Mentoring: what does it add?

Picking up on a few highlights from Vitae’s recent Google Hangout on mentoring, this post considers mentoring in the context of UoB PhD students.

Mentoring uses a conversational approach to help an individual clarify their goals and/or improve their self-awareness, skills or knowledge.

From May to July this year, Vitae has a “Focus on” mentoring and coaching for researchers.  They say:

Interviews with research and academic leaders revealed having a mentor to be one of the most important forms of support to prepare early career researchers for the challenges of research independence and leadership.

Among other activities, Vitae held a Google Hangout on 16th June, with a panel exploring mentoring and coaching relationships and the support and structures in institutions that can help.  Here are a couple of highlights:

  • What sort of things can mentors help with?
    Key issues that come up regularly in academic mentoring are:  writing; productivity; career planning; and public engagement.
  • What is the difference between your supervisor and a mentor?
    Your supervisor has a vested interest in the research you are carrying out, whereas your mentor is all about you.  Your mentor is therefore “on your side” and can help you work through issues which may impact on your research from a neutral position.  It can help to have clear agreements with both your supervisor and mentor as to what the expectations and boundaries are for both relationships.
  • What makes a good mentee?
    You can get the most out of a mentoring relationship by being active within the relationship, turning up to meetings that you have arranged, and doing what you say you will.

A mentor is therefore a great resource that you can use to explore issues, help you break down bigger problems into smaller chunks, increase your understanding of the academic/research context, and find solutions that you already have within you.  Crucially, this is all in a neutral, confidential environment.

Every postgraduate researcher at the University of Birmingham should be provided with a lead supervisor, co-supervisor and a mentor, and their roles are broadly defined in the Guide to Supervisor/PGR roles and responsibilities (PDF).  That document states:

The mentor should be responsible for undertaking duties similar to those of a personal tutor for undergraduates, i.e. pastoral support. … Discussions between the mentor and postgraduate researcher will remain confidential if the postgraduate researcher so wishes.

Being automatically allocated a mentor is an important opportunity for you to start taking advantage of the benefits of mentoring, so if you aren’t already meeting your mentor regularly, now is the time to start.  Remember that a mentoring relationship is driven by the mentee (you!) so it’s up to you to organise meetings and decide on the topics discussed.  Top tip:  good mentoring relationships begin with a frank discussion between mentor and mentee about expectations and boundaries.

To find out more about mentoring:

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Helen Kara

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