In what has traditionally been perceived to be a male-dominated bastion, the tables appear to have been turned with a recent report indicating that the increase in doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering in the United States can be primarily accounted for by women. According to the reports of the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) released in November, PhDs awarded in Science and Engineering in the United States shot up 1.9% over the previous year for the academic year ended June 2009, and the rise was entirely due to doctoral degrees earned by women.
The SED is an annual census of all individuals who receive a doctorate from an academic institution in the US over an academic year, which is July 1 through June 30 of the following year.
Statistics from the NSF Survey show that 33,470 Science & Engineering doctorates were awarded in 2009, of which 33,442 could be categorized according to sex. Of these 13,593 went to women marking a 4.8 percent increase over the 2008 numbers. The reported number of men earning PhDs in the field, in fact, saw a marginal decline.
Within the broader discipline, seven out of eight scientific fields - Agricultural Sciences, Biological Sciences, Mathematics, Physical sciences (Physics and Chemistry), Social Sciences, Earth sciences and Psychology - saw an increase in doctoral degrees. Of these, biological sciences saw the largest absolute number of awards, while mathematics recorded the highest gain in percentage terms. Computer sciences constituted the lone exception here with a 9.8 percent decline from 2008. Ironically, this field had the largest rate of increase among the scientific fields over the decade gone by, nearly doubling from 1999 to 2009.
There was a 2.9% decline in PhDs in engineering over 2008, though the subfields displayed considerable variation. Electrical engineering, though still the largest in terms of numbers, recorded a 10.8 percent year-on-year decline while awards in aerospace/aeronautical and mechanical engineering grew by 11.3 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.
Another interesting result thrown up by the survey was that in all the S&E disciplines except engineering, a higher number of recipients in 2009 (as compared to 2008) reported definite commitments for a position in the coming year - which could either mean returning to their pre-doctoral position or accepting a new position. Overall employment conditions in 2009 were reported to be worse for awardees in the non science & engineering fields, with more among them indicating that they were still seeking a definite position.