The positive influence of undergraduate research and mentoring on student success in STEM fields has been well-established. However, the role that the gender of a research mentor may play in the undergraduate research experience warrants further investigation. This is an especially critical issue to address, since the lack of female role models in STEM fields is acknowledged as an impediment to the success and progress of women pursuing STEM-careers. To evaluate how the gender of undergraduate research mentors influences the research experience of students, we collected and analyzed surveys from undergraduates and alumni who had completed undergraduate research at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. We found that even though students did not select mentors based on gender, there were differences in how students perceived their mentors, depending on the gender of their mentors. Interestingly, students with female mentors were more likely than students with male mentors to report that their research experience had prepared them for a career in science. Further, our gender-pairing analyses revealed that students who expressed that the gender of their mentor had contributed to their relationship with their mentor were more likely to have a female mentor. Our data indicate that female mentors favorably influence the undergraduate research experience of both male and female students. Finally, our study reinforces the conclusions of previous studies demonstrating that undergraduate research and mentoring are beneficial for students. Overall, our findings support that, for students to fully benefit from their undergraduate research experience, undergraduate research opportunities for students should include an equitable representation of female mentors.
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