A Measure of Intra-University Collaboration: Faculty Gender Imbalance on Doctoral Dissertation Committees in Engineering Disciplines

Emily M Welsh, Alexis R Abramson
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 457-469

This article presents an analysis of female faculty representation on dissertation committees in comparison to the percentage of women faculty in departments of engineering in 2013 and 2014.

Collaboration is an indication of a robust research program, and the consequences of collaboration may benefit one’s academic career in numerous ways. Gender bias, however, may impede the development of intra-university collaborations, thereby inhibiting professional success.

Nine universities were examined (Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, Cornell University, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Rice University, University of Pittsburgh, and Vanderbilt University) across six different engineering departments (civil, chemical, mechanical, materials, biomedical, and electrical).

This paper reveals how an analysis of gender balance of faculty representation on doctoral committees can help advance an institution's understanding of the level to which collaboration with female colleagues may be occurring, thereby providing insight to the climate for women.

A potential gender imbalance does exist in select cases. In aggregate, the percentage of female engineering faculty on dissertation committees compared to within each university revealed a disparity of less than 6% points.

Examining how well represented female engineering faculty are on dissertation committees can be an important measure of levels of collaboration within an institution and of how well women are being integrated into the existing culture.

More in-depth research, including a study of correlation with other relevant indicators, may reveal additional insight to why gender bias exists on doctoral committees and how to lessen its occurrence.

The results of this study may increase awareness of gender bias and encourage faculty to be more inclusive and collaborative, particularly with their female colleagues, and as a result may help improve the climate for women faculty in engineering.

This study opens a discussion about the potential for gender imbalance and bias within an institution, particularly with respect to collaboration and inclusion. Future work may explore other indicators beyond doctoral committee representation.

gender bias, gender imbalance, doctoral committee, collaboration
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