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Clarification of January 2002 STATUS Article on Top Astronomy Graduate Schools in the U.S.

by Meg Urry

June 2002


AN ARTICLE in the last issue of STATUS about the statistics of the top U.S.
astronomy graduate schools (Urry and Kuck, STATUS, January 2002) gave a misleading
impression of the astronomy program at the University of Arizona. The published data on
first-year graduate students 1988-1992 included those in both the astronomy and planetary science
departments at Arizona. The authors regret not having clarified this point in the table.

In astronomy alone, over the years 1988- 1992 at the University of Arizona, there were 14
female and 19 male first-year graduate students, compared to 7 women and 17 men in planetary
science (the previously published table listed 21 women and 36 men). Thus the calculated Ph.D.
“yield” and “parity index” published in January 2002 did not refer to the astronomy department alone.

The graduate student data, obtained from Joan Burrelli at the NSF, come from summing
the number of first-year graduate students reported to the NSF by the University over the
five-year period 1988-1992. After doublechecking the numbers, we do not know why
the NSF data differ (slightly) from the numbers tallied now by the University (see
Letter to the Editors on the following page). Based on the NSF data, correct values for
astronomy alone are:

This gives a parity index of 0.44 (yield for women divided by yield for men). The previously
published parity index was 0.55. The University of Arizona calculates a parity index of 0.85 (see
Letter to the Editors on the following page).

The number of Ph.D. degrees in the years 1994-1998 comes from the Survey of Earned
Doctorate Degrees, and includes those designated by the Ph.D. recipient as “astronomy” degrees.
Since “planetary science” is not an option in this survey, it is possible that some Ph.D. recipients
in planetary science may have marked a category other than astronomy (e.g., “miscellaneous
physical sciences”). This could contribute to low yields in the Urry & Kuck paper. In the present
calculation, using only astronomy graduate students, it could cause high yields, greater than
100% (as could transfer students or those taking more or less than 5 years to finish). In neither
case is there an obvious reason why these factors would affect women more than men, or lead to
a parity index below 1, but we note that the small number statistics can introduce large uncertainties.

Finally, we thank the many readers who alerted us that some of the values for “Female”
and “Male” graduate students in that January 2002 table were switched. The table has been
corrected in the online version.

The authors regret these two errors, one in typesetting and the other in not having described
the tabulated data more clearly. We welcome the following contribution from the astronomy
department of the University of Arizona, who are justly proud of the successes of women in
their graduate program. We would also welcome hearing from the other nine universities if they
have any questions or concerns about the NSF data presented.

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