As more women enter science, it’s time to redefine mentorship

And it can be invaluable to have a supporter “in whose place you walk or are likely to walk,” says Nilanjana Dasgupta, director of the Institute for Diversity Sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In her research, Dasgupta found that same-sex peer mentors, whose age and career stage are close to their mentees, can have particularly beneficial effects, perhaps because it is easier for mentees to recognize each other. in these advisers. “Peer mentors who are barely a few years older than the women they mentor are particularly inspiring because their success seems more achievable,” she says.

Murrell says his peer mentors have proven to be his most influential advisers; having progressed in their careers in tandem, they have all been essential sources of mutual support. “We grow together throughout our careers,” she says. “We share resources, share opportunities, share information and provide support as we move forward.

However, a female scientist is not necessarily a good mentor for a young woman just because of her gender. Bassett recalls that on one occasion, another female scientist asked him to name the man responsible for her success. In another, an interviewer from the doctoral program asked her if she was planning on having children – and told her that if so, it wasn’t worth the funding. “I’m pretty sure it’s illegal,” Bassett says.

And, at the same time, men can provide excellent support. “Men shouldn’t be afraid to offer themselves up as potential mentors to women because they don’t feel they can’t do such a good job,” says Reshma Jagsi, director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.

Certainly, it will take an effort on a professor’s part to learn about the issues affecting a woman in her lab. But Lindquist believes men can and should take on this responsibility – perhaps by choosing to work with minority mentors themselves. “It’s just as helpful for a male student to work with a female mentor, or a white student to work with a black male mentor, so that they can learn how power differences in science affect different identities,” he says. it. “In turn, they might understand how to adjust their mentoring to accommodate these challenges in their own students one day.”

Bassett also points out that sex isn’t the only thing that matters in relationships with counselors. “[The] kindness, humanity, humility, respect for the person, the generosity of the person, are more important, ”she says. But she emphasizes that the preferences people express for finding a suitable advisor are real and important. “There is clear evidence that for many graduate students, having shared sex with their mentor is something that is important to them and allows them to be successful in ways that they might not otherwise be able to because they have. a role model, ”she says. “They have someone to talk to about what prejudice is and how to respond to it.”

But supporting women and minorities in science can’t be as simple as making sure everyone has a mentor who matches the demographics. As under-represented as women still are as students in many STEM fields, the situation is much worse for teachers. This imbalance creates a mathematical problem. “If every woman needs a woman to be her mentor, and there is only one senior woman in the department, she ends up having to mentor half a dozen people,” Jagsi said.

And white women are still more likely to find a match in academia than women of color, who are sometimes surrounded only by white or male colleagues. The situation is similar, if not worse, for young trans scientists. “Being the only one is really a lot more toxic than being one of the few,” says Dasgupta.

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