I teach professional practices in coaching and mentoring* in an education context and have developed some short workshops for academic supervisors and principal investigators that focus on the relational aspects of research leadership and use coaching techniques as the basis for conversations that help people develop their thinking and understanding.
As the build up increases to the Paralympics, Channel 4 have launched a trailer called, ‘We’re the Superhumans’ which is receiving a lot of positive press and has even been described as the “best TV trailer ever”. It is great in so many ways; uplifting, insightful, educational and inspiring, it really shows what people can achieve. But one aspect of it left me feeling very frustrated. Throughout the trailer people are singing, saying or signing the words “yes I can” but at 2 minutes 15 seconds the shot goes to an office with a ‘careers’ sign on the door and a man is his 50s, wearing a grey suit, is talking to a schoolboy who is a wheelchair user and saying, “no you can’t”. It only lasts a couple of seconds and then returns to the previous, positivity but the message is very clear. Careers advisers will tell you what to do, or more likely, what you can’t do, they’ll judge you and will ultimately trample all over your dreams and aspirations. Don’t take my word for it, have a look yourself. But do come back and read the rest of this post! Read the rest of this entry »
Mentoring, is often used to target career progression for academic women — but could furthering this agenda include mentoring men?
I’ve been thinking recently about a mentoring programme which involves senior academic women mentoring more junior academic men. I’ve been considering if and how this could not only provide senior women with coaching and mentoring expertise useful to them in advancing their own careers, but also provide new male academics with the benefits that come from being mentored by women in senior positions. Bear with me…yes there are short term individual benefits to those new lecturers, but more importantly I think there could also be systemic or structural benefits here that in the long term help more women advance into senior positions. Read the rest of this entry »
Often I’m asked what mentoring can actually achieve.“OK, I get that it’s nice” (they say) “But it’s just a chat right? What can talking to someone do that I can’t do on my own?”
Actually a lot. Like bringing in more objectivity, creating bigger picture thinking, supporting creativity in problem solving, spotting unhelpful patterns of thinking or behaviour, benchmarking in new areas of work, hearing yourself think out loud, providing reassurance and sense checking, breaking large tasks into manageable chunks…and actually it helps you carve out time for the things you never get round to if you try to do it on your own.
That’s what I think, but what do the researchers who’ve worked with a mentor think? Below are some posters I’ve recently pulled together that capture overview data from two of the mentoring programmes I designed for researchers: research staff mentoring and thesis mentoring. Take a look, there’s a case study at the end of this post too.
Thesis Mentoring Overview (click to get PDF)
Research Staff Mentoring Overview (click to get PDF)
A mentoring case study | 2015 mentee | male | engineer
I approached the mentoring programme for help to form a career plan and get my work back onto a productive track. The reasons for approaching the mentoring programme for this help were to glean impartial advice from someone outside of my department who had experience in different institutions prior to their time in Sheffield. These were important points for me. It was essential to be able to have frank confidential conversations safe in the knowledge that nothing would reach my department. I also wanted perspectives of working elsewhere in Higher Education to help me consider my future options.
With my mentor, we discussed the wider Higher Education landscape in the UK and the nuances of our faculty in Sheffield. This was a comforting experience, as it helped clarify my opinions for remaining working in Higher Education and where the sector may be heading in the future, with someone more experienced than myself and willing to share their outside opinion. Additionally, I worked with my mentor to form a strategy to maximise my opportunities in Sheffield in the near-term.
Knowing that I’d sanity-checked and agreed a plan with my mentor has encouraged me to abide by it more closely than may have been the case otherwise.
Overall, the mentoring programme has given me more confidence in my approach to working at Sheffield and helped me produce a career plan for the future in the short-term. I feel in a much stronger position for having gone through the scheme and it has made me more content with working in my department.
The scheme has some particularly strong points. I found the fact that mentors as well as mentees had voluntarily entered the scheme a tremendously positive concept, because it meant that both parties wanted to be in the discussion. Having a mentor outside of my department also ensured there was no hidden agenda behind the discussions or fear of any information being used by my department at a later date.
Our early career Research Staff Mentoring programme has been running for 5 years now. Having trained about 150 academic volunteers in mentoring techniques and ethical practice, and having seen more than 500 pairs come through the scheme, I’ve learned a lot about the power of dialogue in supporting planning for research careers. Taking a research-led approach has helped craft a programme of value to the primary learners, the early career researcher mentees. But there’s wider listening to be done to fully embed a mentoring culture across the university – a successful mentoring programme has to align with existing structures and cultures, not circumnavigate them or try to replace them.
During last week, I took part in the delivery of the Sheffield GradSchool (SUGS), a 3-day development programme for PhD students from across the University. For me the most important aspect about the programme, is that it gives PhD researchers the opportunity to ‘pause’, park their PhD for a few days and give them permission to think about themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never been a big one for new year’s resolutions. January is dark, the sparkly Christmas lights have been banished to the loft for another year and the only thing on the horizon is February. Ugh. The only inspiration the new year gives me is to hibernate. Spring, though? Read the rest of this entry »
Guest post from Caitlin Brumby, a PhD researcher in the Dept. of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.
I joined Kay’s PhD leadership coaching course more because it sounded interesting rather than anything else. In hindsight, this may be one of the better places to start from, it gave me pause to think about almost everything discussed, and one train of thought has stuck with me more than the others. Something I thought about more and more throughout the sessions was giving real thought to one nagging worry:
‘Perhaps I’m not the right person for academia in the long term, would I eventually fit in amongst these well respected academics? Me? They know everything!’
I’m one of the masses suffering from the imposter syndrome I suppose, a constant feeling of inadequacy, when actually, looking at the facts and feedback, I’m doing pretty well.
I don’t think I’m the perfect PhD student, in fact, I know I’m not. I get incredibly distracted by the big picture, the elegance of experiments, new techniques on different continents and cool 3D microscopy models. Read the rest of this entry »