Julie Gould 0:28
Hello, I'm Julie Gould and this is Working Scientist, a Nature Careers podcast.
In this series, we're talking all about mentoring.
Over the last three episodes of this series, we've learned that a lot can be expected of research supervisors, PIs and group leaders. As oceanographer Nick Roden pointed out in a previous episode, sometimes they are just maxed out.
Now some people I've spoken to say that a lot of the roles that they do come under mentoring. But are all the tasks that these lab managers, research managers do, really mentoring?
In this episode, I speak to different researchers to find their view on mentoring and supervising.
And then I speak to some career coaches to find out more about the difference between mentoring, coaching, and supervising, as well as championing, to see if we can untangle and differentiate between these roles, and if research supervisors really should be doing them all.
As part of my research for this series about mentoring, I asked 20 different people both inside and outside of academia, what they believed mentoring is, Here's just a small selection of the definitions that I've heard,
Unknown speaker 1:40
I guess a mentor is not necessarily someone who is in the same field of research as you, but
Unknown speaker 1.45
who helps help somebody who is usually younger or less experienced than you
Unknown speaker 1:51
….that guides research trainees in their work and academic career,
Unknown speaker 1:53
….and then helps bring out the best in that
Unknown speaker 1.55
….and provides hope and support to trainees and is available and helpful to them.
Unknown Speaker 2:00
….and who looks out for you and can offer you good independent advice to help you
Unknown Speaker 2:05
become a better person, better scientist, better everything.
Julie Gould 2:21
Now, this goes far beyond my initial definition of a mentor, when I started out on this podcast series, which was someone who you turn to for advice in an area that they are more experienced in than you, and that someone shares their experiences and insights. And you take from that what you will.
So given that I was so far off, I wanted to know what the research says about mentoring. Does it really mean all of the things that those people said?
Erin Dolan, a professor of Innovative Science Education at the University of Georgia in the United States, says that mentoring can be divided into three different types, where two are related to the functions that are meant to provide to the mentee: career support, and psychosocial support.
Erin Dolan 3:05
So for your support can be either near term, for example, how do I do this thing that I did do in my job or in my education, to longer term, sort of where am I going with my career, and how do I get there?
And then psychosocial support is the support you get that sort of helps you navigate the more personal level struggles of a situation.
For example, maybe you're down and your confidence your mentor might give you, you know, a little boost or might tell you about times when they've struggled, give you emotional support, be your advocate.
Julie Gould 3:39
And the third type is related to the relationship between the mentor and the mentee.
Erin Dolan 3:44
A good mentoring relationship is characterized by features like trust, and what I would call self-disclosure. Like, I'll tell you something personal about me, you tell me something personal about you. It also is characterized by responsiveness.
So I'm listening to you and actually responding to you and your needs. And you're listening to me and responding to me and my needs in our relationship. So those three elements to me make for an effective mentoring relationship.
Julie Gould 4:12
I've got to be honest, this still sounds like a lot for one person, one mentor to take on. So I asked Erin, if she thought this was a good idea.
Erin Dolan 4:22
I wouldn't say no, actually. And in fact, the way that I sort of think about it is that a mentee needs to think about what they need.
So what they need in terms of career support, what they need in terms of psychosocial support, and who they can develop those trusting responsive relationships with, and then identify people in their networks.
And so for example, I think when I interact with my mentees, I at least try to develop a trusting relationship with them and to think about both their career needs and their psychosocial needs.
But if I can't, for example. Say they want to go into industry, I've never worked in industry, so I'm not gonna be able to help there. But what I can do is be a network for them.
So instead of providing that career support directly, I can connect them with someone who can provide that support.
Juile Gould 5:06
As we've heard before in this series, early career researchers and PhD students can go into a new lab or research group expecting their supervisor to be their mentor.
Now, often this can work. But that isn't always the case.
A supervisor role is a bit like a line manager, says Gemma Modinos, a reader in neuroscience at King's College London.
And she found a distinct separation between the mentor role and the supervisor role.
So I see the role of the supervisor or the PI as, as a goal oriented-relationship.
It can still be nurturing and inspiring and empowering. But there's a power imbalance. There's a situation of dependence, in which the person who's being supervised depends on that supervisor and that PI for their PhD or for their salary.
Whereas a mentor is a relationship that's focused on career development of the mentee. So there's no direct dependency between the mentee and the mentor. And it's basically focused on providing encouragement and direction and keeping the mentee focused on the bigger picture, having some perspective. And it's a confidential relationship.
But she does admit that there can be overlaps between the two roles.
For example, when she's discussing a particular piece of research, and its results,
O r the paper that needs to be written or the task that needs to be done, then that is supervision. And that's not mentoring. But we always in supervision, have a review of progress.
And in this review, progress, and also not in formal or lab meetings, I tried to give advice personalized to the career development of that person, specifically.
So not to do with the project that we're doing, but to do with them, and what they need for the next stage or, or trying, basically to make it easier for them, then it's been for me in the occasions when it hasn't been easy, based on my experience.
Progress is based on the goals that are set at the beginning of a relationship with a mental, and sometimes mentors and supervisors use coaching techniques to help them in their quest to reach these goals, to guide others to be their best selves.
So what does a professional coach do? Well, a coach can help you with your discoveries, says Tina Persson, a professional careers coach in Sweden. A coach is there to help you….
Tina Persson 7:37
….to discover, you know who you are self awareness. But basically, in most cases, it's about the blind spots, your blind spots, strengths, weaknesses, needs. And when you learn to know that it's easier for you to start to navigate and control and understand other people,
Julie Gould 7:56
The fundamental difference between coaches and mentors, according to Sarah Blackford, who is a professional careers advisor specializing in working with academics, is that it is all about who has the answers.
Sarah Blackford 8:09
It’s somebody who helps you to find your own answers. Whereas a mentor can actually give you some answers. And they can give you advice.
So that would be the fundamental difference. The mentor is in the field, they're in the field of interest to us, they have that knowledge.
Whereas a coach doesn't have any knowledge at all about anything that you're doing. It's all about you and helping you to find your own answers and your way forward.
Juie Gould 8:39
A professional coach would also have formal training in coaching techniques. So Sarah, and therefore is someone who's qualified, you know,
Sarah Blackford 8:47
this is much more of a professional situation. So you use various techniques such as active listening, empathy, questioning, you formulate a contract with the client, you explore, you interpret, maybe you challenge them, challenge things that they're saying that maybe maybe they're not really aware of things they haven't really addressed before.
And then you evaluate and you come to us joint agreement in a sense that they will take action, they will decide the actions that they want to take forward. So they own their goals, you provide the process.
Julie Gould 9:26
But if a coach strays into the realm of mentoring, they can get into trouble. As Tina tells me...
Tina Persson 9:32
Every time I coach and people are not very happy with me, that is when I, falling into the trap to leave my coaching role to mentor, then I fail.
So this is about my coachees’ expectations, that I'm clear out that I'm a coach now. And when you ask that question, you ask for my advice, and that would be my opinion.
You see, I need to be ve ry clear.
Julie Gould 10:02
During our conversation, Tina said it was important for her to set out expectations with her clients to make sure that she doesn't get into trouble or put on the wrong job hat, as it were.
And to make sure that she makes it clear when she's moving away from coaching to advising or another role.
Okay, so what about a champion, a sponsor? What is one of those? Well, so Sara Blackford says, it's someone who blows your trumpet for you, really, if you as a supervisor, or mentor have been working with someone, or….
Sarah Blackford 10:33
….you know that they're really good at what they doing in particular areas, and you can champion them, you can sponsor them, you can recommend them, bigging this person up. And actually, it's something I think that in a sense, you need to champion yourself as well.
Julie Gould 10:48
I have to say, this is something I think we could all do a bit of, to champion ourselves, to be proud of ourselves and our achievements and in a humble way to share them with the rest of the world.
In the next episode of this series, all about mentoring, we're going to explore what the different types of mentoring are, from peer mentoring to industry based mentoring from employer mentoring to group mentoring. Thanks for listening. I'm Julie Gould.