Imbalance shows the challenges of mentoring early-career researchers, including the imbalances in power and gender that can be found in science and engineering environments. The vignette was developed based on input from students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, and staff and was first presented on May 11, 2018 at Caltech’s Conference on Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers sponsored by the Office of Student-Faculty Programs.

Mentoring is a key part of the scientific research environment. Effective mentoring can help students not only learn important technical and research skills but also help them develop a scientific identity [National Academies report on mentoring]. When viewed from the perspective of the mentee, mentors can hold extraordinary power in directing a mentee’s research program or in influencing their career. Mentors also have an important role that can help mitigate the impact of bias and ensure an environment in which research can flourish.

In an environment characterized by power and gender imbalances, the 2018 report by the National Academies advocates for “diffusing the power” by encouraging mentoring networks, committee-based advising, and departmental ombudspersons. As you watch this vignette consider potential power imbalances in your own lab or classroom environment. Think about doing a self-assessment of risk factors in your own work group.

Start a Dialogue

  • What risk factors for harassment can be found in this vignette?
  • How can you reduce or mitigate the risk factors found in Imbalance?
  • What is the role of the graduate students and postdocs in mentoring junior researchers? What is the responsibility of the faculty member or lab manager?
  • How do you define boundaries between coworkers, supervisor, and friends in research environments? What does it mean to be a “lab family”?
  • Consider the decision tree for potential intervention in harassment. If you were a participant in the Imbalance conversation, how and at what point would you respond? And what would you say? Would it be better to respond during the conversation, or are their steps that you would consider taking after the conversation?


Download Available: .pdf | .docx

Imbalance Team Members

Catriona Blunt, graduate student in chemistry
Kimberley Mac Donald, graduate student in mechanical engineering
Tara Mastro, postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering
Andrew Robbins, graduate student in materials science