Mentoring Programs May Be the Best Way to Retain Women in Geoscience Disciplines

A new study by researchers at seven universities finds that faculty mentorship is the most important factor in retaining women in geoscience disciplines. The researchers are in the fourth year of a five-year, $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant for a program called PROGRESS (PROmoting Geoscience Research, Education and Success). They are investigating how best to attract and retain women in traditionally male-dominated science fields, particularly earth and environmental sciences.

About 150 women across the seven participating universities are involved in PROGRESS. The program includes an introductory weekend workshop and pairing students with female mentors, typically graduate students or postdocs. For the study, the PROGRESS women’s outcomes were compared with a separate group not participating in PROGRESS.

Results show that a program like PROGRESS can expand a student’s network of support by connecting them with people, particularly other women, they view as role models. The students are then more inclined to further expand those networks on their own, notably with faculty in earth and environmental sciences.

Emily Fischer, assistant professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University and a co-author of the study, notes that “our program seems to be helping students better identify as scientists, and giving them a stronger intention to remain in the earth and environmental sciences.”

“As part of our mentoring and professional development activities, we are not always directly connecting our PROGRESS students with faculty, but there is something about their interaction with faculty members that is an important predictor in their intention to stay in the earth and environmental sciences,” Fischer explained. “That surprised us; we didn’t expect this to be so important.”

Dr. Fischer is a graduate of the University of British Columbia, where she majored in atmospheric science. She holds a master’s degree in earth science from the University of New Hampshire and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Washington.

The full study, “Promoting Professional Identity, Motivation, and Persistence: Benefits of an Informal Mentoring Program for Female Undergraduate Students,” was published on the website of PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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