Changing the Mentorship Paradigm Survey Data and Interpretations from Forensic Anthropology Practitioners

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Allysha Powanda Winburn
Sean D. Tallman
Audrey L. Scott
Cate E. Bird


Mentorship can be defined as the person-to-person transmission of knowledge in a domain where one person has more experience than the other. Formal mentorship programs and awards have recently been implemented in the field of forensic anthropology, but the attitudes of forensic anthropologists toward mentors, protégés, and mentorship experiences have not been systematically explored. This study surveyed a sample of 123 forensic anthropology practitioners and students via 23 multiple-choice and 12 open-answer questions regarding their demographic information, opinions about mentorship, and experiences as both mentors and protégés. Results indicated that forensic anthropologists value both traditional, “top-down” mentorship interactions and “horizontal” peer-to-peer relationships with multiple mentors. Respondents emphasized the career and professionalism advice they received from their mentors, though some wished for additional guidance in social interactions and social issues. Demographic data were consistent with recent research highlighting the problematic homogeneity of the field, particularly in terms of social race. Based on the survey responses, a proposed consensus definition of forensic anthropology mentorship involves professional and personal guidance by a mentor who imparts discipline-specific, experiential knowledge, advice, and support in a way that allows a protégé to develop both professionally and personally. To enable that development in both ourselves and our colleagues—and to increase diversity and retention within our field—we recommend participation in a formal mentorship program specific to the discipline of forensic anthropology.

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