By Hamish Johnston
One of the most important decisions any aspiring scientist must make is what they should study for their PhD. Therefore, any advice that they receive from established academic researchers is of great value – and many academics are very generous with their time when it comes to mentoring up-and-coming researchers.
But do academics tend to reach out to some groups of people while ignoring others? That’s the subject of a study by three business-school professors – Katherine Milkman, Modupe Akinola and Dolly Chugh – who wanted to know if a person’s gender or ethnic origin affects their chances of booking an appointment with an academic to discuss their future.
To answer this question the trio devised a clever study that involved sending out more than 6500 e-mails to leading academics from a fictitious student claiming to be on campus that day and asking if they could drop by for a 10 minute chat. The e-mails appeared to be from people with names that strongly suggest both gender and ethnicity. Brad Anderson was used to represent a white man and Latoya Brown a black woman, for example.
Unfortunately, the study suggests that academics are more likely to ignore requests from women and ethnic minorities than those from white men. It also seems that this discrimination is more pronounced in natural sciences and business than it is in the arts. Another issue highlighted by the study is that female and minority academics behaved no differently to their white, male counterparts.
Milkman, Akinola and Chugh describe their study in a paper entitled “What Happens Before?”, which you can download free of charge.