Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mentoring (and a pet peeve: maybe women should be athena-ed?)

There are lots of reasons to think that young employees of many kinds may benefit from mentoring, and, because networks of various sorts may be important, employees from underrepresented populations may particularly benefit if their mentor can help them connect.

This is the idea behind the recent NBER report Can Mentoring Help Female Assistant Professors? Interim Results from a Randomized Trial
by Francine D. Blau, Janet M. Currie, Rachel T.A. Croson, Donna K. Ginther

Abstract: "While much has been written about the potential benefits of mentoring in academia, very little research documents its effectiveness. We present data from a randomized controlled trial of a mentoring program for female economists organized by the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Economics Association. To our knowledge, this is the first randomized trial of a mentoring program in academia. We evaluate the performance of three cohorts of participants and randomly-assigned controls from 2004, 2006, and 2008. This paper presents an interim assessment of the program’s effects. Our results suggest that mentoring works. After five years the 2004 treatment group averaged .4 more NSF or NIH grants and 3 additional publications, and were 25 percentage points more likely to have a top-tier publication. There are significant but smaller effects at three years post-treatment for the 2004 and 2006 cohorts combined. While it is too early to assess the ultimate effects of mentoring on the academic careers of program participants, the results suggest that this type of mentoring may be one way to help women advance in the Economics profession and, by extension, in other male-dominated academic fields. "

On a less serious note, I've always wondered whether "mentor" was the right word for an advisor for female professors, particularly if the advisor is also female. The reason is that Mentor is a male character in Homer's Odyssey who only appears to give advice in the beginning of the story. In fact, the goddess Athena is giving the advice, disguised as Mentor (presumably because advice from someone with a grey beard was given more weight in those days than from someone advising while female, however divine). So maybe, nowadays, female professors should be athena-ed?


dWj said...

Perhaps it's also incorrect to use the term "mentor" (or "athena") with people who aren't Greek, or haven't been dead for 2000 years.

Susan Bender Phelps said...

Athena had to request permission from Zeus to inhabit Mentor and guide Odysseus' son Telemechus. This was because Mentor wasn't very good at "mentoring." With some very targeted upfront training people who genuinely want to be good mentors can learn the skills they need. They will not need "divine" guidance. That is why I named my company Odyssey Mentoring and why I have corporate clients. Professional mentoring can be a very effective way to develop your career no matter your profession.