Academic Disciplines Where African Americans Received Few or No Doctorates in 2019

The National Science Foundation recently released its annual data on doctoral degree recipients in the United States. Data for the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates shows that in 2019 there were 2,512 African Americans who earned doctorates. They made up 7.1 percent of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the United States. But there are many fields where Blacks earned only a tiny percentage of all doctorates. In several specific fields, African Americans did not earn any doctorates.

For example, African Americans earned only one percent of all doctorates awarded in physics to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Blacks earned 3.2 percent of all mathematics and statistics doctorates, 3.4 percent of all doctorates in computer science, 3.5 percent of all doctorates in chemistry, and only 4.2 percent of all doctorates awarded in engineering disciplines.

In 2019, there were 1,690 doctorates awarded by U.S. universities in the fields of fisheries science, forestry, atmospheric physics, geochemistry, marine biology, oceanography, astronomy and astrophysics, applied physics, plasma physics, algebra, geometry, logic, number theory, neuropsychology, Asian history, European history, Middle or Near East history, and music. Not one went to an African American.

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  1. I have a huge hunch I know why this is. I was a recipient of the NSF GRFP, and although prestigious, accepting the award several years ago turned out to be the start of one of the reasons I was forced to resign from my tenure track position. While we can look at the data here, and it is quite telling, there are a number of institutional and academic norms which are both consciously and unconsciously racist, which systematically limit — and to some extend significantly curtail — the number of potential people of color who may be recruited and successfully complete their degrees. If the NSF wants to contribute to fixing these numbers, it needs to take a cold, hard look at some of its pre-existing structural norms, which are otherwise regarded as “prestigious” and start identifying how those things could possibly push PoCs out of scientific research careers, or — in my case — end their careers, entirely.

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