Good Practice in University Chemistry Departments
28 December 2004
The RSC and the Athena Project have formed a collaboration to work on projects concerning women in chemistry. Good Practice in University Chemistry Departments is the third RSC report on women (and men) in university chemistry departments. This report follows up the RSC's 1999 "Study of the Factors Affecting the Career Choices of Chemistry Graduates" and the 2002 study on the "Recruitment and Retention of Women in Academic Chemistry".
The purpose of this joint initiative was to collect and disseminate information on the good practice in academic chemistry departments. The information collected and the examples described in the report provide a baseline against which future progress can be measured.
The introduction to the report describes the background, approach and methodology and the 25 departments who contributed to this study by initially completing a "good practice checklist". The departments all demonstrated good practice and an awareness of the keys to the enjoyment of successful and rewarding careers in academic chemistry. Their progress to date and the foundations they have for future progress is clear. The RSC and Athena now have a baseline against which to measure that progress. The study does not offer a window onto those departments who choose not to take part. However, it is hoped that they will use this report to benchmark themselves and will take part in the planned re-run of the checklist in 2006.
The completed checklists, follow up discussions with heads of departments and five departmental visits, all produced a wealth of good practice, some in plan, perhaps as a result of this initiative, some new and some well established. This made it difficult to attribute fairly the good practice described. The device used to showcase the good practice that is in place in many UK chemistry departments is the 'Chemistry Department, University of Utopia.'
The section on sustainable careers explores both structural barriers and individual constraints on career progression in chemistry and HE. Together they make it difficult even for the best departments to appoint and retain the small number of women chemists in the supply chain. The issues are discussed in the context of individuals' opinions and experiences and the characteristics displayed by the best departments.
A brief statistical overview places chemistry in the context of other science, engineering and technology (SET) disciplines. A fuller picture of the staffing changes year on year, which underpin this and the RSC's earlier reports, is available. There has been an improvement in the last five years but there is still a long way to go before chemistry achieves what Athena sees as the long term goal for all SET disciplines, when the percentage of women at all career levels reflects that in the level below, down to and including the undergraduate intake. Chemistry, with an average of 40% plus women at undergraduate level, compares well with some other science disciplines, but the supply chain breaks down at lecturer level when so few women choose to apply.
In the penultimate section of the report Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for chemistry departments are proposed. They are based on the findings of the RSC's two previous reports and the work of Athena's partner universities. The KPIs' validity is endorsed by the experiences of the departments and academics who contributed to this study. However, their usefulness can only be tested in practice. It is hoped they will be tested and their utility reported by Pro Vice Chancellors, senior managers, Deans of research, faculty principals, heads of departments, and those responsible for the career progression of junior colleagues.
The final section, Next Steps, focuses on the key challenges for departments who wish to become, or to retain their status as, the employers of choice for young chemists, be they male or female. To achieve this requires a considerable and sustained effort to make the department's arrangements and procedures open, flexible, accessible and transparent, and for some will necessitate a significant change of culture. It is hoped that this report will open the door for discussion and for change.
The analysis of the returned checklists is presented in Appendix A. The checklist, which was completed by 25 university chemistry departments, is analysed under the headings of:
- good practice in personal and professional support and development
- appointment and promotion processes
- the departments' arrangements, structures and culture.
The analysis provides a snapshot of the state of UK chemistry departments and, with material from the follow up discussions with heads of departments and departmental visits, points up the areas where action can be taken to ensure a level playing field for women and men progressing their careers.
Finally, the checklist that was distributed to chemistry departments is reproduced in Appendix B.
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Good Practice in University Chemistry Departments
28 December 2004 - The third RSC report on women (and men) in university chemistry departments, following up the RSC's 1999 "Study of the Factors Affecting the Career Choices of Chemistry Graduates" and the 2002 study on the "Recruitment and Retention of Women in Academic Chemistry".
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Contact and Further Information
Executive Director, Communications, Policy and Campaigns
Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomas Graham House, Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 0WF
Tel: + 44 (0) 1223 432267