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Misconceiving Merit


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Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
1 Misperceiving Merit, Excellence, and Devotion in Academic STEM
2 The Cultural Construction of Merit in Academic STEM
3 The Work Devotion Schema and Its Consequences
4 Mismeasuring Merit: The Schema of Scientific Excellence as a Yardstick of Merit
5 Defending the Schema of Scientific Excellence, Defending Inequality
6 The Moralization of Merit: Consequences for Scientists and Science

About the Author

Mary Blair-Loy is professor of sociology and codirector of the Center for Research on Gender in STEMM at the University of California San Diego. She is the author of Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives. Erin A. Cech is associate professor of sociology and mechanical engineering (by courtesy) at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Trouble with Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality.


Written for nonexperts, the book reports on a comprehensive study of STEM faculty at an anonymized US university that is large, prestigious, and research intensive. Complex phenomena are explained in an easy-to-grasp fashion, and rigorous data are used to provide evidence for the authors' assertions.

Researchers will likely see their own experiences in the book's rich descriptions of the priorities and pressures of a competitive academic environment. These descriptions, paired with ample quotes from interviewees, make for compelling reading, painting a portrait of STEM faculty who work all the time, are highly engaged with their work, struggle to balance personal and professional obligations, and feel that they are always behind and never enough. -- Science
"This well-written, persuasive, and important book analyzes an important paradox: why is an institution focused on merit-based evaluation so unsuccessful at promoting meritocracy? It will be read widely by those studying gender and racial inequalities in higher education and STEM." -- Joya Misra, University of Massachusetts Amherst
"Extremely well-written, and their findings ring painfully true. The authors are very compelling in pointing out the many inconsistencies that otherwise smart people don't or won't see. All faculty interested in promoting diversity will engage with this insightful and compelling scholarship." -- Cathy Nagler, University of Chicago

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