Melkers awarded $1.15 million to study women in science

Associate professor of Public Policy in Ivan Allen College Julia Melkers was awarded over $1.1 million to study women in science by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In particular, her research area addresses collaboration and social network issues for academic scientists.

In partnership with coprincipal investigators Eric Welch from the University of Illinois and Monica Gaugham from UGA, Melkers’ core project addresses the question of why professional networks are important for career advancement for women scientists in particular.

Melkers’ team recently received a 3-year grant for $1.1 million dollars entitled, “Empirical Research: Breaking through the Reputational Ceiling: Professional Networks as a Determinant of Advancement, Mobility, and Career Outcomes for Women and Minorities in STEM.”

NSF has awarded four rounds of grants to academic institutions and individuals across America with the aim to recruit and retain women in science and engineering related fields.

“This research is motivated by ongoing evidence of under representation of women in academic science, particularly in some fields, as well as exit from scientific careers,” Melkers said.

According to her research, it is essential to be in the right social networks for female scientists to further their careers. She and her team were interested in finding out what made these networks of female scientists important for career advancement and job satisfaction.

Some results that Melkers and her team found were that women develop collaborative ties with colleagues that they meet for the first time at professional networks, as well as the fact that women retain relationships longer than men with colleagues that they know from graduate school.

“Women are more likely than men to be introduced to new collaborators by individuals in their academic research networks”, Melkers said.

Melkers feels this grant will help her team expand their sample to a wide range of schools, examine institutional effects on networks, as well as look more carefully at underrepresented groups.

The NSF grant limited Melkers and her team’s research, as there are very few minority scientists in Carnegie-designated Research I institutions. Minorities and women, statistics show, are underrepresented in Research II and comprehensive institutions as well. The Carnegie designation is a classification of institutions based on a variety of aspects, such as degree programs and size. Because of this specification, Melkers promises that her team is capable of handling these studies now that they possess the funding.

When asked about the kind of impact she expected from this study and its impact on the Tech community, Melkers explained that she hopes that her studies will have a theoretical as well as practical impact.

She expects the quantitative study of the professional networks to add to the existing literature on the science and technology workforce and further solidify the reputation that other Tech colleagues have built in the area of women and minorities in science.

Tech currently has a robust Women in Science and Technology program and has numerous recruitment programs for women interested in attending the Institute.

Practically, she hopes that the studies will develop a better understanding of the roles and characteristics the professional networks play for women. In addition, she hopes this research will help women improve career advancement and outcomes in academic science.

“We hope that our results will inform structural aspects of non-Research intensive academic environments, and the nature of interventions designed to attract, retain, and advance women and minorities in those institutions, including mentoring program structure, as well as opportunities for faculty advancement,” Melkers said.

Melkers concluded that she was excited about the new grant and that she may be able to add an undergraduate student to the project through the generous support of the Tech’s Women, Science, and Technology (WST) Program Student-Faculty Research Partnership.