STEM careers: How long can you survive?

New research conducted at universities predicts how long STEM faculty members remain in department positions.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

According to a study released in the journal Science, over half of STEM faculty members in universities leave within 11 years of being hired.

The report, by Deborah Kaminski of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Cheryl Geisler of Simon Fraser University in Canada, studied a number of American universities.

A total of 2966 faculty members, assistant professors, within the science and engineering fields at 14 universities took part in the study, and were tracked from the time of hire to the moment of departure using publicly available information.


The median times to leave a STEM faculty job were:

  • Men: 11.05
  • Women: 10.40
  • Total average: 10.94 years

The average departure time was shown to be 10.9 years for faculty members, of whom those who entered as assistant professors would be promoted to associate professor positions at a success rate of 64.2 percent.

Overall, there is very little significant difference in retention rates for men and women. However, in the field of mathematics, faculty staff turnover is higher than in other disciplines and women leave significantly earlier than men -- at a rate of 4.45 years in comparison to an average of 7.33 years for men.

Mechanical engineering departments retained its faculty members longest for men at 16.19 years, while biology kept its women members for the longest duration, at an average of 16.36 years.

Women represent approximately 27 percent of STEM faculty members at the 14 universities in the study, and even though their are numbers on the rise, it will be a long time before this number equalizes -- if it ever does.

The study says:

"Our work confirms the importance of the late pre-tenure period as a period of critical risk in the retention of faculty in STEM. If a university expects to grow its faculty, it has an even greater challenge. Simply staying the same size requires considerable hiring and mentoring, even without considering retirement."

It does need to be kept into consideration that the study is limited in terms of its size -- and the 14 academic institutions and departments that participated may not represent the hundreds of universities across the United States.

It is also important to note that universities should begin asking why faculty members leave -- as the cost of training staff in advanced fields can mean an investment of thousands of dollars, only to be lost when the member departs.

Image credit: Umberto Salvagnin


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