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clh at vax.oxford.ac.uk clh at vax.oxford.ac.uk
Wed May 19 03:58:05 EST 1993

In article <1993May18.182501.1 at molbiol.ox.ac.uk>, forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk writes:
>> In response to Patricia Fosters':
>> When did "advisors" become "mentors"?  Is something different meant
>> by the two terms?  Do men and women expect different things?  When
>> does "mentoring" become "favoritism"?  Are such relationships 
>> necessarily good for the two parties involved?  For Science?
> For purposes of discussion, here are my definitions:
> ADVISOR:  degree supervisor;  the PI in whose lab the student or postdoc 
> works. 
> ROLE-MODEL:  senior person (ie, established) whom junior respects and
> in whom junior sees characteristics worth emulating.
> MENTOR:  senior person with a supportive interest in a junior.  MENTOR 
> can be but is not necessarily equal to ADVISOR.  The way I tend to
> think of a MENTOR is one who is sufficiently distant that favouritism
> is not an element--no longer a direct boss/employee relationship, but
>  someone who writes a knowledgeable  recommendation letter and who can 
> guide the junior scientist through the pitfalls of 
> science and the career confusions.
> This is, after all,  a nearly feudal master-and-apprentice system.  One might 
> think of the MENTORS as the good, nurturing masters, who get pleasure out
> of seeing their apprentice achieve. 
> Some ADVISORS become MENTORS and lucky the young scientist who has one, 
> because the support of the powerful is essential to success in a crowded
> field.  Whether this is good or bad for science is irrelevant:  human
> nature is such that we fall into camps, we are competitive, and that is the 
> way it IS. 

There is also a reason why "mentor" creeps into discussions like 
these. I have read discussions of how people do and don't continue on 
in science, and they conclude that part of the reason people (men and 
women) continue as scientists is because they have a mentor, someone 
that looks out for their interest, shows them the ropes, pulls a few 
strings, etc. Not all continuing scientists have one, not all who do 
continue, it's just a correlation. These same articles stated that 
women are less likely to have mentors than men, and when they do, 
women are more likely to end up in a sexualized relationship with 
their mentors from which it may be harder to fledge, and harder to be 
taken seriously. Again, this isn't to say that all women sleep with 
their mentors, or all men in the role of mentor sexually prey on their 
mentees, it's just a possible further reason why, even when women have 
mentors, they don't always benefit from them. The flip side of this is 
that senior male scientists may avoid close relationships with young 
female scientists because of the risk and/or suggestion that the 
relationship is sexual rather than collegial. And there are many men 
of a certain age who seem to have trouble dealing with women as 

Sorry for the lack of references, it's been several years since I've 
read this material and so it's probably been filtered a bit. I thought 
the history might help the discussion though.


Chris Hitchcock			clh at vax.ox.ac.uk
EGI, Dept of Zoology
South Parks Road		formerly: chris at psych.toronto.edu	
Oxford OX1 3PS			Still reading UseNet 
ENGLAND				for the signatures.

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