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The relationship between mentor support experiences and STEM graduate student career optimism

Kristine J. Olson (Psychology, Dixie State University, St George, Utah, USA)
Ann Hergatt Huffman (Psychological Sciences and WA Franke College of Business, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA)
Kaylee Litson (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 18 January 2021




Using social cognitive career theory in tandem with gender role theory, the current research examines how instrumental and socioemotional mentor support experiences are linked to mentee career optimism among a sample of STEM graduate students. More specifically, this study examines how self-efficacy and school satisfaction mediate the relationship dependent on the gender of the student as well as the gender of the mentor.


A total of N = 828 (n = 408 women, n = 420 men) graduate students enrolled in one of 119 public STEM graduate programs in the USA participated in an online survey.


Results suggest that student gender did not moderate the proposed mediation model. However, the instrumental support experiences → self-efficacy → career optimism mediation relationship was moderated by mentor gender with female mentors strengthening the relationship between mentor support experiences and optimism. Finally, same-gender mentor–student dyads experience consistency of school satisfaction regardless of instrumental mentor support experiences compared to the heterogeneous gender mentor–student dyads where school satisfaction is positively associated with mentor instrumental support.


This study expands Lent et al.'s (2015) social cognitive career model by providing an analysis of independent parallel mediation paths to examine the direct link between mentor support experiences and career optimism through self-efficacy and school satisfaction. Based on the findings, graduate programs should emphasize the importance of mentor support experiences and help graduate faculty explore how they can best provide mentor experiences to their mentees.



Olson, K.J., Huffman, A.H. and Litson, K. (2021), "The relationship between mentor support experiences and STEM graduate student career optimism", Career Development International, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 44-64.



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