How Women Mentors Make a Difference in Engineering

Women Engineers
Photo courtesy of Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

For some women, enrolling in an engineering course is like running a psychological gauntlet. If they dodge overt problems like sexual harassment, sexist jokes, or poor treatment from professors, they often still have to evade subtler obstacles like the implicit tendency to see engineering as a male discipline. It’s no wonder women in the U.S. hold just 13 to 22 percent of the doctorates in engineering, compared to an already-low 33 percent in the sciences as a whole.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, thinks that mentors—people who can give advice, share experiences, or make social connections—can dismantle the gauntlet, and help young women to find their place in an often hostile field.

In a year-long study—one of the strongest yet to look at the value of mentorship—Dasgupta showed that female engineering undergraduates who are paired with a female mentor felt more motivated, more self-assured, and less anxious than those who had either no mentor or a male one. They were less likely to drop out of their courses, and keener to look for engineering jobs after they graduated. “Often, science is messy and things don’t turn out neatly,” Dasgupta says. But in this study, “it was very gratifying how clean the results were.”...

To read the full article by Ed Yong, visit The Atlantic.

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