Women scientists and administrators

Sue Rosser recently published an essay in the on-line publication Inside Higher Ed, “From Scientist to Administrator.”  She reflected on the disproportionately large number of women scientists who are presidents of public Research 1 universities.  She noted:

“In 2011-12, women also led many of the most prestigious public institutions in the Big 10 and the University of California System. Four women head the Big 10 institutions. Three of the four women leaders hold terminal degrees in the natural or physical sciences. Women serve as chancellor of three UC campuses. All 10 chancellors, including all three women, of the UC system campuses are scientists, engineers, or physicians.”

Dr. Rosser — a biologist herself, provost at San Francisco State University, and former dean at Georgia Tech — attributes the strong representation of scientists in leadership roles to several factors, including experience in finding funding support, managing budgets and projects, and working with teams.  I would add the ability to understand and analyze data and experience knowing when the data are complete and strong enough to reach a conclusion/decision.

In higher education, leadership sometimes requires a shift from a faculty role to an administrative one.  Dr. Rosser ‘s essay reflects on how women can be encouraged — or pressured — to make this transition too early in their careers.  Mentors may provide supportive advice about moving into administration with the best of intentions, but timing is important.  Dr. Rosser strongly recommends that women should reach the full-professor rank before taking on a major administrative role.  Her list of “recommendations for women seeking to become leaders in administration” is on target.  Here’s her list:

1. Develop and maintain state and federal contacts to provide leadership in your area of expertise in setting priorities and agendas.
2. Establish appropriate collaborations with industry, government, and other academic institutions.
3. Accept leadership positions on boards and in professional societies.
4. Accept appropriate positions in government or industry that will enhance contacts and administrative skills without undercutting academic scientific productivity and credibility.
5. Achieve promotion to full professor before taking on major administrative positions such as associate dean, associate provost, or department chair.
6. Seek help outside the institution immediately if you believe you are encountering difficulties in your position.
7. Consider the positive impacts on policies and practices that you can have because of your experiences as a woman.

I recommend her essay highly.  It can be found here:


Does this sound like good advice to you?  What would you change, add, or delete?

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