I’ve just finished a Zoom call with a member of staff who had asked whether I would be willing to mentor them through the next stages of their teaching journey. As well as being very honoured to be asked, it got me thinking about the benefits of mentoring and being mentored.
We often talk about the essential role that academic mentoring plays in helping guide students through their studies but of equal importance is the role that more experienced academics can play in helping colleagues develop their careers. It was somewhat disheartening to hear that the person I spoke to thought they had received more advice from me in a 45-minute conversation than they had received from their line manager in several years.
I’ve been fortunate in my teaching career to date to have had some very supportive colleagues who have allowed me to explore different teaching approaches and offer guidance on career progression, collaborations and publications when needed. However, of equal importance, from my perspective, is finding people who have achieved the things that you want to achieve in your career and are willing to help guide you on your journey. The operative word there is ‘guide’; a good mentor does not dictate what you need to do, rather offers advice and encouragement along the way because ultimately, it is the mentee that needs to take the steps along the way.
Mentoring does not always need to be a formal arrangement, although that certainly has its place, and I’m lucky to be part of the RSB HUBS mentoring scheme that David Smith, Katharine Hubbard and Sue Jones set up earlier this year. However, of equal value are the connections that being part of such a community allows you to make and the willingness of teaching-focused academics to help support others with advice, access to resources, or support with applications. I, therefore, feel that it is my responsibility, having already benefitted from these opportunities, to try and give back.
I see a lot of myself in the person who asked me to mentor them; they are passionate about teaching and doing things for the right reasons: trying to enhance the experience their students have rather than chasing things that will look good on a promotion form. They don’t shout about how good they are, and in my opinion, they are excellent, but for that reason, their achievements can slip under the radar and go unnoticed.
So, what is my role as a mentor to them? My job is to help them realise their potential, identify the things that will help them make the next steps up the ladder, provide opportunities where possible for them to advance their career and raise their profile. From my perspective of being a mentee, having someone to aspire to be like is also really valuable.
The community of bioscience academics in the UK who are teaching-focused is relatively small, but it’s a group that I have felt very welcome joining in the last few years. I’ve made some great contacts, been involved in some fantastic projects and got to hear about incredible innovation in teaching…it’s time for me to open that same door for the next person!