Summary: 1995 DPS Member Survey

Webmaster’s Note: Unfortunately, it the passage of time and various website architecture transitions have resulted in the loss of the figures from this report.

Bob Millis
Lowell Observatory
March 12, 1996

  • Introduction
  • Demographics
  • Education
  • Current Employment
  • Job Titles
  • Allocation of Time
  • Sources of Funding
  • Perceptions of the Field
  • Overseas DPS Meetings
  • Roles and Priorities for the DPS
  • Acknowledgements and Credits


On 7 August 1995, surveys were mailed to 831 DPS members with US addresses. The DPS Membership survey was intended to clarify the demographics, employment status, sources of support, and opinions of our members.

By the time of the Hawaii annual meeting in October 1995, 536 responses had been received. At the request of the DPS Committee, follow-up letters were sent to those individuals who had not yet returned their questionaires at the time of the meeting. As of 31 January 1996, an additional 144 returns had been received, for a total response of 680 out of 831 or 82%.

Demographic Information

Of the members responding, 13.9% were women. The median age of the respondents was somewhere in the forties with a rather even distribution between age 30 and 60 (Fig. 1). Ninety percent were U. S. Citizens and the rest were U. S. residents.

Education Information

Seventy nine percent of those responding had Ph.D.s., 12.5% held masters degrees, 6.8% held bachelors degrees. Seventy five individuals were working towards a higher degree and, of these, all but four were pursuing a doctorate. Of those working towards a doctorate, all but nine expected to finish by the end of 1998. Consequently, our field needs to absorb at least 62 new doctorates in the next 2 to 3 years. Thirty-four percent of the people working towards advanced degrees hoped to do full time research upon graduation, 26% aspired to a university position, 18% planned research or teaching in a related technical field, and 21% had other plans ranging from the computer industry to technical writing.

Employment Information

The first pie chart (Fig. 2 above) details the distribution of the non-student membership by employer type. Nearly half were employed at Universities. Just under 30% were at government labs. Employees at non-profits were a distant third.

The next pie chart (Fig. 3) illustrates the employment status of the non-student respondents. Of the 596 individuals in this category, 24.7% were tenured, 4.2% were in tenure-track positions, and 11.4% were civil servants. Of the remainder, 31.5% were in “permanent” non-tenured positions, 16.3% were postdocs, and 11.9% were in other situations ranging from retired to unemployed. In summary, less than half of the respondents were in secure positions.

Figure 4 shows the number of postdoctoral positions that the individuals currently in this type of position have held. Clearly, more than half were in at least their second postdoc.

Question 9 asked how long the respondent had been with their current employer. The results are shown in Fig. 5.

What members do

The pie chart in Fig. 6 illustrates the breakdown of the respondents by discipline. About 46% called themselves astronomers, 15% atmospheric scientists, and 8% geologists. The “other” category contains many astrophysicists, geophysicists, space physicists, solar physicists, and just plain physicists, plus chemists, engineers, dynamicists, educators, managers, and one “colonist.”

Allocation of time

Question 11 asked what fraction of an individual’s time was devoted to planetary science. The spikes at 0, 50, and 100% in Fig. 7 indicate that people could not estimate their time very accurately. In any case, more than half of the respondents spent half time or more on planetary science. Of those who spent less than 100%, 2/3 reported that they did so by their own choice. Figure 8 shows what the members felt they spend most of their time doing. We have converted the responses to FTEs (full time equivalent) and summed over all respondents by category.

Sources of funding

Questions 12 and 13 attempted to ascertain the various sources of funding supporting the planetary science activities of the respondents. We have converted the responses to FTEs (full time equivalent) and summed over all respondents by category. The results are plotted in Figure 9, which shows that NASA provided about 2/3 of the total support of planetary science activity among our respondents. NSF provided 5.2%.

Perceptions of the field

Questions 14 thru 17 probed the memberships’ opinions concerning employment opportunities, the rate of production of new Ph. D.s, and the desirability of planetary astronomy as a career.

The first bar chart (Fig. 10a) indicates that most of those responding to the survey believed that career opportunities in our field are currently poor to dismal (1 = great; 5 = dismal).

The second (Fig. 10b) shows that most also felt that the current rate of production of new Ph. D.s is too high (1 = too low; 5 = too high).

Moreover, most were adopting at best a neutral stance in encouraging young people to pursue a career in planetary science, as is seen in Fig. 10c (below left), the third bar chart (1 = strongly encourage; 5 = strongly discourage).

Finally, the last bar chart (Fig. 10d; below right) shows that when asked if they had it do over again, most said they would not have changed their selection of career field (1 = definitely yes; 5 = definitely no). The response to this question was not strongly correlated with age or gender.

Overseas DPS meetings

Question 18 asked for opinions on the frequency of overseas DPS meetings. As seen in Table I, by far the most popular choice was the current practice of holding these meetings approximately every 5 years.

Table I - FOREIGN DPS MEETINGSNumber  Percent  Preference  70     10.6    Never meet abroad 436     66.2    Meet abroad about once every 5 years  77     11.7    Alternate domestic & foreign meetings  26      3.9    Meet twice / year - 1 U.S., 1 foreign  50      7.6    Some other scheme

Roles and priorities of the DPS

The final question sought opinions concerning the most important functions of the DPS (in all of the remaining charts, 1 = very important and 5 = not important).

As indicated by the first chart shown in Figure 11 (left), organization of the annual meeting was thought to be very important by the vast majority of respondees. Co-sponsorship of other topical meetings (chart on right) was viewed somewhat favorably.

The next pair of charts (job services; government policy) shows the membership felt job services (left) rated a slightly more favorable endorsement than meeting co-sponsorship had rated. Efforts to impact government policy (right) were even more highly endorsed.

The following pair of charts shows that educational activities both at the K-12 (left) and university level (right) also received a moderate degree of endorsement.

The final pair of charts (public education; minority rights and job discrimination) indicates that the membership felt public information efforts (left) were more important than other education activities (two above graphs). Surprisingly, the membership generally felt that addressing minority rights and job discrimination (right) was not an important function of the Division. That conclusion was the same among women and members of age 30 and under.

In summary, the survey indicates that the membership believed the DPS should concentrate on organizing the annual meeting, lobbying, influencing public opinion, and job services, with lesser effort devoted to education and co-sponsorship of other topical meetings. Minority rights and job discrimination either were not thought to be significant problems in our field or were not viewed as appropriate arenas of activity for the DPS.

Acknowledgements and credits

Al Harris and Anita Cochran played a major role in designing the survey. Sue Sacco at Lowell Observatory entered all of the individual responses into a computer data base and Dave Schleicher pulled the relevant statistical data from the data base. Don Thompson prepared most of the graphics. Text and graphics were incorporated into HTML for the DPS website by Heidi Hammel.