Major Shortfalls in Ph.D. Awards in the Natural Sciences

There continues to be a wide difference among blacks and whites in terms of the academic fields in which they earn doctorates. In 2005, 12 percent of doctorates awarded to whites were in the physical sciences. This is more than double the percentage for African Americans, which stood at 5 percent in 2005. One encouraging note is that the percentage of all black doctorates that were awarded in the natural sciences increased from 4.1 percent in 2004 to 5.0 percent in 2005.

The very large racial Ph.D. gap in the natural sciences is striking when we examine black Ph.D. awards in specific disciplines. For example, there were 72 doctorates awarded in 2005 in the field of astronomy. Not one went to an African American. African Americans earned only 16 doctorates in mathematics. This was only 1.3 percent of all doctorates awarded in the field.

A major weakness is that blacks earned 10,  or about 0.7 percent, of the more than 1,300 doctorates in physics. In computer science, blacks won 1.3 percent of all Ph.D. awards. In chemistry, only 1.6 percent of Ph.D.s went to blacks. In the earth sciences such as geology, oceanography, and the atmospheric sciences, only two of the 379 doctorates awarded in the discipline went to blacks in 2005. In the ocean and marine sciences, only one of the 190 Ph.D.s in the discipline was awarded to an African American. In 2005, 142 African Americans were awarded a Ph.D. in the biological sciences. But they were only 2.2 percent of all doctorates awarded in the discipline.