Mentoring of women science and engineering doctoral students

Date of Completion

January 1996


Women's Studies|Education, Higher




This study examined the nature and extent of mentoring of women science and engineering (S&E) doctoral students in American colleges and universities. Recent demographic shifts have diminished the proportion of young white males, traditionally the major recipients of S&E degrees. This trend, coupled with a production plateau of women S&E doctorates after a sharp rise in the 1970s and 1980s, signals a need for effective recruitment and retention strategies toward reigniting an upward trend for women S&E production if the U.S. is to continue as a world leader in science and technology.^ Many bodies of literature suggest mentoring may have promise in increasing women S&E doctoral production. However, little research has been completed about faculty dynamics. This study attempted to ascertain: how faculty mentoring is performed; administrator perceptions of the most important mentoring elements; and the relationship of mentoring to women S&E doctorate production.^ The National Research Council rank-ordered U.S. doctorate granting institutions according to productivity indexes, i.e., the ratio of women S&E doctorates to total S&E doctorates awarded, for 1994 women S&E doctorates.^ Graduate school deans in U.S. doctoral granting institutions (N = 310) were asked to complete the Science and Engineering Mentoring Inventory (SEMI), an instrument designed by the author, to ascertain the nature and extent of mentoring among women S&E doctoral students. Usable returns totaled 233, a 75% response rate.^ Rank ordered means and standard deviations revealed that same gender and cross-gender mentoring, mentoring assistance from women's centers on campuses and the removal of gender-related obstacles were the most prevalent mentoring practices on these campuses.^ Analysis of variance revealed significant differences according to Carnegie ratings and institutional size. Large Research I universities had the strongest mentoring programs.^ Theme analysis of dean's perceptions revealed the following as paramount in the mentoring of women S&E doctoral students: the presence of role models, i.e., critical masses of women on tenure tracks in the S&E departments; early initiation of student mentoring; mentoring workshops; and faculty development seminars.^ The regression of Productivity Indexes on SEMI items of mentoring institutions accounted for only five percent of the variance. The F values were highly significant. Regression exercises with the top ten schools revealed that over 61 percent of the Productivity Index variance was explained by mentoring.^ Suggestions for further study included periodic examination of productivity ratios and current, qualitative studies detailing the psychological dynamics of mentoring of women S&E doctorates in American institutions. ^