Gendered Structures of Academic Mentorship
Female Mentees Tilt Right
Male Mentees Tilt Left
Widest and Tallest
For a tree to be wide or tall it must be old and enduring. Francis Galton (1822 - 1911) sits at the base of such a tree. He was an incredibly influential polymath, contributing to statistics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, amongst many other things. He was also a proponent of social Darwinism, eugenics, and scientific racism.
Galton's tree clearly bends toward male, and its curliest leaves are male. Yet, 51.1% of the scholars in Galton's tree are female! His mentee James Cattell, a psychologist, has a relatively balanced and massive tree, 52% female, while the influential statistician Karl Pearson's tree had 791 mentees, and only 33% were female.
There are other "tallest" trees, which tower at 11 generations. These include Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, and Ludwig Bolzmann.
Just as old trees are more male tilted, the most female-tilted trees are comparatively young. Reiff mentored Adrienne Lehrer (1937 - present), a linguist who got her PhD in 1968 at the University of Rochester. She has worked at the University of Arizona since 1974. Of the 26 descendants of Lehrer, 5 (19%) were male. All except two of these came through Lehrer’s mentee Sally McConnell-Ginet, professor emerita of linguistics at Cornell, who served as director of Women’s studies and president of the International Gender and Language Association, amongst other non-gender-related posts.
JOHANN HELFRICH VON MULLER
The most male-tilted tree is older, but not wider or taller, than Galton's. Müller (1746-1830) was an engineer and one of the earliest to conceive of what we would call a computer. He had 233 descendants, of whom only 1.4% were female. He has one of the tallest trees in the dataset, at 11 generations, and it is not until the very last generation that a female mentee emerges. His only direct mentee was the father of Gottfried Leibniz, the co-inventor of calculus, with Isaac Newton. Müller's student Jakob Thomasius would be Gottfried's mentor. Gottfried himself only had a single mentee in this database, but two generations later appears Immanuel Kant, who has 140 in his descendant tree.
Haraway (1944 - present) made contributions to our thinking on human-machine and human-animal relations. She became the first tenured professor in feminist theory in the United States in 1980, and has received numerous accolades for her work. She has been teaching since 1974 and her tree is 72% female. Donna herself has had 12 female mentees, 5 male mentees, and one of unknown gender.
CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED DANIEL NEES VON ESENBECK
Von Esenbeck (1776 – 1858) was a botanist, physician, zoologist, and natural philosopher. He has 34,480 descendants and is also one of the tallest trees, at 11 generations. 2,393 of his descendants have 12 consecutive male descendants, 5,036 have 11. Yet his tree is 42% female, and includes 4,749 descendants with at least five females in their lineage back to Gottfried. The relatively high variation in curl in this tree gives it its distinct fullness.
JENNIFER A DOUDNA
Doudna (1964 - present) has made significant contributions to biochemistry and genetics, and is most famous for her work developing CRISPR, for which she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Chemistry in 2020. Her tree is 40.5% women and contains 98 descendant scholars. This is a full tree, considering its age. Also because it is young and relatively balanced, it is almost upright.
RICHARD P FEYNMAN
Feynman (1911 - 1988) was a theoretical physicist, who introduced the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. He was a prolific teacher, mentoring 32 males and 2 females. In all he had 230 descendants, 16% of which were female.
Goodall devoted her life to the study of chimpanzees in Tanzania. In 1960, she was the first person to see a chimpanzee use a twig to fish termites from the dirt. Through her study and then as head of the Jane Goodall Institute, she pioneered the systematic study of primates' social lives. She has written more than 15 books and is the subject of more than 40 films and now spends most of her year advocating for chimps, the environment, and our world.
Incredibly, Jane Goodall had no formal academic mentees whatsoever. This is a stark reminder that formal mentorship as encoded in this dataset is not the end of the eminence of a scholar, and that a lack of mentorship at the leaves does not necessarily indicate a "dead" tree.
Pierce (1839 - 1914) was a philosopher and mathematician who pioneered the philosophy of science and reasoning. Pierce’s first logical rule was that the reasoner must “wonder,” and described abduction, the shuttling between induction and deduction. Peirce has 17,490 descendants mostly through his mentee Joseph Jastrow (11,742), because of his quite influential mentee Clark Leonard Hull, a behavioral psychologist.
CHARLES SANDERS PEIRCE
James (1842-1910) is considered the father of American psychology. He has 21,123 descendants, which are 51% female. Most of these grow from Granville Stanley Hall, and his students James Cattell and John Dewey were both incredibly influential. We can see quite a number of female-dominated ancestry towards the right of this tree, compared even to the curliest tree.
Boltzmann (1844 - 1906) was a physicist who was central in the development of statistical mechanics. He had 35,838 descendants, spread over 60+ disciplines. They are almost equally descendant from two of his six male mentees Svante Arrhenius and Paul Ehrenfest, and are 27% female. His descendant tree is as tall as Galton’s but not quite as wide and significantly more male-bent.
Bohr (1885 - 1962) was a groundbreaking physicist, who revolutionized our understanding of the internal structure of atoms. He had 45,999 descendants, 32% of which were female. His mentees included the physicists Wolfgang Pauli and John Wheeler, and chemist Linus Pauling, along with 27 other male mentees. He had no female mentees.
Hawking (1942 - 2018) was a theoretical physicist who studied the properties of black holes and at the time of his death was head of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge. His 101 descendants are just 16% female, sprouting rather equally in number and gender distribution from his 14 mentees. His most prolific mentee was Alan Yuille, professor in Computational Cognitive Science at John Hopkins, and had 31 descendants. He was the source for the neuro and CS students in the upper right of the tree.
A Glimpse of the Visual Difference across Mentorship Forests
Most Female-Tilted Field
The most female-titled research field is nursing. Nursing also has fewer generations of mentor-mentee relationships compared to other fields.
Most Male-Tilted Field
The most male-tilted field is history. Interestingly, history is also the field that has the largest gender difference. This means there are highly-tilted trees leaning towards both genders in the field of history. The average widest research field is neuroscience, and the average tallest field is chemistry.
The proportion of males’ mentees who were male, and the proportion of females’ mentees who were female.
Females’ mentees were not more than 50% female until 1996-2001. Perhaps more surprisingly, we can see the F-F mentorship rate plummetting around 2011, from over 65% F-F back to 50%. The decreasing F-F mentorship rate after 1944 matches the history of women being shouldered out of academia after WWII.
EQUITY VS EQUALITY
Gender equity recognises that women and gender-diverse people are not in the same ‘starting position’ as men. This is because of historical and social disadvantages. Treating women, gender-diverse people and men equally might not actually be fair. In fact, it can create further disadvantage.
“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”
—Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute
Use the slider below to adjust the tilting weight of female or male branches. Notice how adding more weight to female researchers could help with balancing the tree.