Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mentor-protégé relationships: Age gap really does matter

Date:
June 3, 2010
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
A new study of mentor-protégé relationships has found that the generation gap is real and it matters. The researchers analyzed a "family tree" of mathematicians and the doctoral students they advised and found very successful academics do a good job mentoring students during the first third of their careers, but they do a bad job during the last third of their careers. The implications stretch beyond academia, including to business, government, sports and art.

A new Northwestern University 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.

Northwestern researchers 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. (The researchers used data from the Mathematics Geneology Project, which stretches back to Isaac Newton's time.)

"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 R. Dean Malmgren, a postdoctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and first author of the study. "This tradeoff has negative consequences."

The findings have implications stretching well beyond academia to business, governmental organizations, sports and art. Details will be published in a paper, titled "The Role of Mentorship on Protégé Performance," in the June 3 issue of the journal Nature. This is the first large-scale study to quantitatively examine the effects of mentoring.

"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:

  • When examining mathematicians with a large number of protégés, the researchers found students trained by mathematicians in the first third of their careers went on to train 37 percent more students than expected while students trained by mathematicians in the last third of their careers went on to train 31 percent fewer students than expected.
  • The best mathematicians as measured by membership in the National Academy of Sciences mentored more students than those who were not members of NAS, despite the fact math advisors do not publish with students so there is no real professional gain from mentorship.
  • The average number of advisees during a mentor's career was 10, and that number did not change despite the study period including two world wars, the Great Depression, the emigration of many scientists from Europe to the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s and the Cold War.
  • Mentors who advised a smaller than average number of protégés did a better job than those who advised an average number of protégés. Those who trained just a few individuals had students who went on to mentor more than the average number of students.

"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 Geneology Project, a geneological tree of mathematicians -- going as far back as Isaac Newton -- and those they trained. The researchers studied the mentorship network of 7,259 mathematicians who graduated between 1900 and 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."

Amaral and Ottino are members of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). Amaral also is an Early Career Scientist with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Malmgren et al. The Role of Mentorship on Protégé Performance. Nature, 2010; 465 (7298): 622 DOI: 10.1038/nature09040

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Mentor-protégé relationships: Age gap really does matter." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602131344.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2010, June 3). Mentor-protégé relationships: Age gap really does matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602131344.htm
Northwestern University. "Mentor-protégé relationships: Age gap really does matter." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602131344.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Science & Society News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

AP (July 22, 2014) — Two federal appeals courts issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on the legality of the federally-run healthcare exchange that operates in 36 states. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

TheStreet (July 21, 2014) — Halle Berry was recently ordered to pay her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry $16,000 a month in child support by a California judge for their daughter Nahla. As women make strides in the workforce, they are increasingly left holding the bag when relationships end regardless of marital status. 'What Monied Women Need to Know Before Getting Married or Cohabitating' discusses information such as debt incurred during the marriage is both spouse's responsibility at divorce, whether after ten years of marriage spouses are entitled to half of everything and why property acquired within the marriage is fair game without a pre-nup. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) — Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clock Ticks Down on Internet Speed Debate

Clock Ticks Down on Internet Speed Debate

Reuters - US Online Video (July 18, 2014) — The FCC received more than 800,000 comments on whether and how internet speeds should be regulated, even crashing its system. Lily Jamali reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins