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Academia May Be Attracting Fewer Minorities, Women

Students Head to Professional Schools

By Ariel R. Frank

As Harvard tries to recruit more women and minority professors, faculty members are worried that the pool of qualified candidates is shrinking because fewer undergraduates are going into careers in academia than in the past.

William H. Bossert, Arnold professor of science, raised this issue at the Faculty Council meeting on Wednesday during a discussion of the Faculty's annual report on affirmative action.

In an interview last night, Bossert said undergraduates are getting the impression that job opportunities in academia are scarce and that career advancement is uncertain.

"There is the image of the Ph.D. driving a cab in Manhattan," Bossert said.

He added that while the job market is not that bad in the natural sciences, it is worse in the humanities.

According to Bossert, undergraduate women and minorities in particular are led to think that academia is largely white and male.

"I am concerned that some of our best minority and women scientists are going to medical school instead of the arts and sciences," Bossert said.

According to Bossert, the problem is not limited to the natural sciences. Many top humanities concentrators are going to professional schools rather than graduate schools that might lead to careers in academia.

Bossert said the problem is that the College does not have enough role models for women and minorities, adding that some departments do not try as hard as others to recruit them.

"There are some areas of the sciences where we are not doing so well," he said. "We have to hire predominantly women."

Bossert said he would like the College to have more symposia and guest lectures by successful minorty and women.

"If we haven't got the faculty ourselves, let's bring them in as visiting professors," he said. "Let's really bias our selection of visitors towards women and minorities."

Charlene S. Ahn '98, a physics concentrator and a Goldwater Award winner, said she is planning to go to graduate school and enter a career in academia, despite the low number of female professors in the physics department.

Ahn, who was recently named one of 53 candidates for junior Phi Beta Kappa for the class of '98, said she is encouraged because there are a lot of female graduate students in physics.

"There are a lot of other things I could do if I couldn't make it in academia and it's not going to hurt to try," she said.

But Bard J. Geesaman, chair of the Quincy House pre-medical committee, said it might hurt recent college graduates to try a career in academia because it takes a long time to become established.

Geesaman, who advises about 50 pre-med students a year, said he tries to give them a realistic picture of the challenges of going into academia.

"I think it's a mistake for a student to spend six or eight years getting a Ph.D. and then be disappointed by the outcome," he said.

According to Geesaman, many students are interested in entering joint M.D./Ph.D. programs, but he said he tends somewhat to discourage such a course of study because of the length of time it takes to complete.

"It's so competitive to get grants that those four years are wasted in medical school when you could be working on promoting your research career," he said.

Geesaman also said graduate students often have to spend several years as post-doctoral fellows before they can get faculty positions.

As a result, many people are going into careers "where they're making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year by the time they're 30."

Geesaman echoed Bossert's sentiment that many humanities concentrators are choosing to go to professional schools over graduate programs.

"Almost half the students who are applying to medical school are coming from a humanities background from Harvard," Geesaman said, adding that medicine is probably a more secure profession than academia.

Even students who get Ph.D.s often go into consulting rather than academia, Geesaman added.

William Wright-Swadel, director of career services for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said undergraduates are considering both the academic and non-academic possibilities that might be available to them after earning a Ph.D.

He said it is impossible to prove that fewer graduates are entering careers in academia, however, because the Office of Career Services conducts its surveys differently than it did 25 years ago.

According to Wright-Swadel, the percentage of graduating students who said they planned to go to graduate school in arts and sciences immediately after graduation ranged from seven percent to 11.2 percent between 1980 and 1986. It did not see a declining trend over those years.

At least one senior who was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in November said he is not planning to go into academia.

The student, an East Asian studies concentrator who asked not to be named, said he has been accepted to law school.

"I want to have a real effect on U.S.-Japanese relations and I don't think the way to do that is through academia any longer," he said.

"I would love to be a professor, especially at Harvard...but I'm not willing to put that kind of time into it with such a low number of Ph.D. candidates [actually getting] jobs at good institutions," he said. "I want to have a family, a life.

Geesaman, who advises about 50 pre-med students a year, said he tries to give them a realistic picture of the challenges of going into academia.

"I think it's a mistake for a student to spend six or eight years getting a Ph.D. and then be disappointed by the outcome," he said.

According to Geesaman, many students are interested in entering joint M.D./Ph.D. programs, but he said he tends somewhat to discourage such a course of study because of the length of time it takes to complete.

"It's so competitive to get grants that those four years are wasted in medical school when you could be working on promoting your research career," he said.

Geesaman also said graduate students often have to spend several years as post-doctoral fellows before they can get faculty positions.

As a result, many people are going into careers "where they're making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year by the time they're 30."

Geesaman echoed Bossert's sentiment that many humanities concentrators are choosing to go to professional schools over graduate programs.

"Almost half the students who are applying to medical school are coming from a humanities background from Harvard," Geesaman said, adding that medicine is probably a more secure profession than academia.

Even students who get Ph.D.s often go into consulting rather than academia, Geesaman added.

William Wright-Swadel, director of career services for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said undergraduates are considering both the academic and non-academic possibilities that might be available to them after earning a Ph.D.

He said it is impossible to prove that fewer graduates are entering careers in academia, however, because the Office of Career Services conducts its surveys differently than it did 25 years ago.

According to Wright-Swadel, the percentage of graduating students who said they planned to go to graduate school in arts and sciences immediately after graduation ranged from seven percent to 11.2 percent between 1980 and 1986. It did not see a declining trend over those years.

At least one senior who was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in November said he is not planning to go into academia.

The student, an East Asian studies concentrator who asked not to be named, said he has been accepted to law school.

"I want to have a real effect on U.S.-Japanese relations and I don't think the way to do that is through academia any longer," he said.

"I would love to be a professor, especially at Harvard...but I'm not willing to put that kind of time into it with such a low number of Ph.D. candidates [actually getting] jobs at good institutions," he said. "I want to have a family, a life.

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