The Role of Mentorship in protégé Performance

Nature. 2010 Jun 3;465(7298):622-6. doi: 10.1038/nature09040.


The role of mentorship in protégé performance is a matter of importance to academic, business and governmental organizations. Although the benefits of mentorship for protégés, mentors and their organizations are apparent, the extent to which protégés mimic their mentors' career choices and acquire their mentorship skills is unclear. The importance of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce to economic growth and the role of effective mentorship in maintaining a 'healthy' such workforce demand the study of the role of mentorship in academia. Here we investigate one aspect of mentor emulation by studying mentorship fecundity-the number of protégés a mentor trains-using data from the Mathematics Genealogy Project, which tracks the mentorship record of thousands of mathematicians over several centuries. We demonstrate that fecundity among academic mathematicians is correlated with other measures of academic success. We also find that the average fecundity of mentors remains stable over 60 years of recorded mentorship. We further discover three significant correlations in mentorship fecundity. First, mentors with low mentorship fecundities train protégés that go on to have mentorship fecundities 37% higher than expected. Second, in the first third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 29% higher than expected. Finally, in the last third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 31% lower than expected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Algorithms
  • Altruism
  • Bibliometrics
  • Career Choice*
  • Child
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Markov Chains
  • Mathematics / standards*
  • Mentors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Parents
  • Professional Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Workforce