In this episode I talk to Dr. Kay Guccione, Senior Lecturer in Academic Development about her work, research and expertise in mentoring and coaching for researchers. During the podcast Kay mentioned a resource about Choosing, Recruiting and working with a mentor which is available online.

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Podcast transcript


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Hello and welcome to R, D and The Inbetweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and The Inbetweens. In this episode, I'm going to be talking to my colleague, Dr. Kay Guccione.

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Kay, I've known for a few years because of her expertise and amazing work in mentoring and coaching for researchers.

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So I wanted to invite Kay on the podcast to talk about why it's important to have a mentor.

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What thebenefits are also about how she sets up mentoring schemes for researchers.

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So, Kay, happy to introduce yourself. My name is Kay Guccione.

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I work at Glasgow Caledonian University and I work in academic development.

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I lead on things like professional recognition through HEA accreditation, but also on mentoring and community building for our staff who teach.

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So the reason we want to chat today was about the kind of mentoring and coaching aspect of the work you do.

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And I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about how how you became interested in this area, because you've done a huge amount work in it.

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Yeah, I. You know, I never had a mentor until really recently or really anybody who's played a role.

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Anything in my development, like mentoring is, as we understand it now as a professional practise.

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And really, my undergrad and PhD looking back,

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I really have made use of that kind of thing because as a person who likes to sound things out makes up my mind by doing that sort of,

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you know, talking it through, seeing what comes out and then making sense of that.

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I could have used that kind of development myself.

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But my first encounter with mentoring was when I moved out of postdoc and I was a science postdoc and I moved into being a postdoc developer.

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So research developer and one of the projects on the long list of things to do for postdocs just said you're mentoring programme as as the Concordat

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did in that days. You know, it just it said postdocs should have some mentoring.

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So it was a really blank canvas open to whatever we made of it.

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Really, I don't know anything about mentoring. I never experienced it firsthand.

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So I popped over to Sheffield Hallam University to meet Paul Stokes in the mentoring and

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Coaching Research Unit down there and to get the support of that team really in terms of,

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you know, what's a programme? What does it look like? What is happening? What was mentoring?

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What the mentor supposed to do? So very naive. Which went along and ask some experts.

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I suppose that's a particular skill of mine. Go and ask someone who knows.

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And we started the programme and it immediately became my favourite piece of work.

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You can see the transformation happening and mentoring is really rich learning and it's personalised to each individual mentee that comes in.

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And because it's contextualised as it helps them do the things that they want to do, it has really immediate impact.

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And people were raving about it, about the quality of the conversations that they were having with their mentors and what it was enabling them to do.

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It became just a dream to work on. So over time, that programme grew.

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It became massive. It went to institutional level and then spun off into smaller programmes like thesis

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mentoring and the mentoring for researchers who want to get careers outside the academy.

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And then from that into a suite of new programmes supporting people across the University of Sheffield.

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Alongside that, I'd done a Masters is a master's in education with a coaching and mentoring specialism through the University of Derby.

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So I have imbibed all experience at programme development level and then all the training that underpins it.

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I was able to make a case very during a team restructure that there should be a role dedicated to mentoring, coaching in communities.

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And I did that role in Sheffield from 2012 to 2019. They want to move to GCU in 2019.

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That sort of work, again, became a large part of my role because it works, you know, because it's something we can put into place.

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It's I mean, it's personalised and we see the results within six months of what is going on.

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So that's fabulous. You know, you said just that, you know, how much you enjoy that work and how quickly you see the impact and the benefits.

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I mean, making that case for a dedicated role to look at mentoring, coaching, it's not it's not an easy thing within.

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A higher education. But could you talk a little bit about some of the impact and benefits that you see?

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Yes. And I think the thing the thing was that helps me making that case when the role is that mentoring isn't the way I see is.

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Mentoring isn't a project has very limited reach. If it's seen as something that is a project, you know, alongside,

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we do this kind of training course and that kind of network and this kind of mentoring programme.

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If you see mentoring as something systemic, you know, and you think in systems of mentoring.

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So we've got the senior academics mentoring the junior academics.

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They're mentoring the postdocs, postdocs mentoring the PGR as PGRs are peer mentoring with each other.

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And, you know, it's if you see as something that cascades out and understand the difference that can be made,

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if everybody has this skill set and everyone can apply that skill set not just to a mentoring programme,

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but, you know, in small group teaching, you can use these skills as a  line manager.

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You can use these skills as a PhD supervisor, you can use these skills.

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So once I became to see it as a systems of work, it was much easier to show what impact it would have at that organisational level.

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And in terms of the individuals that that's where it starts, you know, the impact on this person.

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So I guess at its most basic level, mentoring is a confidential space where someone can sit down,

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think out loud, check things out and just find out how stuff works.

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So even at that basic one to one level, there's probably something in it for everyone,

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because the questions that you have and the things you want to talk about a personal to you coming into that mentoring programme,

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the mentors, they're you know, they help you make some time and some space to actually sit down and think about yourself for a change.

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Think about where you go in. We don't often get to do. A real privilege.

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And I think the quality of the plans we put into action are probably represented by the quality of the thinking that went into them.

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So being able to find our feet and find our way forward is something that's a key impact of those mentoring kind of conversations.

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You know, if it depends what people are looking for, it's a chance to be heard and really listened to.

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That's not very common in pressured competitive environments,

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particularly suited to the research environment, I think, to make that space to be heard and be listened to.

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And, you know, if we understand how something works, the game of academia, what the rules are, how to navigate it with them,

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building confidence to try things out and building confidence in ourselves as researchers and ask people who have something to contribute.

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If you're kind of person, who needs a bit of a push or some accountability to say, get your papers written.

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A mentor can help with that. If you're someone who needs, you know, at a time where they need a get support and a sympathetic ear.

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Mentors can offer that. If it's just a, you know, case of what next.

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I don't know what the options are on where to go. Mentors can offer that as well.

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So whatever you bring to it, that's what you work on.

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And I think if people see it really as an arena for doing a piece of planning rather than for solving a problem particularly,

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you can start to see how it fits into into everyday work and everyday life.

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And we've all got things on the horizon we need to think about. Let's do that thinking in a systematic way with someone who wants to help us.

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And I think it gives us that time to do what you know,

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we we don't have time to do so often at higher education, which is to take a step back and reflect and plan.

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And I know in in my role as a researcher developer, which obviously, you know, you've done that as well.

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And now as a senior lecturer working in academic development,

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you know that the time and the facility for that just feels like it's dwindling as a

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kind of academic workloads and expectations and outputs and everything kind of grows.

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But actually, it's those conversations like you're talking about those plans that planning, that time for reflection,

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for strategic thinking about what comes next, that's actually going to help us to do the productive aspect of it.

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Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's there's very famous cartoon where there's a sort of a cave dwelling person pushing

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a cart with square wheels and there's the developer there offering them round wheels and they say,

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you know, I haven't got time for this. I'm too busy. And you figure this would really help with what you're trying to achieve?

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And I think absolutely, we cannot deny that workloads have rocketed.

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There's not enough staff in universities. Everybody's doing at least a job and a half right now.

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And I think as somebody who designs programmes and designs mentoring conversations,

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even just having the chance to go and meet a mentor is being pushed out.

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So it's a cases and, you know, how else can we get these conversations into things?

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How can we make them part of peer observations or peer review?

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How can we make them part of team meetings or annual appraisal systems and.

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How can we we get these. The quality of conversation.

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Two things people are obliged to do, even if they can't find time to sort of, you know, sit down for the hour.

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What can be done and trying to find ways to fit it in a simple cost is for postgraduate and early career researchers.

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I wonder if you could say something about maybe the benefits of engaging in mentoring and coaching at that stage of your career.

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But also why it's something that they should make the time for, because they're not necessarily part of those kind of line management type structures.

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to a certain extent. I think it is about readiness because mentoring is a piece of work that researchers do.

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You know, it's not it's not a magic fix. It's not a case of going off to meet somebody and then receiving the answers.

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It is a piece of self evaluation. It requires you to be open and be honest with yourself, at least about where it is you want to go.

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And where you're at right now. So I would say firstly, if people really believe it's not for them and don't want to,

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that's absolutely fine, because it does require a certain amount of energy and input from the researcher.

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But if you are ready for that and you're thinking, you know, who do I choose and how?

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I'm happy to pass on a whole resource that I've got about how to consider that.

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I'll make sure that that gets passed over. Linked to the main things to think about are who do you.

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Who do you want to work with? Who would you like to speak to? And the people who you might identify as being really appropriate mentors,

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people with big CVs, lots of publications, you know, big research teams, actually.

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Are they the best mentors? You know, we're looking at mentoring. As I said, is a specific skill sets.

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It's an education based skill set, is an interpersonal skill set.

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So look around for the person who everybody thinks is a good, you know, a good supporter.

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Look at that. Their PhD students. Their postdocs. The research teams.

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And you can ask, you know, of a good person to speak to.

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And then when you approach a mentor, I would say it's good to tell them who you are, what you might be aiming for,

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what you might want from them, where you're aiming to go, perhaps, and then what you've seen about them that you think you could benefit from.

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And I think if we start off together on this understanding that mentoring is a piece of work that the mentee does, the mentor is the support for that.

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And in order to support,

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they've got to have these these great skills were probably in the right mindset for understanding if mentoring is for us right now.

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If you are thinking about try and out, but you're hesitating a bit.

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I mean, just give it a go. What's what what could happen. You know, you might think, actually, I picked the wrong person.

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Never mind. Let's just say thanks and move on or I don't really see what I've got out of that that I couldn't have done on my own.

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That's perfectly fine. Some people like to work, you know, in as as an individual on paper, in the heads.

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That's fine. It's a skill set. And you can self coach and self mentor.

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Once you know these kind of self-analysis tools and ways of thinking, you can ask yourself coaching questions as well.

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If there's nobody available to you around, you could get together with peers, talk to friends, have a little coaching session.

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You know, there's there's always some way to do the kind of reflection that I'm talking about.

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So start small. Build up. Decide if you like it. If you don't know where is in that.

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All of this is the schemes that you've run. And I know at Sheffield that the the volume of them kind of in the end was huge,

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are there kind of really tangible benefits that you saw from people going through that scheme in terms of

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kind of how they move forward with their careers or research completion publication that that sort of thing.

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Yeah. I would say when you're evaluating mentor or you want to look first,

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they experience people have because that will give you that will give you a sense of what might happen in the future.

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Now, with mentoring programmes, you know, can be short just in a few months, six months, say what we probably aren't expecting.

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And that time is for someone to get five publications out just because of the timelines that research and publishing

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and those kinds of indicators of academic esteem work on different timelines to mentor and obviously so on the.

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On the programmes I've worked on, I've always asked people, you know, did this make a difference to your sense of belonging to the university?

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Did it make a difference to your confidence? Did it make a difference to the strategies and plans you've put into place?

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And then what we see is further down the line that we see the tangible benefits of that.

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So we might get the person who gets the fellowship. We might get the person who gets a different job, decides what career they want to move into,

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gets their publishing done, gets involved in the kind of outreach or public engagement work that they want to do.

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The goals are personal to the individuals.

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But if we start with the support, the confidence and the planning, those more tangible or hard benefits will tend to come after that.

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And I think that's the key for me in so much of the development work that we do as a researcher, academic people would have a developers.

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Is that, you know, sometimes because because of the nature of H-E and the kind of culture of the speed of it,

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the level of workload, there's a kind of desire for a quick fix.

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There's a kind of okay, but I need something that's gonna give me a very tangible, very clear output now.

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So, you know, I have it when people come to workshops. So, you know, we're going to workshop or writing your literature review.

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They kind of want to leave. Being able to sit down and write the literature review immediately afterwards,

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whereas it's not what we're dealing with is something more complex and that a

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more reflective that gets you to kind of work towards being able to do that.

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And. And I think I can really see that in what in what you're saying, actually,

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it's it's not gonna give it's not necessarily going to give you that immediate kind of.

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OK. You've had a meeting. Here's a tangible thing that you can take away.

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And you've got output or you've got you know,

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you've got something you can write on a CV or look up on a screen or hold in your hand or whatever it is.

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It's actually accepting that the benefit that the tangible or the kind of hard benefits,

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as you call them, of this tend to come in the long term rather than the short term.

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Yeah, absolutely. So this is kind of a transformative process.

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And, you know, you might get a person coming into mentoring who's already got all this skills.

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They've got all of the aid is there ready to go. And all they need is somebody to say, yes, you can do it, you know?

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And then you get to see a very immediate benefit.

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But you might also get somebody coming into the same mentoring programme who's just starting a journey.

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And it's got to figure out a lot. A lot of things.

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You know, they it takes time to have ideas, to develop ideas, to draught writing and to to develop that writing.

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I think we absolutely have to look where people come in and where they where they finished mentoring programmes,

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you know, the objectives that they set for themselves at the beginning. How far along did they get those?

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And some of that's in setting smart objectives, you know. Is it about having 10 papers at the end of this programme or is it about figuring out

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one good place to publish and really understanding what that journal is looking for?

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We've got different, different people coming in at different stages of their thinking, different stages of their understanding.

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And that's why we have to work at the individual level.

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We have to make sure that the support that's received is tailored to where that person's at and where they want to go.

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You know, I, I know from myself, when I've gone into mentoring, I've gone into it and gone.

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I know I need somebody to talk to you, but I don't have any idea what I'm aiming at

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And that's that's the most mentees I've worked with.

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We don't all turn up going. Here is my goal. You know, sometimes it's like I think something's wrong,

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but I'm not sure what it is or I think something could be better or I don't understand what is expected of me.

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And these are normal reactions to have at work. You know, it's complex and figuring out different work relationships and figuring out, you know,

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what's possible for you and how you'd like to approach that is something that we all go through and a mentor can most definitely help with.

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So you mentioned earlier that. You know, a lot of this is is it is an eco system.

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Yeah, it's the kind of the senior professors mentoring the senior lecturers, mentoring the kind of newer academics,

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mentoring the postdocs, mentoring the PGRs you know, who are mentoring each other.

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So it is that kind of top down or bottom up, which is where you want to look at the ecosystem.

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And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how that.

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How that kind of looks and operates and the benefits of that kind of level of an engaged mentoring culture amongst academics.

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Yeah, so I would say how it looks now is not how it looks when you start it, you don't have to do all in the first instance.

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It's not a case of, you know, assembling 10000 people and making a culture of mentoring.

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On day three, it's how it started. It started with 12 people, six pairs.

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So six academic volunteers and six postdocs is where it started.

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And I think if you focus at that point on making sure everybody has a good experience and making

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sure at the end of it you understand what's made that a good experience and what the outcomes were,

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those people will then start to do the work for you because the postdocs will tell other people this was great.

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Get on board with it. You know, if I go back to the mentors and say, would you mentor for us again?

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And also can you recommend a colleague? And we started we sought to double up.

00:19:30,650 --> 00:19:35,720
So there comes a time when people are experienced as mentors say you got your

00:19:35,720 --> 00:19:39,650
most senior academics and they will come to you and start asking questions.

00:19:39,650 --> 00:19:49,460
You know, I want. They might say I would like my Masters course to have a mentoring component with industry, or they might say,

00:19:49,460 --> 00:19:58,100
I want all of my first year to do peer mentoring conversations with each other as a formative assessment before they get into their four,

00:19:58,100 --> 00:20:01,910
they get into their summative assessments and you start to help with that and that.

00:20:01,910 --> 00:20:07,310
And so you start to see that the mentors who've had a really good experience want more of it.

00:20:07,310 --> 00:20:12,730
They're trying to bring it into the departments for, say, new new academic starters on probation.

00:20:12,730 --> 00:20:14,570
They're trying to bring it into their taught courses.

00:20:14,570 --> 00:20:18,860
They're trying to bring it in with the people they supervise because they've had that good experience.

00:20:18,860 --> 00:20:25,610
They can see the benefits. And then is a case of saying, you know, we've got a lot of people now, postdocs, for example,

00:20:25,610 --> 00:20:31,750
who've experienced having a mentor and why shouldn't they have the same skills?

00:20:31,750 --> 00:20:35,570
You know, why shouldn't they also be able to apply this? We've got all these PGRs

00:20:35,570 --> 00:20:42,500
So, again,  it's more recruiting, piloting, trying to understand what's going on, thinking what what do people need to get done?

00:20:42,500 --> 00:20:46,160
They need to get their theses done. What have postdocs already done?

00:20:46,160 --> 00:20:49,670
They've written their thesis. So here we've got a hook to hang mentoring on.

00:20:49,670 --> 00:20:53,960
We say, you know, this is not just about generic career support or career mentoring,

00:20:53,960 --> 00:20:58,140
which I actually think PGRs are very well served for most universities now.

00:20:58,140 --> 00:21:01,670
But saying what targeted thing can we achieve with mentoring here?

00:21:01,670 --> 00:21:07,460
So postdoc thesis mentors was where I went next, coming out of thesis mentoring.

00:21:07,460 --> 00:21:14,060
People were saying, I wish I'd had this earlier. I really wish I hadn't left it to the last six months of my PhD to have a mentor.

00:21:14,060 --> 00:21:22,330
Fantastic. So what can we do at an early stage? And I'm looking then at a confirmation review which might be called upgrade of first year vivas

00:21:22,330 --> 00:21:29,510
But that piece of written work. Students have to do in order to remain on their doctoral course.

00:21:29,510 --> 00:21:35,000
And then on the other side of that, recognising that. So having a day, a year, you know,

00:21:35,000 --> 00:21:40,310
there might be a national or international mentoring day or other event in the calendar

00:21:40,310 --> 00:21:44,690
for your university where you want to highlight all of the good stuff that's going on.

00:21:44,690 --> 00:21:51,480
So really championing that and saying, you know, we've had 100000 mentoring conversations at the university in the last year or.

00:21:51,480 --> 00:21:56,030
And these are all the different kinds of groups we've served. These are all the different kinds of outcomes.

00:21:56,030 --> 00:22:01,580
We have and making sure that's very visible and it's very seen, of course, the university.

00:22:01,580 --> 00:22:08,720
But all that grows over time. So, you know, pick your six PGRs and start there and give them a good experience.

00:22:08,720 --> 00:22:13,070
And it proves itself and it will grow from there.

00:22:13,070 --> 00:22:21,920
Yeah, I think really inspiring and and that's the importance of kind of start small and let people appreciate the benefits.

00:22:21,920 --> 00:22:25,750
And then that will in and of itself, in and of itself, do the work for you.

00:22:25,750 --> 00:22:32,840
Yeah, absolutely. I was really interested in what you were saying there about the thesis mentoring, because I think one of the things that I,

00:22:32,840 --> 00:22:38,720
I find when I talk to PGRs is that as a mentor, they don't think they've got anything to offer.

00:22:38,720 --> 00:22:48,560
So they they they sort of would love to have, you know, be a mentee and have a mentor who either are most more experienced senior PGR or an academic,

00:22:48,560 --> 00:22:53,900
but they don't see in themselves what they have to offer as a mentor.

00:22:53,900 --> 00:22:59,060
I find that really just really challenging sometimes because I think particularly with peer to peer stuff

00:22:59,060 --> 00:23:04,340
One of the barriers that that certainly I feel that I have in the research community

00:23:04,340 --> 00:23:09,110
is that that it's they don't see the experience they have to offer.

00:23:09,110 --> 00:23:17,420
Yeah. And we know PGRs and that's incredible, isn't it, because we see that the huge amount of value that they bring to universities, I mean,

00:23:17,420 --> 00:23:22,310
really smart people who've achieved throughout their academic careers,

00:23:22,310 --> 00:23:31,220
who've come into a PhD as like independent thinkers and scholars, very proactive people, very engaged people, very smart.

00:23:31,220 --> 00:23:35,390
There's very definitely something people can can offer there.

00:23:35,390 --> 00:23:38,960
But I think. Because mentoring and the skills of mentoring.

00:23:38,960 --> 00:23:47,840
I talked about before this very person centred philosophy. The skills don't rely on the mentor having all the answers they rely on the mentor,

00:23:47,840 --> 00:23:54,230
having the appropriate skills to question, to listen, to facilitate and to support other people.

00:23:54,230 --> 00:23:58,070
And those are learnt skills. That's not something you just have to have or don't have.

00:23:58,070 --> 00:24:02,150
So, you know, every mentoring programme should come with some training for the mentors.

00:24:02,150 --> 00:24:10,610
And if you ask me, the mentees. But, you know, as as programme designs and programme owners, we should definitely be preparing mentors,

00:24:10,610 --> 00:24:14,510
making sure they've got the skills, making sure they know how to to apply them.

00:24:14,510 --> 00:24:21,350
And I think it's really empowering. If you get away from this advice based model of mentoring where the mentor has all the answers,

00:24:21,350 --> 00:24:27,650
the mentor asks the question, the mentor gives the answer. Yeah. You know, some of that might take place, but that's only half the story.

00:24:27,650 --> 00:24:35,620
It's kind of half mentoring. The the skills of being able to say to somebody, what if you already tried, you know.

00:24:35,620 --> 00:24:37,940
Well, how has that gone? And what do you think you're going to do next?

00:24:37,940 --> 00:24:43,940
And really facilitating that mentee to think through the different issues that are

00:24:43,940 --> 00:24:48,830
going on and to have the power basically to go make that change for themselves.

00:24:48,830 --> 00:24:56,620
Thanks so much to Kay for taking the time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule to talk to me about coaching ang mentoring.

00:24:56,620 --> 00:25:01,130
We're thinking a lot about peer mentoring in particular as Exeter at the moment.

00:25:01,130 --> 00:25:06,650
So it was a great to have the opportunity to talk to Kay in detail about how

00:25:06,650 --> 00:25:12,260
these things get off the ground and kind of how to kind of take that step back,

00:25:12,260 --> 00:25:19,370
start small and let the impact of mentoring kind of do the work for you and growing it,

00:25:19,370 --> 00:25:24,740
but also really focussing on the idea that mentoring is not a knowledge base.

00:25:24,740 --> 00:25:30,400
It's a skill set. It's not about having all the answers. It's about helping ask the right questions.

00:25:30,400 --> 00:25:35,510
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe and join me.

00:25:35,510 --> 00:26:02,117
Next time. We'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.


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