|Math Mentors More Effective At Beginning Of Career|
|SciMed - Horizons|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Friday, 04 June 2010 08:00|
Evanston, IL, USA. A study of mentor-protégé relationships has found something that parents and children have known for a long time: the generation gap is real, and it matters. It not only affects communication but also who mentors young mathematicians successfully and who does not.
The researchers used data from the Mathematics Genealogy Project. They analyzed 60 years of a family tree of mathematicians and the doctoral students they advised. They found very successful academics do a good job mentoring students during the first third of their careers but do a bad job during the last third of their careers.
This is the first large-scale study to quantitatively examine the effects of mentoring. The findings, from work by Northwestern University investigators, appear in the journal Nature and have implications stretching well beyond academia to business, governmental organizations, sports and art.
Luís A. N. Amaral and Julio M. Ottino are members of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). Amaral also is an Early Career Scientist with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). R. Dean Malmgren, a postdoctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
"It's a phenomenon in our culture that as you gain more importance and success you are expected to oversee more and more people, which means that face time with your protégés goes down," said Malmgren, first author of the study. "This tradeoff has negative consequences."
"The results are striking in reminding us of the limits of human effort," said co-author Luís Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering. "Mathematicians later in their careers should not be training graduate students — it appears to be counterproductive. Older and overstretched mentors may be too far removed from their young protégés' experience to train them effectively. There is a disconnect."
Key findings of the study include:
"The causes for what we are observing are totally unknown, but what is clear is that patterns exist," said co-author Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
"Our findings open up a lot of questions within the field of mentorship and beyond."
The mentor-protégé relationship is critical to the success of many organizations yet is difficult to study because good data is lacking.
The Northwestern researchers found the data they needed in the meticulous records of the Mathematics Genealogy Project, a geneological tree of mathematicians — going as far back as Isaac Newton — and those they trained.
Researchers studied the mentorship of 7,259 mathematics graduates between 1900-1960.
"Mathematicians track their lineage across the world," said Malmgren. "This information is exactly what we needed to study the effects of mentoring on a large population of individuals over a long period of time."
Mentoring in mathematics is a remarkably altruistic activity. A math mentor is not a co-author of a student's paper — very unusual in academia — so a mentor's career is not directly influenced by what a student achieves or publishes. This idiosyncrasy of mathematics provided the Northwestern researchers with "clean" data for studying the effect of mentorship on a protégé's career.
"Is there a mentorship effect, or is it all about innate ability?" Amaral said. "The mathematics field was a perfect laboratory for studying mentorship and answering these questions. Clearly, mentorship does play a role."
CitationThe role of mentorship in protégé performance. R. Dean Malmgren, Julio M. Ottino, and Luís A. Nunes Amaral. Nature 465: 622-626. doi:10.1038/nature09040
The role of mentorship in protégé performance is a matter of importance to academic, business and governmental organizations. Although the benefits of mentorship for protégés, mentors and their organizations are apparent, the extent to which protégés mimic their mentors’ career choices and acquire their mentorship skills is unclear. The importance of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce to economic growth and the role of effective mentorship in maintaining a ‘healthy’ such workforce demand the study of the role of mentorship in academia. Here we investigate one aspect of mentor emulation by studying mentorship fecundity—the number of protégés a mentor trains—using data from the Mathematics Genealogy Project, which tracks the mentorship record of thousands of mathematicians over several centuries. We demonstrate that fecundity among academic mathematicians is correlated with other measures of academic success. We also find that the average fecundity of mentors remains stable over 60 years of recorded mentorship. We further discover three significant correlations in mentorship fecundity. First, mentors with low mentorship fecundities train protégés that go on to have mentorship fecundities 37% higher than expected. Second, in the first third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 29% higher than expected. Finally, in the last third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 31% lower than expected.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 03 June 2010 12:20|