Mentoring Groups A Non-Exit Strategy for Women in Physical Oceanography
We all know them: friends, colleagues, and students who left oceanography to pursue other careers. While their talents are certainly highly valued elsewhere, we are often left with lingering concerns that we could have done more to retain them in the field. Losing any oceanographer has an impact. The relatively small number of scientists in this profession leads to close collegial relationships, but the impact is broader than personal connections. Student training requires significant financial and time commitments by the advisor, scholarly institutions, and funding agencies. A recent study revealed that losses in physical oceanography are disproportionately female (Thompson et al., 2011). In a synthesis of the career paths of PhD graduates from six major physical oceanography programs, the authors find that 43% of female PhDs granted between 1980 and 2009 left independent research positions in physical oceanography, compared with 30% of men. Perhaps as a result, women in physical oceanography constitute only 16% of assistant professors and 22% of associate professors (Figure 1) despite healthy enrollment of women in graduate
programs across the country. Of those graduates who remained as independent researchers, 73% of men were in tenured or government positions with relatively secure funding, as compared with 57% of women (Thompson et al., 2011). Rather than slowly populating the research field with women, the picture that emerges is one of women leaving the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics at all stages following their PhDs, but particularly at the transition between postdoctoral and full-time positions. This article describes a recent approach to retaining women through the development of mentor groups.