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The role of mentorship in protégé performance



The role of mentorship in protégé performance is a matter of importance to academic, business and governmental organizations. Although the benefits of mentorship for protégés, mentors and their organizations are apparent1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, the extent to which protégés mimic their mentors’ career choices and acquire their mentorship skills is unclear10,11,12,13,14,15,16. The importance of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce to economic growth and the role of effective mentorship in maintaining a ‘healthy’ such workforce demand the study of the role of mentorship in academia. Here we investigate one aspect of mentor emulation by studying mentorship fecundity—the number of protégés a mentor trains—using data from the Mathematics Genealogy Project17, which tracks the mentorship record of thousands of mathematicians over several centuries. We demonstrate that fecundity among academic mathematicians is correlated with other measures of academic success. We also find that the average fecundity of mentors remains stable over 60 years of recorded mentorship. We further discover three significant correlations in mentorship fecundity. First, mentors with low mentorship fecundities train protégés that go on to have mentorship fecundities 37% higher than expected. Second, in the first third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 29% higher than expected. Finally, in the last third of their careers, mentors with high fecundities train protégés that go on to have fecundities 31% lower than expected.

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Figure 1: Relationship between mentorship fecundity and other performance metrics.
Figure 2: Evolution of the fecundity distribution.
Figure 3: Branching process null models.
Figure 4: Effect of age difference between mentor and protégé, t c  −  t p , on protégé fecundity.


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We thank R. Guimerà, P. McMullen, A. Pah, M. Sales-Pardo, E. N. Sawardecker, D. B. Stouffer and M. J. Stringer for comments and suggestions. L.A.N.A. gratefully acknowledges the support of US National Science Foundation awards SBE 0830388 and IIS 0838564. All figures were generated using PYGRACE ( with colour schemes from ColorBrewer 2.0 (

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R.D.M. analyzed data, designed the study and wrote the paper. J.M.O. and L.A.N.A. designed the study and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Julio M. Ottino or Luís A. Nunes Amaral.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Malmgren, R., Ottino, J. & Nunes Amaral, L. The role of mentorship in protégé performance. Nature 465, 622–626 (2010).

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