Name: Dr Vittal Katikireddi
Institution: University of Glasgow
Connection to the Academy: Mentee
I’ve had a very positive experience with the Academy's Mentoring programme. Being based in Scotland, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the research and practice landscape within England – I therefore sought out a mentor who might be able to share that perspective with me. My mentor is based in South West England and our discussions have been very rewarding and extremely helpful in informing my career choices.
At the start of the mentoring relationship, we had an initial face-to-face meeting which allowed us to get to know each other and set expectations of how the relationship would work. Since then, due to the distance, we have had quarterly Skype conversations as trying to find suitable times to meet face-to-face would have been very challenging. Both my mentor and I have found this works well, although the initial face-to-face meeting was instrumental in helping us reach this point.
Having a mentor based at an external institution who is not a research collaborator has been invaluable. In addition to providing an unbiased external perspective, my mentor has provided reassurance about the direction of my career, as well as helping me to avoid taking on distracting commitments. The long distance between us hasn’t posed any problems thus far as my mentor has always been very approachable and has been happy to be contacted by email in between our scheduled contact dates. Having the opportunity to talk to someone based in a different research context has increased my understanding of some of the driving forces behind UK research strategy too.
If you’re thinking of establishing a long-distance mentoring relationship, I certainly have no hesitations in recommending it. Although I haven’t had any experience of regular face-to-face meetings, distance isn’t a major factor in shaping the success of the relationship; having clear expectations and a good working relationship between yourself and the mentor are far more important. As already mentioned, an initial face-to-face meeting with your mentor is important, but after that you can shape the relationship whichever way suits you best. My choice of means of communication would be through Skype (or a similar videoconferencing platform), which works far better than telephone alone.
Lastly, when I was first offered a mentor through the Academy's programme I wasn’t without my apprehensions and hesitations about how useful it would be. Having now benefitted from the programme, I don't have second thoughts when recommending it. My mentor has been absolutely fantastic and allowed me to bounce around ideas about my future career, as well as giving me reassurance about all sorts of more minor issues. I’m very grateful to my long-distance mentor for all their support and help so far.