Research Finds a More Effective Mentoring Formula for Women Faculty in STEM Fields

A new study led by Sandra Petersen, a professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, finds that an online mutual-mentoring model can create “trusting and supportive environments” among underrepresented minority women in STEM across academic institutions.

The authors note that mentoring is the most commonly cited intervention to help faculty achieve success in higher education, and is especially important for those from underrepresented groups. However, they are less likely to receive effective mentoring. Empathetic mentoring is best provided by colleagues who understand intersecting racial and gender stereotypes, but empathetic mentoring relationships may be difficult to establish when mentor and mentee are in the same institution, according to the authors.

For their program called “Amplifying Voices, the researchers recruited groups of five to seven women from similar disciplines, but at 20 different institutions. The groups met with a facilitator through online Zoom meetings for 60 to 90 minutes every other week. The authors report that “results of the post-survey showed that participants generally agreed that the components of the mutual mentoring model, as well as the way it was instituted and supported, were effective. Eighty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that the format met mentoring needs and provided an effective platform for discussing challenges faced in their institutions.”

Professor Petersen states that “our research suggests that combining career-focused mentoring found in most academic institutions with empathetic psychosocial mentoring achieved through Amplifying Voices is a more effective strategy for supporting underrepresented minority women in STEM than either strategy alone.”

Dr. Petersen is a graduate of Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she majored in biology. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology from Oregon State University

The full study, “Amplifying Voices: Investigating a Cross-Institutional, Mutual Mentoring Program for URM Women in STEM,” was published on the website of the journal Innovative Higher Education. It may be accessed here.

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