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The leaky pipeline for Black academic chemists

Many Black students leave chemistry after undergraduate education

by Andrea Widener
June 3, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 22


The recent protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis have resurfaced many of the ways Black people are systemically denied access to opportunity and subjected to discrimination. In the world of chemistry, Black chemists have long been in low numbers, especially in the academic pipeline, and they still routinely fall out of that pipeline at every level. Here are the latest data.

Credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN

Source: National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics and Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE)
Note: Data collected 2015-18.



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Kathryn Riley (June 9, 2020 6:47 AM)
As a devote member of the ACS, a lover of C&EN, and part of the 1.6% I think you've missed the mark on this one. First, I've seen this retweeted and shared all over social media and it's clear that people do not understand the numbers. The very first value should be the proportion of college-age people in the U.S. who are black, which is larger than 12.3-13.4%. This would prevent comments I've seen that blacks appear to be overrepresented at U.S. colleges. Second, there needs to be some qualification of these numbers because I've also seen people misinterpret the values as an indication that the number of people receiving advanced degrees would naturally continue to decline and miss entirely that what you are saying is the proportion continues to decline until it's about 10 fold less than the representation of blacks in society. Finally, when I saw this infographic first posted I was excited to hear what people are doing about it, but was disappointed to see that there was no discussion surrounding this. No discussion of why we are at this point. No discussion of what work people can do to change it. Overall, this is a big disappointment and if you look at 85% of the comments surround it, this has done nothing to open people's minds.
Jyllian Kemsley (June 9, 2020 11:18 AM)
@Kathryn Riley - What range is "college-age"? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 23% of people enrolled in college are ages 25-34, and 18% are age 35 or older. Overall, 41% of college students are outside the "traditional" range of 18-24. Data from Figure 17 here:
Kathryn Riley (June 11, 2020 8:31 AM)
This is a fair point, that there are a lot of non-traditional routes to college that don't involve entering around age 18 (and the fact that there are many non-traditional routes probably calls for us to stop thinking about academia as a single pipeline in the first place). The point I'm trying to make is that the minority populations in this country are skewed younger, so if you were to account for even a broad age range of the percentage of "college-aged" blacks in this country it is likely higher than 12.3%. The reason I think this would be a more useful first statistic is that I have seen folks on social media platforms make an argument that blacks are actually *overrepresented* in college based on this graphic and then blissfully ignore all of the rest of the stats. And so the larger point of my post really is that we can't just throw numbers at people without proper context and without actionable items to make a change.
David Castro (June 9, 2020 10:45 AM)
I agree with Ms. Riley on the incomplete nature of this report: the numbers are simply not self-explanatory.
Angelo Leo (June 12, 2020 9:13 PM)
When I evaluated the percentages you presented in this issue of C&EN, I was astonished at the higher than average numbers for people of color.
If 7.9% of black students obtain a bachelor's degree in Chemistry and then comprise 4.5% that obtain a PhD, would this suggest that over 57% of black chemists with a bachelor's degrees obtain the PhD.

The proportion of black chemistry professors (1.6%) at the top 50 schools seem right in line with their population.
Black population is 12.3% of total population with 1.6% of the top 50 schools have black chemistry professors.
1.6/12.3 = 13 %.
Does this suggest that in terms of the total population, that 1.6% is actually more like 13%?
Andrea Widener (June 13, 2020 6:13 PM)
As noted on the chart, each segment is the proportion of that specific group that identifies as Black. In an equal world, you would expect to see ~12% across the board: a US population with 12% Black people would have 12% Black undergraduates, 12% Black graduate students, etc. Instead, the numbers decline at each level until you have less than 2% of professors at top 50 schools who are Black.

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