Helen Chang, a PRUK 2016 personal award recipient shares her mentee story
The first few months of my PhD were quite tough for me; I felt quite isolated as I was (and still am) studying part-time, plus my project didn’t require me to be based on-site at my university. I had, what I thought were quite simplistic questions, mainly about processes and practicalities, and I did not want to bother my supervisors with such insignificant queries. I was recommended by others to seek support from mentors but I was hesitant, as the concept of approaching and seeking advice from a stranger was made me feel uneasy. Although various peers have supported me throughout my career, I had not experienced any formal mentoring, and wondered why someone would make time for me. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a try and see if any would be able to help.
I used the RPS database to search for a mentor and approached colleagues (past and present) to ask if they would be my mentor. To my surprise, I found my colleagues were more than willing to support me and I now have three mentors who support me with various aspects of my research development. They are very understanding and we have agreed that mentoring will be flexible to my needs. I get in touch with them when I need some support or advice and we arrange a convenient time for a meeting. I also communicate with them by email as and when I need support more urgently.
My mentors are not experts in my research field per se but do have experience of active research and completed PhDs themselves. They have each been extremely helpful in providing me with focus, and have supported me through some challenging situations, such as compiling research funding applications, but also with basic questions, for example what’s the best referencing software to use. Although they might not always have the answer, they work with me to find an answer, and empower me to make the next step to achieve my objectives. They have also made me think differently and taught me to step outside my comfort zone. This has really helped me to develop my skills and experiences as a novice researcher.
Their support has inspired me to become a mentor myself, and I have now volunteered to be part of the mentoring scheme at my university and registered to be a mentor on the RPS mentoring programme. I would advise fellow researchers to find a mentor if they don’t already have one as no matter what type of your support you need there will be a great mentor out there ready to help you. It might be useful to have more than one mentor, with different backgrounds, who can provide you with different perspectives. Once you have found a mentor make sure you are clear on what you want to achieve, this ensures that you both know what to expect from the mentoring experience. And remember mentoring can be for as short or as long, as you need, just establish this from the outset. Good luck and happy mentoring!