnaire, a statistic pleasing to WISP Assistant Director Kathy Weaver, who said that the responses provided valuable information regarding the status of women and sciences at Dartmouth.
"I think [the response rate] is impressive. Over 700 women told us their stories," she said. "We heard a lot of things about the encouraging climate at Dartmouth and we also heard some things that were not so encouraging."
Among the "not so encouraging" findings was the quality of pre-major and career counseling for science majors.
According to Weaver, the survey showed that "there's a need for more career information, beyond academic research and medicine."
More positive aspects of the undergraduate Dartmouth science experience, as rated by the women surveyed, included undergraduate research opportunities, informal support from both peers and faculty, upper level coursework, and several WISP activities, such as research internships and peer mentoring.
According to Weaver, the report shed light on several critical matters.
"The key issues ... were the importance of faculty support and mentoring, both in and out of the classroom, ... the need to provide more role models for women in science ...the need to broaden student awareness of science careers beyond academic research and medicine, and the need to improve coordination between academic advising, research/internships opportunities and career counseling," Weaver said. WISP has recently sponsored several events publicizing report -- which was released last December -- including two faculty sessions, held in late April, focusing on specific segments of the study. WISP representatives also met with the provost, members of the president's office, and the dean of faculty.
An event geared toward students took place May 2. WISP interns Katie Greer '00 and Erin Mackanin '00 hosted a discussion about why some women leave the sciences, an issue also covered by the report.
According to Greer, the discussion centered on balancing work and family, peer advising, and people's perceptions of science-related occupations.
"It was great because you could tell that a lot of the people there had been thinking about these topics and we all had an opportunity to talk about it," Greer said.
A summary of "Looking Back: A Retrospective Study of Dartmouth Science Alumnae 1973-1996" is available on the WISP website.