Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Doctoral Advisement Relationships between Women: On Friendship and Betrayal

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Doctoral Advisement Relationships between Women: On Friendship and Betrayal

Article excerpt

Introduction

Because women are relative newcomers to higher education [13], the nature of mentoring relationships between women in academe is "uncharted territory" [20]. The doctoral advisement relationship lends itself both to the potential for mentoring and to empirical study. This article reviews the findings of a phenomenological study that explored twenty-two womens' relationships with dissertation committee advisors. Although the mentoring literature suggests that advisory relationships can resemble earlier relationships with parental figures [7, 30, 31], this was the first educational study that explicitly asked participants if there were similarities in their relationships with advisors and parents. A number of women in this study told stories that revealed how they unconsciously transferred, for better or worse, aspects of their earliest relationships with mothering figures to their relationships with women dissertation committee members. The phenomena of professional friendship and silent betrayal surfaced as these women's recollections of relationships with advisors were compared with their memories of relationships with parental figures. Given that women advisees in this study were unconscious of the similarities between mothering and advisement relationships and that replication of mothering relationships distorted and sometimes impeded the task and/or the interpersonal dimensions of these advisory relationships, this line of inquiry suggested that advisors and advisees need to become aware of the powerful psychological forces that can color doctoral advisement relationships between women. The new feminist scholarship that reframes women's psychological development will be reviewed to illuminate the phenomena of professional friendships and silent betrayal and suggest ways to foster mentoring and transform nonmentoring advisement relationships between women.

Related Literature

Although women are graduating from doctoral programs in education in increasing numbers, little is known about women doctoral students' experiences [9, 24, 45], and even less is understood about doctoral advisory relationships between women. These relationships have been difficult to study given the fact that female professors on most doctoral faculties remain fewer in number and lower in rank than male professors [1, 6, 27, 37, 43]. Because gender and power continue to be inextricably linked in higher education [12], women doctoral students are more likely to choose male professors with higher ranks and salaries, more power, influence, and professional connections than female professors as dissertation committee members.

Because much of the mentoring literature in both business and education focuses on male mentors, there is little information available regarding female mentors and the implications of women advisees having women advisors is poorly understood [20, 28]. In the few studies of female mentors in business, the numbers of women represented in samples are small, for example, Kram's sample included only one female mentor-mentee pair out of a sample of eighteen pairs [28]. To complicate matters further, the findings of these studies are often contradictory. While most educational researchers say that female mentors are helpful to women's professional development in academic settings [4, 28, 37], Carter's research did not support this [9]. In studies of graduate students, several researchers [4, 9,19] found that women advisees rated relational dimensions more important than male advisors. Whereas some researchers noted that women advisors are less likely to initiate mentoring relationships, are less directive [32], and weight personal concerns over professional concerns [8,35], other studies indicated that behavioral patterns in mentoring relationships did not vary by gender [2, 9].

In view of the increasing number of women students and professors on doctoral faculties [7], general agreement that the advisement relationship is a crucial element in doctoral education, and the conflicting findings of the few studies that explored advisory relationships between women, this literature review supported the need to study the nature of women advisees' relationships with female advisors. …

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