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Name: Professor Jane Clarke FRS FMedSci


Institution: University of Cambridge


Connection to the Academy: Fellow and mentor on the SUSTAIN programme


We met Professor Jane Clarke FRS FMedSci from Cambridge University, who mentored on the Academy's first SUSTAIN programme, to ask about her experiences as both mentor and mentee.

Did you have a mentor guiding through you through the first years of your academic career?

Yes, I did. My first mentor was my PhD supervisor, I believe that's how it happens to many people in academia. It is an important role, because if that person is good it can really set you off well. My mentor was Alan Fersht, who really helped me to get started. He took me in as a student and gave me great scientific training, and when he thought I was able to continue unaided, he left me to do so on my own.

I think good mentors know when it's time to let go, to let people walk alone. I know of some supervisors who hold on and almost own the career of their ex-students, but Alan never did that, which was great.


Were you always in agreement with your mentor, were there disagreements on the direction to take?

Well I guess in the beginning yes, because he was the boss, but because of the kind of mentoring that he gave, I think that situation never arose. As I became more competent and confident he backed off. He was never prescriptive, but offered his view and suggested things I might want to do.

I don't think a good mentor should always be directive, I think a good mentor should encourage you to be exploratory, and he fell in that category.


Is mentoring still beneficial to you at this stage of your career?

Yes, but the dynamics change. As you get more senior, your mentors tend to be so too. I think there are three types of mentoring. The one you get from your supervisor, the one you need when you move to independence, and then there is peer mentoring.

When you become a leader, you can still benefit from the latter kind. We had a senior leadership training programme in Cambridge, where I met some very senior women, and we still meet once or twice a year. They are women from academia who have similar experiences to me, who have shared the same ups and downs that I have. These meetings are very valuable - we each bring a problem to the table and discuss it among ourselves.


You are a mentor in the SUSTAIN programme, could you tell us a little bit about your role and what you get out of it?

Well, I am not new to mentoring women, I am a supervisor, which de facto already makes me a mentor. I have done a lot of mentoring within my department and I have also done some peer to peer mentoring. Mentoring is something I really do enjoy. It's one of the things that make science such a great career, as you get to know very bright and clever people and see their careers just blossoming before your eyes. That is an incredibly valuable thing.

The SUSTAIN mentoring is different from what I had come across so far. Mentoring relationships often come from mentors and mentee meeting in the same place, in a similar environment and circumstances. But with SUSTAIN, the introductions are made for you by the Academy, you don't come across each other in your daily life as you would normally do otherwise.

My SUSTAIN mentee and I did not have a relationship beforehand, but thanks to the way the process was set-up, with a speed-mentoring session for all the mentors and mentees to get to know each other, we ended up choosing each other. Apparently there was an overall 95% success rate in the pairing. My mentee knew the process, which allowed us to start off on the right foot, with similar expectations. I think it worked well; the two-year period is up, but we have decided to continue to see each other. I get a great deal out of the relationship as well.


SUSTAIN is designed for women in research. Do you think men and women require different styles of mentoring?

I don't think such differences are dictated by gender, I think there are differences in the way individuals respond to mentoring.

You can usually judge how an individual, especially those you are responsible for, will respond to a given approach. Different personalities need different styles of mentoring, it doesn't have to have anything to do with gender for me.

However, although everybody can benefit from mentoring, gender differences are relevant in the discussion because there is clear evidence that women drop out at crucial stages more often than men, so we need to put more effort into initiatives like SUSTAIN that support them to stay. We need to make sure we maintain and support young women to help them in developing their careers, until we get a critical mass of women in senior research positions.


Do we need more role models or mentors?

Both, and when you are a woman in science who passed a certain point in her career, you automatically become a role model anyway. That's because there are not enough of us.

For example there are a number of impressive senior women in my department, but I am still the only group leader who is a mother. There are more women than men who decide not to have a family while they work on their career in science, so there is a risk that young women will assume that it is not possible to do both together. If young women want to talk to someone that has managed a career in science with a family, they can struggle to find someone else to talk to about things such as work-family balance. So we must endeavour to provide early-mid career researchers with alternative sources of support.

That's why we need more mentors and more role models. We need to ensure that women stay in science, and celebrate diversity in the work place, provide examples of different ways of being successful.

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