What was the impetus for testing this particular hypothesis?
"We wanted to shed light on the importance of fair treatment on pathways to organizations, as previous research has focused primarily on studying discrimination and bias at gateways (e.g., in admissions/hiring/promotion decisions). So much of success depends on the encouragement we receive along pathways rather than fair treatment at gateways that we wanted to explore how interactions occur along informal pathways."
You walked in hypothesizing that discrimination would exist. Were you surprised by the degree of it?
"We were truly shocked by the extremity of the bias, particularly against Asian students. [Ed Note: Chinese female names saw the highest rate of discrimination as compared to white male names, with a 29% gap at private institutions and a 17% gap at public institutions.] We hoped to see that at least some of the groups in our study no longer experienced bias in the academy and were disappointed that bias seems to be so prevalent for all of the minority groups studied, and that it is present in nearly every single discipline."
Any bright spots?
"We did see, at least, that in the Humanities, bias seems to be essentially negligent; so that was the one bit of good news."
What has your personal experience been, with mentorship in your academic life? How do you think your career might have been different without it?
"In the academy, mentorship is truly everything. I have been incredibly lucky to find extraordinary mentors on every step of my journey, and they have been largely white males in my case. I can’t imagine a path to success in this field without a strong mentor — recommendations, feedback, and encouragement are truly prerequisites for advancement as a scholar. That is why my co-authors and I thought studying the support prospective students receive from prospective mentors was so important."
The professors you reached out to spanned both men and women across all of the ethnicities you mentioned, correct? Did women show bias in the same percentages as men?
"Absolutely — the professors in our study were a very diverse set. There were male and female professors in our study, and in fact, we oversampled minority faculty so they would be well-represented in our study pool. Unfortunately, female faculty were just as biased against female students as male faculty. In addition, minority faculty were just as biased against minority students as Caucasian faculty (with the notable exception of Chinese faculty, who exhibited less bias against Chinese students than others)."
What do we need to look at next? What follow-up do you want to do to get a better feel for this nuanced problem?
"There are so many open questions that it’s difficult to know exactly which one is the most critical to tackle next! I think it would be interesting to explore bias against an even more diverse group of students (e.g., students of Middle Eastern descent, students whose names signal they are Jewish, students of Asian heritage with Americanized first names). And, I think it would be interesting to explore whether bias could be reduced by providing even more information about a student’s qualifications (e.g., a detailed CV showing the student was at the top of their class at a top university). It would also be interesting to look at bias at a sample of universities outside of the U.S."