Most would acknowledge that women and minorities already face more hurdles in academia than their white, male peers. A lack of mentors, occasionally overt discrimination and the academy’s poor work-life balance, are well-documented issues. But now a study has suggested that these groups may be at a disadvantage even before the starting whistle sounds.
A study published on 22 April (and currently under review) looked at how likely faculty were to respond to a request to meet with a student to informally discuss potential research opportunities — a scenario picked as a proxy for the many informal events that could boost an academic career and which fall outside institutions’ formal checks and balances. They found — overwhelmingly — that professors of all groups were more likely to respond to white men than women and black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students. Academics at private universities and in subjects that pay more on average were the most unresponsive.
Katherine Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, along with colleagues Modupe Akinola of Columbia University in New York and Dolly Chugh of New York University, sent fake e-mails to 6,548 professors at 259 US institutions, pretending to be students wanting to discuss research opportunities before applying to a doctoral programme. The messages were identical, bar their fictional authors, whose names were picked for being recognizable by gender and ethnicity — ‘Steven Smith’ representing a white male, for example, and ‘Latoya Brown’ for a black female.
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