Engineering PhDs & Diversity in the U.S. –> Disparity by the numbers: 129 out of 3,926 #ThinkBigDiversity

Over the past few months, I’ve been quoting diversity statistics for engineering as reported by the National Science Foundation. Several listeners in the audiences of my talks –  faculty, administrators, and students alike – are aghast when they hear the statistics. As many colleagues are now looking more closely at the stats, I’ve decided to post some resources for quick reference. For starters, I’m posting a chart that shows the number of doctoral degrees awarded over a 5-year period. I have emphasized numbers for 2012, noting that this report is the latest available, published in 2015. This is a chart for engineering. NSF has similar information for other STEM disciplines.

The statistics below are provided by the National Science Foundation. While I am posting the information on this website, I did not generate the data. I am only reporting it, and have highlighted specific sections (via red text) for emphasis. If you use the information, please utilize the official citation, below. Note that the information in red, and italics are my specific highlights for the purpose of this discussion. These highlights do not appear in chart that has been published by NSF. While I have placed emphasis on certain sections to highlight the numbers, I have not changed any numbers from the original report.

The Data – Find the 129 out of 3,296

Official Citation: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2015. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2015. Special Report NSF 15-311. Arlington, VA. Available at


SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations of U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Completions Survey, 2002–12.

Subset of NSF TABLE 7-7.

Science & Engineering doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, by field, sex, and race or ethnicity: 2008–12  

[NOTE: This is a subsection of the original table for the purpose of this web post. Emphasis added, underlines added for readability, 2002-2007 data from the original chart are omitted here. The original chart included a full 10 year span of data, 2002-2012. The chart below looks at 5 years, 2008-2012. Numbers for women are emphasized by RED  text in the 2012 column. Numbers where there are 75 or fewer are ENLARGED in the 2012 column.]

Field, sex, and race or ethnicity 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

Engineering (TOTAL)

3,180 3,374 3,507 3,713 3,926
Female 804 856 906 920 1,001
Male 2,376 2,518 2,601 2,793 2,925

White 2,112 2,235 2,286 2,393 2,592
Female 491 528 508 549 607
Male 1,621 1,707 1,778 1,844 1,985

Asian or Pacific Islandera 501 504 517 603 575
Female 151 138 174 188 170
Male 350 366 343 415 405

Black 128 139 154 141 175
Female 48 43 52 56


Male 80 96 102 85 108

Hispanicb 130 153 196 182 191
Female 38 38 65 47


Male 92 115 131 135 132

American Indian or Alaska Native 15 19 10 15 11
Female 5 6 2 1


Male 10 13 8 14 8

Other or unknown race or ethnicityc 294 324 344 379 382
Female 71 103 105 79 95
Male 223 221 239 300 287
S&E = science and engineering.
a Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
b Beginning in 2008, the category includes Hispanic of one or more races.
c Before 2008, the survey did not collect information on more than one race, and the category includes only race and ethnicity unknown. Beginning in 2008, the category includes more than one race as well as race and ethnicity unknown. From 2008 to 2010, the survey gave institutions the option to use the new racial and ethnic categories established by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) effective 1 January 2003 and to report race as more than one race. Because the use of the new categories was optional during this period of time, data on students of more than one race were not representative of all students who could be classified as being of more than one race. In 2011, the survey required institutions to begin reporting information on more than one race, along with information in the other racial and ethnic categories, but institutions were not required to update the race and ethnicity data of individuals who were already in the system. Therefore, the number reported for more than one race in 2011 is likely to be an undercount.
NOTES: Data in this table differ from doctoral degree data in this report that are based on the National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). SED data are for research doctorates only. The greatest differences are in psychology, education, and medical and other health sciences. Before 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) used two doctoral degree categories: doctor’s, and first-professional. In 2008 and 2009, NCES allowed optional reporting in three new doctoral degree categories: doctor’s—research or scholarship, doctor’s—professional practice, and doctor’s—other. In 2010, NCES required institutions to use only the three new doctoral degree categories. With the new reporting system, degrees formerly classified as first-professional (e.g., MDs and JDs) can be reported as doctoral degrees, most often as doctor’s—professional practice. In this table, data for 2008 and 2009 include only doctorates reported under the old doctor’s degree category plus those reported as doctor’s—research or scholarship. Data for 2010 and later include only doctorates reported as doctor’s—research or scholarship. Race and ethnicity breakouts are for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only. Temporary resident includes all racial and ethnic groups. Starting with academic year 2015–16 data, data will reflect OMB’s latest race and ethnicity categories; at that point, 4 years of data collected under these categories will become available.
SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations of U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Completions Survey, 2002–12.

What do we see?

There are three categories where the numbers are consistently less than 70 each year: Women from Black, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska Native backgrounds. This low number is consistent across the data in the full chart for 2002-2012. Despite the low numbers, there are several programs that are address underrepresentation in STEM. Among them are capacity building programs that seek to increase the numbers of underrepresented PhDs in STEM, which includes engineering and IT fields. They include but are not limited to programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation (e.g., The PROMISE AGEP) and the National GEM Consortium. There are also some ADVANCE programs for women faculty that have focused on supporting faculty from underrepresented groups, e.g., Jackson State ADVANCE, ADVANCE Hispanic Women in STEM, Howard University’s ADVANCE-IT, and North Carolina A&T’s ADVANCE-IT.  These programs are important because we know that women gravitate to other women who serve as role models. The National STEM Collaborative by Arizona State University’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology is a key programs that is working to chart new paths in research and advocacy by placing specific emphases on building the capacity of underrepresented women and girls in STEM.

Families and community networks can play an important role by encouraging girls to pursue degrees in STEM, and further, doctoral degrees. Too often, young women from underrepresented groups are given the wrong messages. Sometimes the messages are deliberately condescending. However, sometimes the messages are an attempt to be helpful by well-meaning people, but they discourage women from pursuing their dreams or exercising their potential. It may be surprising that negative messages have not been buried in the past. It’s a definite problem, as I keep hearing them in sectors and venues that involve young girls at the K-12 level, college students, graduate students, and even faculty. Let’s work together to be proactive and stop messages that discourage girls and women from pursuing STEM degrees.

Negative messages that have to stop

Please do not silently support any of the following statements that are said  to women or girls who express that they want to be an engineer or a scientist.

  • You don’t need to be too smart
  • Engineering is for boys
  • You’re too pretty to be an engineer
  • Engineering is too hard
  • There’s too much math, you can’t do that
  • You won’t get married if you’re too smart
  • Leave that science stuff alone
  • Math is too hard

These are just a few of the comments that I’ve been privy to, just in the last month. Our girls have heard these messages too often, throughout the years, both here in the U.S. and abroad. I have similar conversations in Latin America and the Caribbean and we’re having these conversations globally in an effort to reduce gender and racial inequities in engineering.

We all need positive messages, role models, and mentors. I am an engineer today because my father told me that I didn’t have to be a boy to be an engineer, and that I could be a girl and be a doctor. I pursued a PhD because a Black woman in engineering told me that I should go to graduate school, and because I heard the message repeatedly from people in organizations like GEM. I became a professor because I saw others in the National Society of Black Engineers who became professors and I silently watched them progress (I still watch them to this day.) I became a mentor in Latin America after my colleagues invited me to do so,  and they continue to mentor and encourage me along the way.  Let’s work together to change the course of negative messaging. Let’s support and encourage women and girls to pursue engineering so that they can use their talents to contribute to solutions that can address national and international challenges that require analytical thinking, mathematical approaches, and technical expertise. I hope that the red numbers in the chart will increase over time. It’s not going to happen without deliberate effort. Let’s commit to making it happen.

Photo taken during my lecture on applying to graduate school during the GEM GRAD Lab at UMBC, Sept. 19, 2015.

Photo taken during my lecture on applying to graduate school during the GEM GRAD Lab at UMBC, Sept. 19, 2015. Photo credit: Cheriss May.