Last week we ran the first mentoring event for research staff – a lunchtime workshop exploring the role that mentoring might play in planning and developing an academic career. Dr. Gemma Muckle (EPS Researcher Development Officer) explored what mentoring is, outlined what it can and cannot achieve and explained some of the different approaches to mentoring. Prof. Katharine Perera (Advisor to the Women in Leadership Programme) explained how mentoring has been used in that programme to help some of Manchester’s female senior lecturers to advance their careers, and Prof. John Helliwell (Chemistry) explained how the Manchester Gold scheme works, and how it can help early and mid-career researchers.
Although the main focus of the session was on what research staff can gain from being mentored, we also talked a bit about how mentoring others can develop the kind of skills that are useful in a whole range of academic and non-academic roles. The skills for being a successful mentor are, perhaps, more diverse than one might imagine and can encompass teaching, communication, listening and prioritisation skills. Mentors often have to be able to challenge assumptions, motivate, give effective feedback, help to set realistic goals, prompt reflection and offer alternative perspectives – all complex interpersonal skills which are essential to working with and persuading others, and to leadership roles.
However, many academics and researchers underestimate the impact that mentoring can have in helping them to establish and further their careers. In a recent ‘Tomorrow’s Professor’ blog post, the importance of good interpersonal skills and effective mentoring for advancement in an academic career is made clear: “Advisors, Committee Members, Departmental Chairs, Colleagues, Collaborators, Peers, Deans, University Staff, Advisees, your own Students – over the course of your academic career you will interact with people in many different roles with many different agendas [....] How well you get along with these people and whether you impress them favorably, often makes the difference between success and failure”. The post recognises that the quality of your research (evidenced mainly through publications) is also undeniably important, but that how you work and communicate with others is also key to getting you that elusive job and ensuring that you keep it!
In addition to helping you to hone these important skills in a real situation (rather than through, say, workshops or role plays), mentoring also has other advantages that can make it a great tool for academic career development. For instance, mentoring necessarily offers the kind of individualised development that is impossible to achieve through workshops and seminars. You have the chance to focus on your particular needs at times that suit you (and your mentor), and the relationship can last as long as is necessary or convenient. In an environment where it’s important who you know as well as what you know, mentoring also provides a great opportunity to network, get to know people outside of your immediate context and to learn about how different parts of the University work.
If you’re interested in mentoring (as a mentor or mentee), there are a number of mentoring opportunities within the University, including Manchester Gold (Staff) and the micro-mentoring scheme for Research Staff. However, you could also approach a potential mentor yourself and ask him/her if they have a bit of time to spare. The document below contains some top tips for helping to ensure that your mentoring relationship is as successful as possible:
If you’re particularly interested in becoming a mentor, or in beginning to develop some of the skills that mentoring can give you, you might also be interested in the forthcoming 2-day ‘Skills for Mentors and Managers’ course, which is open to academic and research staff from across the University. There are still a couple of places left so book soon at: http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/humnet/acaserv/pgresearch/training/researchdev/course/index.htm?id=447
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