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This is a guest post from Elizabeth Adams who manages researcher development opportunities for early-career researchers at the University of Glasgow, from postgraduate research students to academic staff. Elizabeth previously worked for the Royal Society of Chemistry and has a PhD in polymer chemistry.


Working out of a central office in the University, I often feel a conflict between thinking about the individual PhD experience and about the systems and processes to ensure consistency for all of our 2,400 PGRs. Is there a place for central support or ‘community-building’ activity or should we focus our efforts on the policy? 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)

Thesis Mentoring Overview.png

Research Staff Mentoring Overview (click to get PDF)

Research Staff Mentoring Overview.png

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.

conversationRecently I organised a development event which saw an external facilitator come to Sheffield to share his knowledge on the relationship between researchers and the media. It promised many valuable outcomes for the researchers attending; they would create a press release, gain practical experience of undertaking an interview with a journalist and receive personal feedback on their performance. Everyone who attended told me what a great opportunity this was and that they were so glad that they had made the time to participate. But what struck me more was what happened after the event had ended.

When I arrived at the room to catch up with the facilitator before he left for home, rather than the empty room I was expecting, a few people still remained. They were talking, not just about the content of the workshop and what they were going to do next, but about their current situation; whether they wanted to stay in academia, how they were struggling with having handed in their thesis and what to do next, what coping mechanisms they had in place to deal with their workload and how they managed to have some sort of work-life balance. One participant was incredibly honest and shared their feelings of shock at the transition from Post Graduate Researcher to Post-Doctoral Researcher.

The event facilitator was providing reassurance that these feelings were ‘normal’ and the members of this small group were eager to further explore the situations that each had presented. These people had never met before that day and had clearly built up a level of trust and confidence throughout the workshop which enabled them to share, challenge and offer support to each other. They advised each other of further opportunities that could be beneficial (including those offered through the Think Ahead framework), and contact details were exchanged, along with the promise to share links to articles, websites and blogs and keep updated with each other’s progress.

cupcakeWe all hear about the importance of networking during development events and conferences. I always thought that this meant being engaging, attempting to maintain an air of professionalism whilst shovelling a double choc-chip muffin into your mouth during refreshment breaks, and going home with a whole host of contacts who you might call upon in the future. It never entered my head that making a commitment to fully engage with a development opportunity and fellow participants could have a whole additional outcome to the objectives advertised on the event specification and open up a whole network of peers who are willing to provide support, share their experiences and take a genuine interest in you and your career.

In case you haven’t seen it, this (2014) paper reviews the current needs of researchers in a changing landscape, and presents a case for shared discussion space for exactly this reason. It recommends that all modern doctoral training workplaces should make discussion spaces like this available.

The next time I’m at an event I won’t be in such a hurry to leave in time to catch the next bus home.

To talk more about what matters to you, and make sure the Researcher Professional Development team know what’s on your mind… please visit our ‘talk to us’ page.

Dialogue Image Credit | Cupcake Image Credit

Hancock, Sally, and Elaine Walsh. 'Beyond Knowledge And Skills: Rethinking The Development Of Professional Identity During The STEM Doctorate'. Studies in Higher Education (2014): 1-14.