recruit yourself a thesis mentor

I’ve had a lot of positive responses to my recent post on how to find yourself a mentor. So I thought I’d put one out there for the Thesis Writers too.

find yourself a mentor!.png

A thesis mentor is any neutral third party who is prepared to spend some focused time with you, helping to unpick what needs to be done, how you are doing, where you are stuck and how to move forward again.

There are pay-for mentoring and coaching services for PhD student that you can find through internet searches, but beware! As with ‘Thesis Proof-reading service’ webpages there are a lot of ‘Thesis Coaching service’ sites that are actually ‘Thesis writing services’. If someone else writes any of your thesis for you, that is considered to be a form of academic cheating, and your PhD candidacy can be revoked without you receiving your qualification. Steer clear!

In my opinion, a good choice for a thesis mentor is a post-doctoral researcher, not too close to your research area. Choosing someone who is a step removed from your field helps you resist the temptation to talk about your mutual love (or hate) of the research topic, rather than sticking firmly to your writing habits patterns and progress.

Having support for both project work (supervisor) and writing habits and rhythm (mentor) creates a complementary approach, and helps also to avoid receiving conflicting messages from your mentor and from your supervisor. Many post-docs are very skilled in teaching and supporting learning. Plus they will very likely need to evidence student-support, and mentoring experience on their CVs, or for their professional development, so this has benefits for the mentor too. You bring the coffee and, they bring the support.

Again, if there’s no obvious mentor in your direct vicinity, try getting a recommendation from your Dept PGR administrator, or from Researcher Training and Development colleagues, who tend to know a lot of research staff, and others who have. Once you have identified a potential, write to them and let them know exactly what you are looking for, what you’d need from them, and why you have chosen them. An email text you could adapt is below:

Dear [mentor of choice],

My name is [name], I am a student with [supervisor] and I am writing my thesis currently, my deadline is [deadline].

Our colleague [name] has suggested you as / I though you might be a person who would be good at, and could be interested in, doing some ‘thesis mentoring’ work with me over the next few weeks. I thought I’d approach you to see if you are interested and tell you a bit more about what I am looking for.

I foresee mentoring being for about an hour every fortnight, and giving me the benefit of checking in, being accountable for my progress, and setting myself some targets for my writing.

I am not looking for any specialist advice, or for you to know all the answers, or for a replacement supervisor. I would like a mentor who simply listens to me talk through what I am planning to do, so I can put together a plan of action that works for me. Of course sharing any tips you have from your own experience would be welcome. I would not expect you to proofread my work, or guide me on the content of my thesis.

What do you think? Could we meet in [a public place] / chat on the phone / Skype and see if this is something that we’d like to do?

With thanks

[your name]

Please, please, be respectful if they say no. Early career staff, particularly women, are often asked to do this kind of ‘gift labour’ i.e. unpaid extra work and it’s OK for them to say no if they choose to. 

Once you have recruited a person to be your mentor, choose a public space to meet, to ensure both of your personal safety. Some essential things to talk over and agree in your first conversation are:

  • What is the focus of the sessions? i.e. what are your main objectives for writing?
  • How long will the mentoring last? A trial period? Followed by how many mentoring sessions?
  • Confidentiality? Do you expect the mentor to keep what you tell them confidential? And do they expect you to reciprocate that confidentiality?
  • Who is responsible for keeping in touch, booking in the next meeting, and managing the partnership. I strongly suggest that you as the mentee should take on this responsibility.

Help your mentor to get it right for you by giving them some feedback. Let them know what was useful and why, what you have tried out or plan to do differently, and what you want to work on next time.

Here is a post on expanding the mentor repertoire beyond advice, if needed, you can share this with your mentor for their skills development.

Remember, you can leave the mentoring partnership if it’s not what you want. Simply thank them, genuinely, for their input. Name something you have achieved as a result of meeting with them. And advise them you are now stepping back to maximise your remaining writing time.

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