Directed Field Study – Week 3

Time spent this week: Approximately 6 hours. My total time spent is now approximately 15 hours over the last three weeks.

Activities this week: I got started reading the research literature on sponsorship (3 articles read; 2 to go), picked up the book Forget a Mentor, Get a Sponsor from interlibrary loan, and started working on notes from articles using a Google Sheet [LINK]. I have shared this sheet with my mentor so that we have a shared knowledgebase for moving forward – these notes and quotations will become grist for our workshop. Note that I was at the National Spelling Bee most of this week (my daughter was #132!) and so did not have a meeting with my mentor.

Skill development this week: I don’t know that I learned all that much new about my topic this week from the readings. The popular literature that I went through last week was largely reporting on several whitepapers and HBR reports/documents that I’ve not been able to secure because of my travels this week. I finished reading three more scholarly articles, which were interesting. One was a longer version of one of the short trade articles I’d read the week before, so while it went into more detail it didn’t really add a lot of content (but did depress me; one concern about cross-gender sponsorship and mentorship is that people are afraid of being accused of having an affair). The other two were very interesting for different reasons, so I’ll make some notes here as well as brief reflections on where they’re leading me.

Citation: Curtin, N., Malley, J., & Stewart, A. J. (2016) Mentoring the next generation of faculty: Supporting academic career aspirations among doctoral students. Research in Higher Education, 57, 714-738. doi: 10.1007/s11162-015-9403-x

Curtin, Malley, and Stewart (2016) studied doctoral students (in this case, PhD) in several disciplines to see if there was a connection between various forms of mentoring (including sponsorship as well as career/instrumental mentoring and expressive/psychosocial mentoring) and career efficacy and career interest (in this case, of becoming an academician). This was done using a survey and scale based on some other research into mentoring in academics. In the study, sponsorship and interest in an academic career were significantly linked, and sponsorship predicted career self-efficacy as well (career self-efficacy in turn also predicted interest in academia). In addition, the researchers found a significant relationship between reported sponsorship relationships and interest in an academic career among non-under-represented minority (URM) women, and URM men, but not for non-URM men or URM women (this last possibly because the sample was too small for statistical power). The other forms followed this pattern as well, to varying degrees by type and population. These findings suggest that “sponsorship may matter least for non-URM men, and more for the other groups” (p. 730). However, women in the study were less likely to report a sponsoring relationship with their primary advisor than men were. This was also the case for instrumental mentoring on practical aspects of research process. The authors note that other studies have found that advisors may not consider sponsorship as part of their expected duties with regards to their graduate advisees, but this does not account for a gender-based difference in reported incidence of sponsorship. The authors recommend advisors be trained in mentoring behaviors and be expected to provide them with equity.

This article was interesting to me as a doctoral student, but is relevant to my work because it found no significant difference by field of study and so is applicable across disciplines. I also am interested because it suggests that sponsorship across categories (faculty vs. student) is beneficial, and it is beneficial not just for getting people into a higher position but for supporting their self-efficacy that they can and want to be in that position.

Citation: Sexton, D. W., Lemak, C. H., & Wainio, J. A. (2014). Career inflection points of women who successfully achieved the hospital CEO position. Journal of Healthcare Management, 59(5), 367-383.

In this article, the authors held semistructured interviews with female CEOs and COOs of US hospitals to gather self-reported “inflection points” during their careers, and to examine patterns for what kinds of points those were and how they affected the women. They found five categories of inflection: education and training (including original and second degree, and fellowships or residencies), experience, career management (particularly formal career planning), networking, and mentorship and sponsorship. Interestingly, this population split into two cohorts; one cohort were traditional healthcare management MS holders, and the other had either started in clinical professions (with an MD, PharmD, or one of the many nursing degrees) or in an administrative support area (such as accounting or IT). The paths that these two groups took tended to diverge in the education/training, experience, and mentoring/sponsoring facets. The healthcare management folks tended to have been mentored/sponsored by the COO or CEO at their previous hospital, even at mid-career, while the clinical and administrative services professionals tended to be mentored/sponsored by the chief of their division (such as the Chief Nursing Officer or Chief Information Officer) before moving to a COO position and then being mentored/sponsored by the CEO. This group also reported an inflection point being a professional bias against non-healthcare management professionals in the COO/CEO role that led them to move to a different hospital to take on those roles.

This is a very interesting finding to me, as I can see a similar division in academics regarding the path to university provost, albeit possibly reversed. JMU recently held a national search for a new provost (our current beloved Dr Benson is retiring at the end of this month), during which it became clear to me that the traditional path to provost involves being an academic dean first. Since it’s unlikely that I’ll be an academic dean (unless my path takes a real turn and I go head up an iSchool somewhere), I’m clearly on a harder path similar to that of the administrative support professionals. This article suggests that although I can perhaps lean on the sponsorship of my dean (of libraries & educational technologies), what I really need is one of the academic deans to support me in this way, and I may need to leave JMU to get credibility in the vice provost ranks as something other than a librarian. That’s very interesting, if true.

I’m not sure that either of these are all that helpful for the purposes of creating a workshop on sponsorship for non-faculty leaders at JMU (my ostensible project this summer), but they are interesting in terms of presenting some of the existing actual research on sponsorship and its role from both sides of a career. I have two more research papers to read, plus the book, and I also need to track down the reports that everyone is citing. Still miles to go before I sleep!


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