Young hotshots make better mentors

Washington: The generation gap is for real, and it matters.

A new Northwestern University study of mentor-protégé relationships has found that generation gap not only affects communication but also who mentors young mathematicians successfully and who does not.

Northwestern researchers analyzed 60 years of a "family tree" of mathematicians and the doctoral students they advised. They found very successful academics do a good job mentoring students during the first third of their careers but do a bad job during the last third of their careers.

"It`s a phenomenon in our culture that as you gain more importance and success you are expected to oversee more and more people, which means that face time with your protégés goes down," said R Dean Malmgren, a postdoctoral fellow in chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and first author of the study. "This tradeoff has negative consequences."

The findings have implications stretching well beyond academia to business, governmental organizations, sports and art.

Details will be published in a paper, titled "The Role of Mentorship on Protégé Performance," in the June 3 issue of the journal Nature.

"The results are striking in reminding us of the limits of human effort," said co-author Luís Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering. "Mathematicians later in their careers should not be training graduate students -- it appears to be counterproductive. Older and overstretched mentors may be too far removed from their young protégés` experience to train them effectively. There is a disconnect."



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