Matt Yglesias posts this chart that breaks down newly-minted Doctors of Philosophy by gender and field of study:
- Getting a Ph.D. in a theological seminary whose high percentage of female Master's Degree students skews my perceptions and,
- Being a lifer in the white male club, which inevitably leads me to see the gender equity glass as half-full.
Of the three of us who entered UPSem in the fall of 2008 seeking Ph.D.s in the History of Christianity (me, Sandi and Christian) 33.3% of us are women. So yeah for my cohort for beating the national average!
(Unless you see us more as historians than as religious scholars, in which we underperform. But people keep telling Christian that he's not a real historian since he's a historian of religion, so we'll go with the religious studies category. Which really chaps Christian, and me too, come to think of it. Under the frumpy sportcoats with leather patches on the elbows, are labor historians and military historians really just union bosses and admirals in disguise?)
The most interesting analysis of this graph comes from someone named David Adams in the comment thread at Yglesias' blog:
It doesn't surprise me that fields with a low tolerance for ambiguity (both in terms of having very precise and objective answers (physics, engineering, CS, math, astronomy) as well as having no objective answers at all and therefore an implicit requirement for false certainty (philosophy and religion)) would attract the type of jerks who think they know all the answers and therefore to whom any difference of opinion reflects poorly on the Other (of which women are the most obvious--though I'd be curious to see other measures of diversity charted in the same way).
Fields that require a tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty (and biology fits the bill among the hard sciences as the workings of our cells and ecosystems are far more complex than interactions of particles, elements, or stars) will attract folks more open to diversity in their colleagues and diversity of opinion in general, and therefore more welcoming to colleagues unlike themselves with correspondingly different intuition about the subject matter.
I don't think it's stretching things too far to see the chart as a proxy for how exact and precise the "answers" to questions posed by the field are required to be.
Put differently, "Ambiguous research topic yields a diverse pool of researchers. Unambiguous research topic or mandatory false certitude yields a pool of white, male, douchebag theologians."