Female assistant professors who had a mentor had a higher probability of receiving grants than those who did not have a mentor. Chemistry female assistant professors with mentors had a 95% probability of having grant funding versus 77% for those without mentors. For all six fields surveyed female assistant professors with no mentors had a 68% probability of having grant funding versus 93% of women with mentors.
Contrasts with the pattern for male assistant professors; those with no mentor had an 86% probability of having grant funding versus 83% for those with mentors.
Those are impressive and interesting numbers.
I wonder what exactly about being mentored affects funding success rate for women (but not for men).
As an assistant professor, I didn’t have an official mentor at my first university and must admit I didn’t really want one, especially considering the available options. A conversation with the department chair about mentoring went something like this:
Chair: Do you .. um.. want a .. a .. mentor? [looks at shoes]
By the time we had that conversation, I already had my first grant and was soon to get my second. I felt like I was doing fine without a mentor, and I wasn’t really sure what a mentor was for. I just knew that no one else in the department had ever had one and it would have felt weird to be the only one with an official mentor.
I hope that most departments now have a systematic approach to mentoring, assigning mentors to all assistant professors, and not singling anyone out.
At University #2, the topic did not arise, perhaps because I arrived with several years of experience (and funding). I had an unofficial mentor and he certainly helped me a lot, but mostly by being a great colleague. We were coPIs on a grant in my early days at University #2, though I also had other grants as sole PI or with other colleagues.
So, in terms of my experiences being mentored, it’s hard for me to think of examples of how being mentored did or might have affected my funding success rate.
As a senior professor in the capacity of a mentor rather than a mentee, I can think of a number of things I would do to help a junior colleague get funded:
- encourage them to submit a proposal that they might otherwise not write/submit owing to lack of confidence or to uncertainty about how to divide their time between the many and various responsibilities of an assistant professor;
- bring to their attention some funding opportunities that might not have occurred to them;
- facilitate collaborations with senior colleagues (including me) because these might lead to new proposals that lead to grants;
- read proposals before submission and give advice about content, style, budgets, project plans etc.;
- introduce junior colleagues to influential people at conferences (potential reviewers of proposals; funding agency program directors) or mention their names in conversations/correspondence to help increase their visibility; and
- suggest junior colleagues as possible panel members at funding agencies, so they can see how things really work at that end of the funding food chain.
I don’t believe that men are being discriminated against at funding agencies. The data do not support such a conclusion.
So let’s consider the issue from the mentoring end of the process, not from the funding decision end of the process:
(1) Are men mentored in a different way? Do mentors assume that the male assistant professors know more than they actually do, so help them less, so the mentoring is less effective?
(2) Are men less responsive to mentoring attempts? That is, do they get advice but tend to ignore it?
I’m not sure if either of those explains the statistics in the NRC report, but I have seen both of those phenomena in action.
Female assistant professors: Don’t say no to being mentored (but make sure you get a good mentor – someone you can talk to and who is interested in helping you in a non-patronizing way).
Male assistant professors: Listen to your mentors and/or Don’t let them assume that you already know what you need to know about grant writing and funding opportunities; ask questions.