Dr Hester Franks, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Medical Oncology, is one of the Academy's mentees with a long-distance mentor, with 280 miles between them. We asked her to share some thoughts on her long-distance mentoring relationship.
As soon as I heard about the Academy of Medical Sciences Mentoring programme, I wanted to join.
I knew that an independent person to talk things through with would be invaluable. I was clear about the type of person I was looking for; a female clinical academic who had achieved success at the same time as having a family. I am not someone who can completely sacrifice their home life for their work and I believe that a good work-life balance actually makes me a better scientist and clinician. My research is laboratory-based, so I also wanted someone leading a laboratory-based research group as this brings specific challenges as a clinical academic. With those criteria (female, family, clinical academic, laboratory-based) I created a shortlist from the online profiles. Geography was not a factor. I decided that finding the right mentor and overcoming any long-distance mentoring challenges was preferable to selecting someone closer to home who did not fit all the criteria I was seeking.
By road, it is about 280 miles between us. So far, we have had two Skype meetings and two meetings in person. For the first meeting, I managed to coordinate visiting friends in the same city, but the second had to be a day trip due to the logistical challenges of a medic husband and small children. There are direct flights from a nearby airport to one in her city. Without this (or a direct train service), the distance would be more difficult as I would not get as much work done en route and would have a lot more ‘wasted’ time spent travelling for each meeting. It is amazing how productive you can be when no one is interrupting you!
One positive which I had not anticipated is that the journey home gives me some time out to reflect on our discussion, and I find that really valuable to fully consider the options my mentor has suggested to me. I think I actually get more out of the mentoring sessions by having to travel a significant distance, rather than diving straight back into my (always busy) working day.
The main challenge has been scheduling our meetings- we are both very busy, I work part time (so have no childcare on my days off) and due to the distance, I either need two free consecutive days or one long day when I can guarantee that my husband can both drop off and pick up the children.
Mentoring so far has helped me to feel confident in the decisions I am making, and my mentor has also suggested different options and avenues that I had not considered.
I have absolutely no regrets about choosing a mentor so far away from me geographically. I trust and value her opinion, as someone who has achieved the things I aspire to in my career. I am looking forward to our ongoing mentoring relationship and am sure it will continue to be as beneficial as it has already been.
Dr Hester Franks, Academy Mentee