Clinical psychology students who build a professional relationship with a research mentor during their training are more likely to pursue research opportunities as professionals than those who don't, according to research by psychologist Faith-Anne Dohm, PhD, and her former student Wendy Cummings.
In two separate studies, Dohm and Cummings surveyed clinical psychologists-571 men and 616 women-to determine the impact those mentors had on their career choices. The articles appeared in Men & Masculinity (Vol. 4, No. 2) and Psychology of Women Quarterly (Vol. 26, No. 2).
Nearly 40 percent of female clinical psychologists who were doing research reported having a research mentor in graduate school. On the other hand, only 11 percent of women who did not have a research mentor during training were doing research in their job.
The researchers found a similar trend in men: Nearly 50 percent of male clinical psychologists who were doing research reported having a research mentor in graduate school. However, 17 percent of men who did not have a research mentor were doing research. The gender of the mentor did not significantly influence whether a student eventually went on to do research in their professional career, according to the study.
Participants were most likely to pursue research opportunities as a professional and become research mentors themselves if their mentor had provided them with practical experience and had assigned them high-responsibility research tasks-such as collaboration on writing articles for publication, writing grants or presenting at conventions, the researchers found.
Mentors have a greater influence on students' career direction when they give them "tasks that say 'I'm a junior professional' rather than 'I'm an extra pair of hands,'" says Dohm, a Fairfield University associate psychology professor.
Such responsibility can help students gain a variety of professional experiences too, the researchers found. Mentored research students are more likely to meet experts, present at conventions, write grants and articles for publication, and supervise junior students, according to the study.
Despite these benefits, some students still might shy away from research because they consider it daunting to collect and analyze data, Dohm says. "But mentors should encourage them to face that fear, even if they end up choosing another career path," she says.