Recently I perused a list of graduate degrees awarded in the 2008-09 academic year at my university. The list is incomplete because it only contains awarded degrees; there are also quite a few degrees that are pending but will soon be awarded at the official conclusion of the academic year.
Even so, this list, though incomplete, is fascinating.
The list contains the names of advisors. At first glance I had the impression that more science/engineering PhD students were co-advised (as compared to having one advisor) than were students in the humanities and social sciences, but once I added up the numbers and calculated the %s, I could see that my impression was unduly influenced by the fact that there are many more PhDs in science/engineering than in the other fields. In fact, I was surprised at how few PhDs were awarded in the humanities, but this may in part be a function of the incomplete nature of the list.
I went through the list twice because the first time I only kept track of the numbers of co-advised vs. single-advisor students, but as I did this I started to get the impression that women faculty made up a high percentage of the co-advisors. I didn't trust my impression so I went through the list again and kept track of the gender of the advisor(s).
The % of women advisors of PhD students matched almost exactly the % of women faculty at the university in each of the subdivisions I tracked: science/engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Therefore, although the list was incomplete, I think it is has enough data to provide some potentially interesting insights into advising trends.
Here is what I found: Although 10% of single-advisor science/engineering PhD students had women faculty as advisors, ~40% of the co-advised students had one woman advisor; I don't think any were co-advised by 2 women faculty.
Although the total number of PhDs is less in the humanities and the social sciences, the co-advised students in these fields were twice as likely to have a female advisor as were the single-advised students in each field. And, in contrast to science/engineering, there were examples of students co-advised by two women faculty.
I have no idea what this means (if anything) about women or men as advisors or about student preferences for advisors. To the extent that these data mean anything, possibilities include: Women tend to collaborate more? Women have a greater tendency to lack the confidence to be the sole advisor of PhD students? Women don't tend to have their ego tied up in whether they are sole or co-advisor of their PhD student but men have a greater tendency to want to be the sole advisor? Women seek ways to maximize their time by sharing responsibilities with others? If a student has one female advisor, they also want another advisor? None of the above? Some fraction of some of the above? Did I miss some obvious possibilities?
Some of my PhD students are co-advised and some aren't. The decision is always based entirely on the research interests of the students, so I never looked at the issue with my Genders Lenses on before.
It would be interesting if there were a rigorous study of a larger database on the issue of graduate student co-advising and gender. Does such a thing exist?
6 months ago