Research and Social Networks for Women in Science and Engineering: Network Access, Participation, and Career Outcomes

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The purpose of this project is to quantitatively assess the role that social and professional networks play in the career outcomes and satisfaction of women academic scientists. Specifically it considers the structure and resources of and participation in individual’s collaborative and advice based networks. It develops and tests a range of explanatory models regarding network-related factors, including mentoring, that affects advancement, productivity, satisfaction, and other outcomes in the academic STEM environment. It is based on an extensive and unique national social network survey of academic scientists. An important aspect of the project is the longitudinal survey implementation that allows us to examine the dynamic aspects of networks. Further, through a two stage survey of names network members, we are able to analyze dyadic data within the collaborative networks of men and women academic scientists.


The study involves a national survey of academic scientists in research universities in the U.S.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and cross-sectional, and is designed to generate evidence which is descriptive (descriptive statistics) and causal (statistical modeling: detailed statistical analysis of network factors for women in STEM). This project collects original data using self-completion online questionnaires. The core feature of the survey is that it also gathers data on social network structure and resources. The survey uses an ego-centric network design to explore the respondents’ relationships with individuals in the respondents’ collaborative and advice networks. Through the use of detailed survey questions respondents describe their networks for select activities and their relations with network members., As a result, the survey captures multiple dimensions of the collaborative and advice networks that are not accessible through existing data such as bibliometrics. To capture these data, the survey included a series of name generator and name interpreter questions. Respondents were first asked to write in the names of “close collaborators” or advisors in research collaboration as well as advice and support networks into five name generator questions. These included closest collaborators within their own university, closest collaborators outside their university, individuals with whom “they talk about their research but have never collaborated” and individuals in two types of advice scenarios – those with whom they talk about career advice and with whom they discuss departmental matters. Although, the first three (research) networks are mutually exclusive, there is, as expected, some overlap between the research and advice networks. Once the survey respondent provided names in each of the five name generator questions, the respondent was then asked a series of name interpreter questions about each of the individuals they had named. Name interpreter questions addressed the nature of the collaboration (nature of research product), details about the level of relationship and origin of acquaintance, closeness of research expertise, communication frequency, grant activity, and general demographics. It allows us to gather collaborative and relationship-based data specific to the named individuals. In the analysis, these data then form the foundation for the network measures. In addition, respondents were asked about their research activities, including grant submission and success rate, teaching and committee responsibilities, attitudes about and involvement in interdisciplinary research, satisfaction with work-related resources, work environment, and detailed demographic and academic background questions.

Descriptive statistical analysis of the network characteristics of academic scientists are used to determine key gender, rank and other differences. Various explanatory models (depending on the nature of the models and variables) are used to test many different hypotheses that have been refined through the project.


Analysis is ongoing. However, our findings to date show that the structure and resources provided by collaborative and career development networks of academic scientists differ by gender. We find that women’s collaborative networks outside of their institutions are larger, and do matter for grant success. Collaboration network size is found to be positively associated with the probability of grant receipt, and women faculty have a lower probability of receiving a grant. Overall, women retain more collaborative ties with colleagues from graduate school (even for senior women faculty) and with those they met for the first time at a professional conference. The resources provided by these networks also varies. For example, network members may provide important resources that enhance professional recognition (such as nominations for awards), and/or that enhance the productive capacity of scientists (such as introductions to potential collaborators.) Our findings indicate that while men’s and women’s networks provide similar levels of nominations for awards, women are less likely than men to be introduced to collaborators by individuals in their academic research networks.

Because scientists interact in other career development networks outside of those with collaborators, we are also interested in the career development and advice-based networks of scientists. Here we have found that women’s advice networks are larger than men’s. In our examination of mentor-based advice relationships, we have also found that the interaction and exchange of women scientists with their mentors differs from the relationships of men scientists with their mentors. For example, men assistant and associate-level professors collaborated significantly more often with their primary mentors on grant proposals and journal articles than did assistant and associate women faculty. This in turn has important implications for productivity and career advancement if mentors in faculty collaborate differently with their men and women mentees.

Publications & Presentations: 


Melkers, Julia and Yonghong Wu (2009) “Evaluating the Improved Research Capacity of EPSCoR States: R&D Funding and Collaborative Networks in the NSF EPSCoR Program.” Forthcoming, Review of Policy Research.

Kiopa, Agrita J. Melkers and E. Tanyildiz (2009) “Women in academic science: mentors and career development” in Women in Science and Technology (Editors:, Sven Hemlin, Luisa Oliveira and Katarina Prpic.) (Zagreb: Croatia: (Institute for Social Research and SSTNET (Sociology of Science and Technology Network) of European Sociological Association (ESA.)

Melkers, Julia and Fang Xiao (2009) “Boundary-Spanning in Emerging Technology Research: Determinants of Funding Success for Academic Scientists,” Forthcoming, Journal of Technology Transfer.

Haller, M. K. (2008) “Rethinking Collaborative Entrepreneurship: The Impact of Networks and Cognitions on Research Opportunities”. PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2008.


Melkers, J. and E. Welch, (2009) “The Structure of Collaborative and Career Development Social Networks of Women and Men in Academic Science.” Prepared for the Atlanta S&T Conference, October 2009.

Welch, E. and J. Melkers (2008) “Effects of Network Size and Gender on Research Grant Awards to Scientists and Engineers: An Analysis from a National Survey of Six Fields” Paper presented at the 2008 Meeting of PRIME, Mexico City, Mexico. September 2008.

Melkers, J. and E. Welch (2008) “The Role of Social Networks for Women in Science and Engineering.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Boston, MA. February 14-18 2008.

Huang, W.*, E. Welch and G. Lee* (2008) “The Effects of Organization Climate and Resources on Collaborative Networks of Academic Scientists in Six Fields”. Paper presented at American Political Science Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, August 28-31, 2008.

Welch. E., and M. Feeney (2008) “Institutions and Emerging Technologies: The Role of Research Universities in the Governance of Emerging Science & Technology”. Prepared for the Gordon Research Conference on Governing Emerging Technologies, Big Sky, Montana, August 17-22, 2008.

Jacob, B.*, B. Ponomariov and E. Welch. (2007) “The Dynamics of Scientist’s Collaboration Networks: Differences in Gender and Rank”. Paper presented at Atlanta Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. Atlanta, Georgia, October 18-19, 2007.

Haller, M., and E. Welch. (2007) “Rethinking Collaborative Entrepreneurship: The Impact of Networks and Entrepreneurial Cognitions on Grant Acquisition in Science and Technology”. Paper presented at Atlanta Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. Atlanta, Georgia, October 18-19, 2007.