Black STEM Ph.D. Students Less Likely to Publish in Academic Journals

A new study found that Black Ph.D. students in STEM fields were three times less likely to have published a paper in an academic journal than their peers.

Researchers at UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) explored how personal characteristics—such as race and gender—and preparedness for graduate-level coursework affected their likelihood of being published.

The study, titled “Structure and Belonging: Pathways to Success for Underrepresented Minority and Women Ph.D. Students in STEM Fields,”  showed that Black STEM scholars published at significantly lower rates than their counterparts—including other underrepresented students—due to perceived readiness, feelings of belonging, and perceptions of program structure.

Of the 430 students found most likely to publish academic papers, white, Asian, Latinx and Native American students published at nearly equal rates.

“Our study strongly indicates that the onus should not fall on minority students to make changes to succeed in STEM settings,” said study lead author Aaron Fisher, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. “Institutional changes that make students feel welcome and provide clear guidelines and standards for performance are optimal ways to ensure the success of all students.”

The representation of Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native scholars in STEM fields remains at under 10 percent overall, according to the study.

Only 5.7 percent of total graduate students pursuing engineering degrees were Black, and 3.7 were enrolled in physical and earth sciences degree programs in Fall 2017, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Black graduate students made up 10.6 percent of mathematics and computer science students.

“It’s not so much that being black results in fewer publications, but that the experience of being black in a university setting presents challenges and obstacles that white students are either not facing, or facing to a lesser degree” Fisher said. 

Black doctoral students have been vocal about their experiences navigating doctoral programs and confronting racism in academia. Adjunct professor at Queen’s University, Ontario Anita Jack-Davies chronicled her graduate school experience noting how her lack of understanding the culture and lack of formal support for marginalized students impacted her time as a student.

“As a first-generation student, I needed support beyond the confines of my relationship with my thesis supervisor,” she wrote. “I needed to belong to a community that would encourage me as I fulfilled key requirements of the program.”

Read the full study to learn more.