How Mentoring Relationships May Impact the Retention of Women Researchers in Academia

A new study by researchers at the Oregon Health and Sciences University finds that despite increasing representation in graduate training programs, a disproportionate number of women leave academic research without obtaining an independent position that enables them to train the next generation of academic researchers.

The authors analyzed more than 26,000 formal Ph.D. and postdoctoral mentoring relationships in the life sciences during the years 2000 to 2020. The authors found women tended to mentor other women and men tend to mentor other men. The data shows that trainees with women mentors were less likely to go on to become academic mentors later in their careers than trainees who had male mentors.

The authors found that gender inequities in the resources available to women mentors in the life sciences appear to disproportionately affect the subsequent careers of women trainees. The authors state that “we find a substantial portion of this latter association is accounted for by the observation that men mentors in life sciences also have higher average rank in traditional measures of status. These findings support a model in which mentors’ access to funding and labor, as well as prestige markers such as citations, are distributed unevenly by gender and in turn affect trainees’ retention in academia as formal mentors.”

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