COACHE releases first study of pre-tenure faculty satisfaction by discipline, sex

July 12, 2010

Physical sciences and humanities faculty among those satisfied with more aspects of their careers

A new report by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) reveals evidence of major differences in work satisfaction between faculty in different academic areas and between men and women within many of those areas. In surveys of untenured assistant professors at research universities, faculty in the physical sciences and  humanities were among those satisfied with more aspects of their work lives, while faculty in education and the visual and performing arts were satisfied with the fewest aspects. In additional analysis, COACHE researchers found that gaps in satisfaction between women and men were most prevalent in the social sciences.

One theme recurring across academic areas is that men are generally more satisfied with their work than their female colleagues. In the survey dimensions in which the differences between men’s and women’s responses are statistically significant, the vast majority indicate greater satisfaction for men. This is true in every academic field assessed.

Women provide significantly lower ratings in many disciplines for: reasonableness of scholarship expectations for tenure; the way they spend their time as faculty members; the number of hours they work as faculty members; the amount of time they have to conduct research; their ability to balance work and home responsibilities; and whether their institutions make raising children and the tenure track compatible.

While previous COACHE research has shown that female faculty members tend to be less satisfied than their male counterparts, this comparison within academic areas gives a more detailed understanding of the issue. COACHE Research Director Cathy Trower said the results suggest that the gender differences seem not to be a function of a lack of a “critical mass” of women in certain fields, pointing out the large gap in satisfaction between genders in the social sciences.

“The fact that these differences cut across disciplines and, in fact, are most evident in disciplines in which women are relatively well represented is important to keep in mind as the associations that represent and support faculty look to address this problem,” she said.

This disaggregation of COACHE’s data represents the most extensive comparison of tenure-track faculty job satisfaction by field and gender available to the public. COACHE, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducts annual surveys of faculty to assess the experiences deemed critical to their success. To date, COACHE has surveyed over 150 four-year colleges and universities; this report’s findings are limited to responses from 9,512 pre-tenure faculty at doctoral universities.

While the report does not attempt to explain the reasons for differences between disciplines, COACHE Director Kiernan Mathews said they are being offered to highlight paths for further inquiry.

“Our hope is that this analysis will lead researchers and disciplinary associations to drill down further to help universities shape policies at the department level and guard against problems likely to affect faculty in certain disciplines,” he said. “COACHE is available to support these organizations in such work.”

The complete report is freely available for download from COACHE’s web site,

Based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and supported by member institutions, COACHE gathers peer diagnostic data for chief academic offers to improve recruitment, retention, and development of faculty at colleges and universities.  For more information about this study or about enrolling a college or university in COACHE, visit

# # #

coache_analysisbyacademicareaandgender_report.pdf695 KB