** warning: This blog post contains anecdotal information involving the statistics-of-small-numbers **
In my field, it is typical for graduate applicants to indicate which subfield they are most interested in pursuing for graduate research. Most applicants also typically indicate which professor(s) they are most interested in having as advisors. Although an admissions committee (in consultation with the department chair) makes the final decisions and offers, individual faculty (or, at least, representative faculty from research groups) also have a say in the admissions process.
Not long ago, I was perusing applications, and there were several surprises in them, all pleasant.
Surprise 1: Although my particular research subfield comprises less than 15% of the faculty in my department, we got about 30% of the graduate applications. This % of applications is higher than in previous years, but there has been an upward trajectory. I was therefore not surprised that the % was high, but I was surprised by how high it was. Possible interpretations other than that these data have no meaning: The subfield is hot, we are hot, or both. I am OK with any of those possibilities.
Surprise 2: Most of the applicants were female. And, when I made a first pass through the applications and considered only those that excelled according to the standard on-paper criteria (GPA, GRE scores, letters etc.), the resulting group of apparently outstanding applicants was 100% female. In my nearly 20 years of experience with graduate applications, this has never happened. [For those who are wondering/cynical: A male colleague who independently looked through the applications came up with the exact same list that I did.]
Surprise 3: Of the first-pass group of outstanding applicants, 50% of the US applicants identify themselves as minorities or biracial. In my nearly 20 years of experience with graduate applications, this has never happened.
Trend or blip? Significant of insignificant? I don't know, but I am intrigued.
Has anyone else in the physical sciences seen an increase -- dramatic or not -- in the number of female/minority applicants (i.e., members of underrepresented groups) to doctoral programs this year?
9 months ago