Discrimination starts even before grad school, study finds

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

A recent study found that professors at U.S. universities were much less likely to respond to women and minorities to informally discuss research opportunities.  The professors responded to 87% of the fake emails sent from someone with a white-sounding, male name, but only responded to 62% of emails with a female or minority-sounding name (for example, Steven Smith versus Latoya Brown).  The study was very thorough – emails were sent to over 6,500 professors at 259 institutions.  The emails were identical other than the name of the person they were from, and discussed wanting to talk about opportunities for research before deciding which doctoral programs to apply to. The only field that showed a reverse trend was the fine arts, where professors responded more often to females and minorities.

Asians were the ethnic group with the least responses (however, a lesser degree of bias was shown from Chinese faculty). Another interesting finding was that faculty receiving the highest pay showed the greatest bias in responding to white males more often. Biases were also found more at private schools than public ones.

If women and minorities are less likely to receive responses from as many faculty before they apply to graduate school, this is giving them fewer choices of schools they will apply to and advisors they can work with (assuming that, like me, most graduate students only apply to schools where they have received responses from professors beforehand – but I know this is more likely in the sciences than perhaps humanities).  This means many students may not be able to take advantage of the best opportunities and may feel like they will be less successful in graduate school or become jaded about academia.


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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.