In a year that has brought so many challenges for the research community, the Academy of Medical Sciences is championing the role mentoring is playing in career development.
With new resources available, and new schemes that the Academy is helping to develop, there is increasing support available for researchers.
Benefits of mentoring relationships
Mentoring is one of many personal relationships that can give guidance and reassurance along your career journey. Meetings with a mentor, someone who is truly independent and not from your institution or involved directly with your work (such as a supervisor or collaborator), can provide a safe space to discuss your current situation and plan for the future.
Working with a mentor, in line with the developmental model of mentoring that we encourage everyone in our mentoring programme to follow, mentees can discover ways to build their capabilities in different areas and broaden their horizons.
Dr Athanasios Saratzis, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer and Academy mentee, said:
“The mentorship provided by the Academy has been life and career changing for me. Crucially it has helped me find a senior academic surgeon who understands my research challenges. Having a mentor outside my immediate work environment has allowed me to deal with these challenges more efficiently and plan my career a lot better.”
Our mentoring programme is available to many early career researchers, who will be paired with one of our Fellows; we have over 1300 senior researchers with clinical and non-clinical backgrounds, who have a breadth of experience to support those transitioning to independence and working towards leading their own research teams.
A mentor can provide a safe space to think about challenges and opportunities, through a regular one-to-one conversation with someone who understands where you are coming from and may have experienced something similar.
Equally, mentors enjoy meeting with early career researchers regularly and building rapport to support someone they don’t directly supervise. They can also learn about different experiences across the country and different research fields.
Professor Chris Butler FMedSci, Academy mentor:
"I got a great deal out of the mentoring programme. I felt like I was giving a little back by helping someone reflect on the best ways for them of negotiating an increasingly challenging and complex academic career environment.
"I felt humbled and grateful to help, even if in a small and general way, one who currently faces similar challenges to those that I once grappled with.
"It was also good to learn about shifting direction from advice-giving to providing an opportunity for the mentee to reflect on what would be best for her."
We are aware that not all researchers are eligible for our programme, who also may not be able to access any other mentoring schemes, so we encourage people to reach out and establish informal mentoring relationships themselves.
To support this, the Academy of Medical Sciences ensures that all our mentoring resources are freely available. These resources include webinars and articles such as an introduction to mentoring, top tips for mentees and the OSCAR model for mentors to structure their mentoring sessions.
We've also recently added a section on mentoring support to our COVID-19 Career Support Space - developed this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic - which brings together personal stories from researchers at different career stages with free resources from us and other organisations. The space covers a range of topics, including Looking after yourself and Leading your team.
Catalysing mentoring schemes
We are an advocate of the benefits of developmental mentoring and we are keen to share our knowledge and experience. We do this through talking to individuals and at external events and at our annual mentoring Catalysis meeting, bringing together people from a range of organisations to discuss setting up and delivering mentoring programmes.
Our mentoring programme has inspired several programmes in academic institutions in the UK, including the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, University of Manchester and North West Deanery and the King’s College London Cross Departmental Postdoctoral Mentoring Programme.
Until the end of this year, we partnered with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to provide mentoring for some of their Academy members. We are pleased that in 2021 NIHR will be establishing their own mentoring scheme to support these researchers, and expanding provision to be available to even more NIHR-funded researchers. Details of the refreshed mentoring programme provision will be communicated to eligible participants early in 2021.
We are able to continue the Academy's mentoring programme thanks to the support of our funders including the Association of Physicians, the British Heart Foundation, the British Thoracic Society, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Diabetes UK, the Medical Research Council, the Medical Research Foundation, Versus Arthritis and Wellcome.
While we can’t know what challenges 2021 will present for the research community, getting mentoring relationships established now could offer the support needed to help early career researchers weather these uncertain times.