Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Committee Chair(s)

Christy M. Glass


Christy M. Glass


John C. Allen


Susan E. Mannon


Peggy Petrzelka


Ronda R. Callister


Mentorship is a critical component of a graduate education and facilitates the process of socialization into the role of professorship. Numerous studies continue to support the idea that mentorship, particularly woman-to-woman mentoring, is essential for overcoming barriers to women’s mobility within male-dominated fields. This study critically examines this assumption through the analysis of 59 qualitative interviews with faculty mentors and graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics conducted at one Canadian and one American institution. Initially, I explore how mothers in academe are socialized from differing levels to fit into narrowly defined roles as “good” professors. This expands our conceptualization of a motherhood penalty to include more subtle discrimination and illuminates the complexity within which motherhood is embedded in work organizations and reproduced through interaction (including mentorship). By following a comparison of the relational dynamics of women graduate students in same-gender and cross-gender iv mentorships, the overwhelming conclusion is that both men and women as faculty mentors are capable of socializing their students in ways that have potential to transform the academic institution regarding gender equity. Still, many examples of how mentoring alternately functions to perpetuate inequities exist. Finally, a crossnational analysis allowed exploration of institutional contexts and how they influence the ways in which mentors model balance. In contexts where family leave is institutionalized (i.e. Canada), conflict between work and family life should be lessened. Given this assumption, we should see a distinct separation of experiences between Canadian and American academics. In reality, these boundaries are more blurred. This finding implies that despite differences in levels of support formally offered to families through policy initiatives, professional barriers experienced by academics prevent the type of substantive benefits they are meant to afford. In practice, faculty mentors remain wedded to ideal worker models rooted in the masculine work ethics of their professions regardless of institutionalized family policies, thereby perpetuating inequality through mentorship. This, in turn, prevents institutional change. In summary, this study contributes to theoretical models of gendered institutions; advances understanding of the tenacity of gender inequality in academia; and informs university policies related to mentoring practices and workfamily policies.




This work made publicly available electronically on November 21, 2011.

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