Brain drains and alternatives and women – oh my!

As many may know by now there’s a new report out, The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology, published as a Harvard Business Review research report. While I couldn’t get very far without shelling out $295, there are lots of snippets online. If you go to the Bean Chronicles , where I first found reference to the report you can click on a longer ABC article about the report, which found that:

“Even in the face of a worsening worldwide labor shortage of qualified professionals in the SET fields, 52% of our best and brightest female scientists, engineers and technologists are bailing on hard-earned careers and not looking back — precisely when they should be hitting their professional strides.”

With funding by several major corporations, the report then goes on to discuss details on programs designed to retain women scientists through

“several innovative corporate “antibody” initiatives being instituted by Alcoa, Pfizer and other private sector companies who are looking to reduce and reverse the costly “female brain drain” head on.”

What I tried to find, and couldn’t was where those women went – while there was some reference to men who also leave but who tend to “stay in the sciences” – there are some suggestions that women do not. Yet – without access to the full report it’s hard to tell what boundaries were set. Did “sticking with it” mean setting up the equivalent of a full-time 60-hr intense path – or did it include those who strike out into very different realms, like teaching – perhaps at Community colleges or high school? Or writing? Or part-time? I’d love to know (so if you’ve got access to the full report please let us know!)  Either way – it seems a primary goal of the report is to stanch the flow – or exodus – by providing details on corporate success stories.

Along these lines, the Bean Chronicles also directed me to another great blog, The Alternative Scientist, check it out.  Below is an excerpt from Alternative’s discussion on her own title (I chose this because the topic of wording came up at a recent Motherhood panel.  While I used Alternative to collectively describe the many different career paths described in some of the Motherhood essays – some felt there is a negative connotation to the word. )

Is there resentment at having my career be labelled “alternative”? The word “alternative” does not bother me. In my experience, the people who are most likely to be bitter and resentful about that word are those who are in alternative positions because they tried and failed on the tenure track. As far as I am concerned, “alternative” is a convenient catch-all term for what I view to be choices that do not receive equal and fair coverage in discussions about career options among academics.

Of course, it would be better if there were no “traditional” or “alternative” career paths…just different career paths. But I think quibbling about semantics is a low-yield and impractical activity. For example, we could call this blog “The Everything-But-Academic-Tenure-Track Scientist” or “The Differently-Traditional Scientist” or all sorts of other names that do not include the word “alternative”. I don’t believe that that would change the minds of those who think that people with alternative careers are failures. A much more effective way of changing academic culture with regard to career options is to promote open discussion and to encourage people to make career choices based on what they want to do rather than what they think they are expected to do. And that is precisely what I hope this blog will accomplish.” – From

Alternative is definitely a site to keep track of, thanks Bean!


2 Responses to “Brain drains and alternatives and women – oh my!”

  1. 1 bean-mom July 2, 2008 at 4:18 pm


    Thanks for your comments on my blog, and on The Alternative Scientist, as well. I’m sorry that we can’t access the Harvard Business report without shelling almost $300–I’d be very curious to know more details!

    I am still reading through your book on motherhood and science, and it’s wonderful. Thank you so much for collecting these voices. I find it inspiring in most chapters, maddenning in some (the section where a postdoc is denied maternity leave in the year 2006!), and always fascinating. It’s so interesting to see the many different paths that scientists can take–including your own non-traditional path! I completely agree with you that when scientists wander out of the hallowed halls of academic research into other fields (such as education, outreach, public policy) we “spread” the wealth of our knowledge and training into settings that might otherwise not be exposed to scientific rigor. (However, I don’t think this statement should diminish the real pain of those who would like to stay in the academic pipeline but feel *forced* to leave due to a variety of pressures).

    Anyway, great website to go with the book! This blogosphere is a small world, and it’s interesting to see the way voices and blogs intersect…

  2. 2 Emily July 2, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Thank you Bean-mom, glad to hear that you found the book helpful (it’s always nice to get feedback.) You are right – there are plenty of women who don’t choose to leave academia but do – and to be honest – had there been an opportunity for a part-time tenure track in my neck of the woods I would have jumped to apply. It was very hard leaving behind field work and bench work.

    Sometimes it amazes me with all the millions of bloggers out there – we do manage to find each other. The good is that we DO find each other – I imagine something web-like being pulled just a little tighter with each new connection. The trick is to turn all of this blog energy into something more – I guess that’s my hope for the book – that we go beyond talking and writing so that in the future there will be more options for all of us (I’m just not sure how to do that!)

Comments are currently closed.

%d bloggers like this: