Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Unanswered Email

By sending identical emails purporting to be from students wanting to discuss research opportunities before applying to a doctoral program, a trio of social scientists found that faculty were more likely to respond to emails from white men, the Nature News Blog reports.

As the University of Pennsylvania's Katherine Milkman, Modupe Akinola from Columbia University, and Dolly Chugh at New York University write in their paper, which is available at the Social Science Research Network, they sent emails to more than 6,500 tenure-track professors at nearly 260 US universities posing as prospective doctoral wishing to set up a meeting to learn more about research opportunities. The emails, they note, were the same expect for the names, which were randomly assigned and signaled both race and gender.

For every discipline except for fine arts, white men were more likely to receive a response than women and minorities, the trio says. While the biggest gap in response rate was in the business and education fields, the trio notes in the life sciences that 61 percent of emails from women and minorities received a response, while 72 percent of emails from white men did, and in the health sciences 57 percent of emails from women and minorities received a response, while 71 percent of emails from white men did.

The cumulative effect of situations like this could influence the number of women and minorities who go on to careers in academia, the Nature News Blog adds.

"This is a small moment — it's one time someone's reaching out and looking for guidance and encouragement," Milkman tells the Nature News Blog. "But if every time you do this happens to you, that's going to add up."