by Coleen Carrigan and Eve Riskin
Originally published: May 19, 2016
Colleges and universities looking to diversify STEM faculty should consider talented women in industry, government or private research, write Coleen Carrigan and Eve Riskin.
One common strategy for increasing diversity in STEM departments is to hire talented women away from other universities. But this zero-sum approach fails to increase the number of female STEM professors nationwide. It also ignores another universe of potentially stellar female faculty: women who left academe after getting their doctorates to pursue science or engineering careers in industry, government or private research.
Many of those women have the skills to become successful tenure-track professors and dynamic educators: impressive research accomplishments, experience making products and insider knowledge that prepares students to succeed in today's workplaces. Indeed, some well-known, highly successful faculty members across the nation were hired directly from research labs or industry. They include Ayanna Howard, professor and Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; and Martha Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan. But the pathway from their industry or government careers back into academe is often far from clear.
In research published in the Journal of Technology Transfer, we conducted in-depth interviews with 10 women who have recently transitioned into university faculty positions after working as corporate scientists or government researchers. Our interviews covered the challenges and rewards involved in finding an academic home, the tools and support that made it easier, how the skills they acquired outside of academe helped or hindered them, and what they now realize they bring to the table.