WCIS Committee Responds to Recently Published Article

December 8, 2020

Dear Colleagues of CIS,


As many of you are aware, a recent publication (AlShebli et al. Nat Comm 2020) has led to discussion of how the gender of mentors and mentees might affect career outcomes. Our goal is not to focus on the paper itself; others have done a thorough job of raising methodological concerns, questioning whether the conclusions were supported by their data, and noting several gender-specific issues that were not addressed. Rather, we see this as an opportunity to highlight the measures which CIS has implemented to promote academic career development of all of our trainees, practitioners and mentors, and to encourage others to join us in our efforts.


Mentoring cultures at academic institutions have the potential to transform careers and lead to long-term work satisfaction and retention (DeCastro 2014). However, implementing mentorship initiatives requires significant skill and knowledge on the part of those facilitating such an effort. In mentorship pairs, women are found to prefer equalizing governance and more readily respond to collaboration and group affiliation rather than individual achievement (Mayer 2008). Additionally, peer mentorships can often lead to collaborations with fewer formal associations (Gibson 2006). As such, the Women in Clinical Immunology Sciences (WCIS) group has worked to make connections between members by creating awareness of the issues within our own specialty and by offering a supportive space to have discussions. We have highlighted our Women Pioneers in Immunology who continue to serve as mentors for many of us, both informally as well as formally, through the CIS Mentorship program. Finally, we have utilized both men and women mentors within our organization in education sessions to help us develop our necessary leadership skills.


While mentorship is essential for career development, advancement in one’s career can truly be facilitated by Sponsorship, a different concept from mentorship. Distinct from the advisory role of a mentor, sponsorship requires using influence to provide high-profile opportunities which can lead to career success (Ayyala 2019). This has been shown to be influenced by gender, in that women in academics were noted to have fewer sponsorship opportunities and experiences (Patton 2017). To this end, WCIS, in partnership with the Early Career Immunologists (ECI), launched the updated Find an Immunologist database to help facilitate sponsorship of all members and to highlight them for roles in Scientific Boards, Chairs of committees, leadership and editorial positions, and as speakers for conferences and company events. The support of this CIS initiative has lasting benefits which include not only career advancement for all, but may also aid in retention of women in academic specialties.


There is clearly more research needed to identify high-impact interventions to promote the development and advancement of careers of women in the sciences. Support of equity in science is a collaboration and should be undertaken as a goal to improve the quality of all of our work. As we partner with CIS to support each other through this, we lift everyone up in the process.


With Sincerity,

Victoria Dimitriades, MD
WCIS Committee Co-Chair


Sarah Henrickson, MD, PhD
WCIS Committee Co-Chair


Alexandra Freeman, MD
WCIS Member, Councilor


Troy Torgerson, MD, PhD
CIS President








Victoria Dimitriades, MD

WCIS Committee Co-Chair