Science, discussed.

Beyond the STEM pipeline

I haven’t written a post in a long time. Also I have struggled a lot on what to write and how to talk about it. But I have finally settled on something and here it is. For this new year and given the new political climate in the U.S. I have decided to write a series of short posts on the STEM pipeline topic. I wrote about this previously but I think I have finally wrapped my head better around the topic. This post will aim to introduce the problem with the concept of the STEM pipeline and its effect on science policy. I will also introduce the different ways I am going to look at this analogy to conceptualize the problem. But more specifically I want this critique to focus on the ways this affects other people who are not identified as cis-het white males.

For the last 60 years the U.S. policy makers have worried about the output of scientific workers in the country as this is perceived to be essential for the U.S. technological leadership. This concern reached a peak back in the 1980’s as Japan’s technological powerness increased, pushing for the creation of policies looking to maintain the U.S. at the forefront of science and technology in the world. As the goal was, at that time, to only increase the output of scientists, policy makers used the analogy of a pipeline where everybody would start with a STEM direction and people would hit “leak points” along the way by opting out of pursing a career in science or engineering fields. Policies of the time focused on decreasing the leakage enough to maintain the output necessary to supply the demand of scientists in the country.

STEM Pipeline_0.png

However, nowadays the analogy of the STEM pipeline has permeated so much into America’s consciousness that it has been the biggest influence not only in workforce policy but also in educational policy for science over the last 20 years. The current use of the pipeline analogy aims to increase the number of under-represented groups, like women and African-Americans, that leak out at disproportionately higher rate than white and Asian males, to be able to acquiesce to the demand for scientists in the country. This does not mean other groups are not under-represented like people with non binary gender identities, different sexuality and people with disabilities. However, the discourse at the government level has mostly focused on women and minoritized racial groups. This of course speaks about groups that keep being erased from this conversation and that the government still fails to recognize as meaningful contributors to science.


CassiAlexandra_WomenScientists05_CMWEB.jpgOver the years the pipeline analogy has been criticized for several reasons, one of them is how it has failed to predict the current output of scientists , however there is less talk about how this analogy can actually have influenced science education policy in a detrimental way . This blog series aims to address the ways in which the STEM pipeline informs policy that over focuses on some aspects and therefore makes policy blind to many problems. The analysis of how the analogy misinforms policy is important given that policy has often very complex consequences that are sometimes unanticipated, that is why reflecting on these impacts will lead to better decision making in the future .


To do so, I will analyze the different policy problems that are not being solved or overemphasized as a consequence of this analogy by deconstructing the STEM pipeline showcasing its faults while at the same time explaining why failing to address the issues is failing to attract currently non represented groups to science careers. The five following aspects of the pipeline will be analyzed:

  1. Problem – The different ways people have defined the workforce problem.
  2. Pivot Points – Hypothesized juncture points where people leak at a higher rates.
  3. Pathways – The combined set of decisions and experiences that lead to a STEM career.
  4. People – The intra-personal characteristics of people that successfully study a science career and how they differ from the ones that don’t.
  5. Pressures – The inter-personal social, environmental and internal pressures that push people out of a science career.

So here it is. As the topic may get a little bit dense I will address each of this points in different posts. As always I welcome your comments and thoughts.

– Paulette


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This entry was posted on 26/01/2017 by in policy, Science, Science and Society and tagged , , , , , .


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