Coaching: Supporting You to Reach your Potential

Written by Dr Amy Birch, Research Staff Development Consultant, CRSD

When I tell people that I’m a coach, most will frown and ask “sports coach?” in an incredulous voice. I try not to take this too personally (don’t I look like someone who spends all their time in a gym?!), and in truth there are many similarities between professional coaching and sports coaching.

In sport, a coach will support individuals to improve their performance to obtain better results. They may provide theories and new exercises for the individual, and push them to reach their best performances, but ultimately, it is the individual who is doing the training. The role of the coach is to offer specific tools for success and support the individual in a way that creates experiential learning.

Professional coaching, or performance coaching as I prefer to call it, works in the same way – except without the 6am training in wet, cold conditions or hours in the gym! Performance coaching takes place as conversations between two people, the coach and coachee (or coachees if teams are being coached). The role of the coach is to create an environment and conversation that benefits the coachee by supporting their learning and progresses them towards their goals.

Why might people want to have coaching?

There are many reasons why people may consider using the services of a coach. The most important reason is to improve their situation and achieve some goals. These goals can come in the form of being more organised and efficient at work, gaining confidence in certain environments/situations, and working with certain people in a more effective way.

As a coach, I believe that everyone has the potential to succeed. My goal is to observe, question, listen, and feedback to the coachee in a way that helps them to see different perspectives, gain clarity on their own abilities (and beliefs about those abilities), and have a greater appreciation of their own circumstances. Most importantly, I provide a space for coachees to have time to think and reflect. This will help them to consider new ways to resolves issues, perform at their best, and achieve their goals more quickly.

As research staff, you may have a clear plan for succeeding and achieving your goals. However, if you are unsure about your direction or goals, coaching can help you to gain some clarity. You may feel that you know what your goals are but there are obstacles in the way of achieving these. Coaching is based on the principle that individuals are ultimately responsible for their lives and achieving their goals. However, it is often difficult to see how to achieve them – coaching can help you take a step back and find the best route to your success.

If you think that you could benefit from coaching, please contact Kay Dorelli at Please note there may be a waiting list to be allocated a coach.

King’s Mentoring Schemes for Research Staff

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer, CRSD

If the idea of looking for a mentor on your own isn’t for you, formal mentoring schemes can be a valuable alternative to finding an appropriate mentor. Mentoring schemes often require you to state the goals that you would like to work on during the mentoring relationship at application stage, then use this information to either match you with a mentor with relevant knowledge and experience or allow you to choose such a mentor from a list of existing mentors on the scheme. Choosing to opt for a formal scheme often has the added benefit of being paired with a mentor who you may not otherwise have regular contact with, such as someone from another department, university, or even outside academia, who can offer you new, objective perspectives and insights. Mentoring schemes typically also offer training or resources about what to expect from the mentoring relationship before mentoring commences.

There are several schemes across King’s that are open to research staff:

Addictions Department Mentoring Programme – This scheme is open to all staff in the Department of Addictions in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. Mentees are matched with mentors and then it is up to the mentees/mentors to decide how and when to meet. Most pairs meet face-to-face once every few months. For further information please contact

British Heart Foundation (BHF) Centre of Research Excellence Scheme – This scheme provides mentoring for female scientists at any stage of their career and for male early-career research staff members. Mentees are assigned a mentor who is typically a senior investigator in a different BHF research group. Both mentors and mentees undergo training prior to commencing the programme. Further information about the programme and how to join is available here.

Cross-Departmental Postdoctoral Mentoring Programme – This scheme is open to Post-docs from the Centre for Development Neurobiology, the Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics, and the Centre for Age-Related Diseases (Wolfson CARD). It provides mentees with the option of choosing a mentor from their pool of mentors who is best suited to support them on the areas of development that they would like to work on. Find out more at the bottom of this page.

Cross Departmental Research Mentoring Scheme – This scheme is run by the Departments of War Studies, Defence Studies, European and International Studies, and Political Economy and the Global Institutes. Mentees can select a mentor from outside their department in the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy. Find out more here.

Dental Institute Post-Doc Scheme – This scheme provides Post-docs in the Dental Institute with the opportunity to work with a mentor who is typically a senior staff member. Find out more here.

Diversity Scheme – This scheme is open to all King’s academic, research and professional services staff at any grade who wish to progress their careers and who meet one or more of the criteria below:

  • Female
  • Trans, non-binary or other gender variant identity
  • Black or Minority Ethnic of any gender identity

These audiences have been prioritised as data indicates that they are under-represented at particular grades and face greater institutional barriers to progression. Learn more here.

N.B. – This scheme is currently undergoing evaluation and is paused but is expected to re-launch in October 2018

How to Choose a Mentor and Make it Work

This is a guest post by Dr Kay Guccione, Mentoring Consultant at the University of Sheffield.

At Sheffield, as at Kings, we take mentoring for research staff seriously, and offer formal programmes designed specifically to meet the development needs of research staff. However, this post isn’t about those programmes. Instead I offer you some ideas about how you can recruit a mentor for yourself.

Both programmatic and more informal mentoring experiences can provide useful career planning support: one provides a more neutral ‘coaching space’, removed from preconceptions about you, your PI, or any disciplinary politics; the other tends to be more discipline-specific and can offer insider knowledge and guidance. What’s right for you will depend of what you’re looking for, and what you already have available to you.

Some general rules for thinking about mentoring partnerships are below — think through what you can reasonably expect from a mentor, and how to communicate that to the mentor you approach:

Mentoring figure 1 updated

When I’m designing mentoring programmes I take care not to duplicate the supportive relationships already available. For this reason, I match mentees with a mentor outside their department, broadening professional networks, and introducing them to a person they’re otherwise unlikely to meet. I can also then ensure that mentors are all trained volunteers, all starting off with the same set of expectations about what mentoring is and isn’t, and all abiding by a defined code of conduct.

There are some clear advantages though to finding your own mentor. You can do it whenever you like — no need to wait for a particular programme start date. Plus, you can choose from a whole world of mentors, you’re not restricted to just those at the same university as you. So, who should you choose?

Mentoring figure 2 JPEG

Without the formalities of a programme to make the introductions or to help you set the focus and the parameters of the mentoring relationship, you will need to anticipate for yourself the potential misunderstandings about what you’re looking for in a mentoring partnership. Right from the outset you should communicate the scope of what you want, and take responsibility for the management of the mentoring partnership.

Some things to include in that first request to your potential mentor:

  • Who you are and what you do — include any links to your work, CV, web pages etc.
  • What you aspire to — intended career route, what you’d like to be able to do, etc. Make it more meaningful than just scoping them out for a future job!
  • Why you believe they can support you with your goals. Their listening and people development skills are as important here as their CV.
  • Reassure them that you are not looking for a substitute PI.
  • Say who will take responsibility for the mentoring partnership, keep up momentum, and take action between meetings? HINT: This is your role as the mentee! More tips on making the most of mentors can be found here.
  • The time commitment you anticipate e.g. 2x1h meetings over 4 months. Set limits so you have a get out clause in case you don’t end up finding the partnership beneficial.
  • IMPORTANT! Give them a heads up on role you would like them to take. If you don’t specify that you’d like to be more than just the passive recipient of their anecdotes, wisdom and advice then you can’t expect them to know.

It’s worth noting that the usual rules of personal safety apply — if they are receptive to your request, do choose a public location to meet and introduce yourselves. While we should be mindful of asking people to do free work for us (this applies especially to women, who are more frequently asked to do supportive/mentoring work for free), be very wary of a mentor who asks for payment in order to help you. And if your intended recruit declines to support you as a mentor, you will have to graciously accept their decision.

Wishing you all the best of luck in finding and recruiting your mentor!

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!