A Mentor – Next Year’s Must Have!

Written by Prof Cathy Shanahan, Department of Cardiology

To be or not to be Mentored 

It is now well established that good mentors are key to the success of any career.  Mentoring of research staff is particularly important as this is the time that critical career and life  choices have to be made and it is also the time of the greatest drop out of women from Academia.

Below, I have set out a whistle stop tour of how to get the most out of mentoring  – not only to leverage your career but more importantly to make informed decisions to ensure life satisfaction!

So, What is Mentoring?

It’s a process whereby an experienced, empathic individual guides you (the mentee) in the development and examination of your own ideas, learning and personal and professional development.  It is completely confidential so it is important that you are open and honest during the process.   

It is not Therapy, Lecturing/Teaching or a cosy chat –  it has a purpose and you, the mentee, need to be the one driving the process!

When is Mentoring Useful?

Mentoring is probably most useful when you are about to enter into a period of change.  This could be anything from an academic decision, such as applying for an Independent Fellowship or moving on from a post-doc to a new career in industry or anything else. Mentoring can also be used to guide you through more personal decisions such as taking a career break or dealing with difficult conversations with the boss!   It can help you gain confidence in establishing relationships and working with more senior staff and will help you gain a broader perspective.  It is best to find a mentor at least a year before important decisions need to be finalized – so there is time to consider and put plans into action.

Choosing a Mentor – Horses for Courses!

Some people are lucky enough to have a great boss who has their best interests at heart and will spend the time to help develop their career.  But not every boss is so altruistic – if you are good your boss might just want to keep you to boost their own productivity (and ego!). But even if you have a great boss a broader perspective is always useful.

You can get a mentor in two ways; either informally, by asking someone you think might be good, or as part of a formal scheme – and there are many of these across King’s.  Of course, asking someone is not for the faint hearted – but you would be surprised at how many people are willing to say yes!  Just as there are horses for courses not all Mentors are alike – so you need to choose a mentor or a scheme that suits your purpose.

The Mentee Does most of the work!  The more you put in the more you get out!

Perhaps the most important rule is that mentoring is not a passive process – it requires a lot of work on the part of the Mentee.  The Mentor is just a conduit to enable the mentee to make their own choices.  If you join a formal scheme you will almost certainly receive training on how to get the most out of the process – but if you find your own mentor then here are the key things you need to know:

  • You need to be the proactive one arranging meetings with your mentor.  But remember they have agreed to the relationship so don’t feel bad that you are taking their time – you are in it together!
  • The first meeting should be about getting to know one another. Send your CV so that can form the basis for some of the first discussions and make sure your mentor understands what you would like to achieve.
  • Once you have started the process your mentor might give you ‘homework’ to help you make the right choice. Sometimes this might seem daunting and take you out of your comfort zone – but ultimately that is the only way to orchestrate change – and let’s face it life would be boring if you didn’t get the occasional adrenaline rush!

Finally, if you find you can’t establish a rapport with your mentor – or they spend the whole time talking about themselves, then change – it’s your prerogative and it’s meant to help you.  And don’t be shy in asking for help – we all need it!

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