Anne Preston Wins Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award
The professor of economics has earned a year of support for her research into the current magnitude and character of occupational exit of scientists and engineers in the U.S.
Anne Preston is worried about American scientists and engineers. In 2004, the Haverford professor of economics published Leaving Science: Occupational Exit from Scientific Careers, a book analyzing the dramatic increase in the number of people leaving careers in science and engineering over the course of the 1970s and 1980s. Now, almost 15 years later, Preston is returning to the same questions that drove that book— despite the extensive time and money invested in rigorous education, why do STEM professionals exit their careers, where do they go next, and what are the differences between those who exit and those who stay—in her new research project, "Causes and Consequences of Occupational Exit by Scientists and Engineers," which has just been awarded a $63,112 award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
"Because of the rapid change in knowledge in science and engineering fields, occupational exit of scientists and engineers is more likely to be permanent than for individuals trained in other fields, as leavers are likely to experience swift skill depreciation," says Preston. "Preliminary results point to growing exit rates since the 1980s and exit rates above those observed in other fields. Such a trend is problematic for the health of the U.S. science and engineering labor market, a vital source of the competitiveness of the U.S. in world markets."
Preston examines this drain in STEM professionals by analyzing data from three federal surveys: the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, the National Survey of College Graduates, and the National Survey of Recent College Graduates. These surveys are taken roughly every two years and a subsample of the respondents of the first two surveys are resampled with each new survey. The National Science Foundation has compiled the data from these surveys into the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT), which runs from 1993 to 2015.
This time around, she has been aided in this work by Maria-Veronica Rojas '19 and Silvia Susai '20. The two students, neither of whom are economics majors, work with the publicly available information in the SESTAT to generate the appropriate data sets for analyses.
Preston says that early analysis of data from the '90s reveals that occupational exit has increased markedly. So she is interested in digging down into that data to examine how exit rates vary across demographic groups, across field of science and engineering, and across type of degree. Further she wants to identify the economic, personal, and field-specific factors that influence exit rates for different groups with the hope of guiding policy in this area.
"Originally I became interested in this issue because of the fact that women were leaving the science and engineering education pipeline at much higher rates than men," she says. "I thought that the women who did survive and got the degrees and entered the labor force would be, in some ways, the cream of the crop and would really shine. But once I started looking at occupational exit rates, which were about twice as high for women [as for] men in the 1980s, it became clear that the barriers facing women and the problems they faced in science did not change upon starting careers."
Preston's Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant is funding her time, the work of her research assistants, and travel to academic conferences through October of next year.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant-making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics.