Study Claims That Early-Career Women Scientists May Do Better If They Have a Male Mentor

A study published on the website of the journal Nature Communications by researchers at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University concluded that “opposite-gender mentorship may actually increase the impact of women who pursue a scientific career.” The paper has created a firestorm in academic circles.

The authors examined more than 200 million scientific papers published over the course of more than 100 years to identify several million mentor-mentee pairs. Their results led them to the conclusion that early-career, woman scientists went on to a more successful career in terms of their academic publishing records, if they had a male as their mentor.

The authors concluded that “our gender-related findings suggest that current diversity policies promoting female-female mentorships, as well-intended as they may be, could hinder the careers of women who remain in academia in unexpected ways. Female scientists, in fact, may benefit from opposite-gender mentorships in terms of their publication potential and impact throughout their post-mentorship careers.”

Criticism of the paper ensured quickly on social media and on a large scale. Leslie Vosshalla a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University in New York posted an open letter to the editor-in-chief of Nature Communications on Twitter. The letter read in part: The conclusions are based on flawed assumptions and flawed analysis. I find it deeply discouraging that this message — avoid a female mentor or your career will suffer — is being amplified by your journal. It is your ethical duty to retract this paper.”

Two days after the paper was published the editors posted the following message on the website: “Readers are alerted that this paper is subject to criticisms that are being considered by the editors. Those criticisms were targeted to the authors’ interpretation of their data that gender plays a role in the success of mentoring relationships between junior and senior researchers, in a way that undermines the role of female mentors and mentees. We are investigating the concerns raised and an editorial response will follow the resolution of these issues.”

The full study was entitled “The Association Between Early Career Informal Mentorship in Academic Collaborations and Junior Author Performance.” At the time of this post, it was accessible here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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