January 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 1

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Sociologists Examine the Global Labor Market in STEM Occupations

by Nicole Van Vooren, ASA Research and Development Department

Washington, DC—Sociologists were well represented among the policy, higher education, government, and non-profit panelists at the national Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology’s (CPST) conference, "Can We Compete? Trends in America’s Scientific and Technical Workforce.” The fall 2007 presentations, coinciding with the presentation of results from CPST’s STEM Workforce Data Project, focused on the global issues affecting the scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) workforce. Sociologists at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) discussed the social context of issues related to immigrants, women, and racial/ethnic minorities in academia, and the effect of globalization on the demand for scientists and engineers. Lisa Frehill, Executive Director of CPST, Roberta Spalter-Roth, American Sociological Association, and Daryl Chubin, AAAS, added to the number of sociologists in attendance as the coordinators of the conference. The sociology presentations are summarized below.

Laurel Smith-Doerr, Boston University, presented research on immigrant entrepreneurs that found that almost 26% of New England’s science-based biotech firms had at least one immigrant founder and that 25% of foreign-born founders were from England and India. She also found that Massachusetts is From left to right: Mary Frank Fox and Cheryl Leggon, both of the School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology Sociologists Examine the Global Labor Market in STEM Occupations unique in attracting immigrant founders because it boasts the largest number of universities per capita. While this intellectual capita attracts immigrants to the region, social networks were reported as most important in overcoming many hurdles of entrepreneurship.

In his research on immigrants in the U.S. STEM workforce, B. Lindsay Lowell, Georgetown University, found that while the number of foreign born working in STEM jobs increased significantly in the 1990s, their percentage of the total STEM workforce has remained fairly steady. Growth in the Physical and Life Sciences has been the most significant; in 2002 the largest number of foreign born in the Life Sciences was Asian and Latino. White, non-Hispanics were the least represented in all of the core-STEM workforce.

Mary Frank Fox, Georgia Institute of Technology, focused on faculty women’s participation, status, and rank in Science and Engineering departments using data from the Survey of Faculty in Computer Science, Engineering, and Sciences. She identified four areas within what she called the "social-organizational features of work" that demonstrate challenges and opportunities of women faculty. These areas include: The frequency that women and men spoke about their research, their ratings of different aspects of their position, characterizations of departmental climate, and how they experienced the work/family divide. Restructuring institutions was suggested as a way to resolve these issues.

Also from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Cheryl Leggon focused on the intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender in STEM faculties and the question of who will teach science at the post-secondary level. She illustrated the synergistic relationship between race, ethnicity, and gender affecting how women from underrepresented minority groups are represented in post-secondary institutions. She suggested reconceptualizing the three features to ensure that women of color do not fall through the cracks. She outlined an NSF initiative at the Georgia Institute of Technology called "Cross-Disciplinary Initiative for Minority Women Faculty" that is addressing these issues.

Harold Salzman, Urban Institute, analyzed many current misconceptions concerning the offshoring effects on the STEM workforce in the United States and recommended new policies that handle the declining U.S. competitiveness. These policies include investing in broad education programs that comprise social science and communication rather than exclusively technical skills, which will enable the United States to increase its ability to globally compete. Salzman also suggested developing a collaborative strategy based on interdependence rather than a "techno-autarky" strategy. For more information about the conference and CPST’s STEM Workforce Data Project, visit cpst.org/2007Meeting/STEM_Meeting.cfm. small_green

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