The Effect of Trainee Career Intentions on Mentor’s Interest in the Trainee: Experimental Evidence From Academia
30 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2023
Date Written: August 24, 2023
In many industries trainees may seek careers different from their mentors and, anecdotally, mentors treat such trainees less well. We test whether a trainee’s career intentions causally affect mentorship availability in the setting of PhD programs. We hypothesized that principal investigators (PIs) would view industry-focused trainees less favorably than academia-focused ones due to concerns about skills, commitment, and PIs’ own career benefits. We also expected the industry penalty to be larger among PIs at prestigious institutions, with fewer industry connections and longer careers. We tested these hypotheses with an audit experiment where a fictional prospective PhD student emailed immunology and microbiology PIs about mentorship. The student’s career intention was randomly described as “applied research in industry” (n = 1000), “basic research in academia” (n = 1000) or with no description (control, n = 442). All emails highlighted the student’s great academic record to address concerns about skills. Contrary to expectations, PIs responded similarly across all conditions (industry: 55%, academia: 60%, control: 59%). Treatment effects showed little variation based on the PIs’ institution prestige, industry connections, and career length. These findings suggest that PIs do not discriminate against high-skill prospective trainees based on their career interests. If trainees’ career intentions do causally decrease mentorship availability or quality, it likely occurs later in the pipeline.
Keywords: mentorship, labor market discrimination, academia, audit experiment
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