One-to-one support for Research Staff: Coaching or Mentoring?

In addition to attending training and development workshops, many research staff might also benefit from some more tailored, one-to-one support when developing and planning their careers. However, it’s often not easy to understand what kind of support you might need, or what options you have.

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One of the more common forms of individual support that is offered to staff is mentoring, and at Manchester this might be offered by your School or department when you come into a new post. However, you are also free to arrange your own mentor, either through a formal scheme like Manchester Gold (http://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/employment/training/personal-development/groups-networking-mentoring/mentoring/manchestergold/), or informally by identifying and approaching someone who you think may be willing and able to offer you the advice that you might need.

In general, mentoring is intended to give you access to a more experienced person who is able to offer you insight and advice. However, it is important to remember that different people will have different kinds of knowledge and expertise. For instance, a more experienced member of staff in your department should be able to advise you on things like where (and how) to get published, which conferences you should try to present at and perhaps even give you an insight into how the department is managed and run. However, you might find that different issues (like managing work-life balance or issues relating to fixed-term working) are better addressed by colleagues who are at a similar career stage and facing the same kinds of challenges and issues that you’re facing – so you shouldn’t always assume that an effective mentor has to be a senior member of your School.

You may even find that a reciprocal mentoring arrangement might work for you if you can find the right colleague to work with. Such a ‘co-mentoring’ arrangement might work well as long as you’re both clear on what you can offer as well as what you want to gain from your mentoring (and it allows you the additional opportunity to refine your mentoring skills at the same time as getting the help that you need).

Whoever you approach to be your mentor, you should be clear that, while the person is supposed to be offering you the benefit of their greater experience, s/he will not tell you what to do – you’ll be given an insight into what your mentor did under similar circumstances or suggestions for what s/he might do in your current situation, but it is ultimately up to you to decide what to do.

If you think that you don’t necessarily need advice, but rather need someone to help you to talk through a barrier, challenge or decision that you’re facing, it may be that you need a coach rather than a mentor. Unlike a mentor, a coach is not necessarily familiar with or experienced in the area that you want to discuss, but s/he is usually trained in coaching techniques (some mentors are also trained in mentoring, although this is not necessarily the case – greater experience is often seen as enough to qualify someone to be a mentor). This is because coaches will rarely offer you advice and, like mentors, will certainly not tell you what you should do. Rather, a coach will help you to clarify your thinking, explore your issue and its various solutions from a range of angles, and thereby help you to decide on a course of action to move things forward. Manchester now has a cohort of trained coaches who all have an externally accredited coaching qualification, so you will be able to find a potential coach by contacting the Staff Training and Development Unit, or the Humanities Faculty Researcher Development Team (humanities-training@manchester.ac.uk).

 

So, if you’re having trouble moving your career forward, or aren’t really sure what ‘forward’ looks like for you, it may be worth trying to find yourself a coach or mentor who can give you some individualised support to make progress.

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