T9-D&BP1-6 - Challenges in STEM PhD Programs: Biased Mentoring

3. Research Full Paper
Cathy D. Howell1 , Lisa R. Merriweather1, Anna Sanczyk1, Niesha Douglas1
1 University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Abstract— Work in Progress – Research Category

The purpose of this work in progress paper is to understand the influence of mentoring on the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) doctoral student experience. This qualitative case study sought to better understand mentoring relationships between faculty doctoral mentors and STEM doctoral students. This research emphasizes the role of mentoring as part of an intervening strategy for doctoral retention and suggests culturally responsive mentoring as a means to improve the experiences of PhD underrepresented minority (URM) students. This study addresses a gap in the literature related to culturally responsive mentoring and the STEM disciplines.

The findings were developed from four qualitative research focus group interviews. Focus group interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded by the research team. Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method, an iterative process to extrapolate key words and identify significant patters [1]. This study uses critical inquiry as a theoretical framework. Our findings revealed that mentoring takes place within a complex environment framed by systems of inequity grounded in race and gender. Three themes were constructed from the data: mentoring as a biased environment, lack of responsiveness to student needs, and relational tensions. This paper briefly examines one theme: mentoring as a biased environment. The data highlight how biased standpoints result in a shift in the learning experience. Bias may be based on race, gender, or age, and may be implicit or explicit. Within this environment doctoral students are challenged to navigate spaces such as classrooms and laboratories that can be wrought with difficulties springing from gender and race.

This paper is relevant to mentoring and STEM as it acknowledges that mentoring is a heavily nuanced practice with important cultural implications relative to PhD STEM students and faculty.

Keywords—STEM, URM, mentoring, culturally responsive mentoring, doctoral students