The Influences of Sex, Gender Identity, and Power on Faculty-Graduate Student Relational Mentoring and its Association with Student Psychological Health

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Gottschall, Shannon




Evidence suggests that university student psychological health problems may be increasing, and graduate students may be at increased risk for problems such as depression relative to the general population. The limited extant research has identified a correlation between relational mentoring characterized by mutual authenticity, engagement, and empowerment, and female undergraduate student psychological health. The current research fills gaps in the mentoring and feminist psychological literatures by examining this correlation in faculty-graduate student mentoring and testing key assumptions
of relational-cultural theory, from which the concept of relational mentoring is derived. Relational-cultural theory assumes: 1) relational mentoring is more important to the psychological health of women than men, and 2) women are more likely than men to adopt a relationship style that would foster relational mentoring. This research was also informed by feminist critiques of these assumptions. Consequently, using a survey of 421 graduate students from various disciplines across Canada, Study 1 examined the association between faculty-graduate student relational mentoring and
psychological health outcomes. Study 1 further tested the moderating effects of student sex, gender identity (i.e., masculine, feminine traits), and the power dynamics of the individual faculty-student relationships. A significant correlation was observed between relational mentoring and positive psychological health (i.e., decreased depressive symptoms, increased self-esteem and life satisfaction). This association was not moderated by student sex, gender identity, or relationship power dynamics. Using an online, experimental design and a sample of 186 undergraduate students, Study 2
examined the effects of sex, gender identity, and a randomly assigned power condition (i.e., high-power faculty mentor versus low-power student) on relationship styles in mentoring. Sex and gender identity influenced mentoring relationship styles (i.e., female participants and those with more feminine traits were associated with greater authenticity, engagement, and empowerment), and a notable interaction emerged. Specifically, sex differences in relationship style were observed in the high-power faculty mentor condition (i.e., female mentors were more authentic, engaged, empowering) but
not the low-power student condition. Collectively, the results provide mixed support for relational-cultural theory. The results may be used to guide faculty-graduate student mentoring practices (e.g., student selection of mentors) to enhance graduate student psychological health.


Psychology - Social




Carleton University

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