One-to-one support is available in a variety of forms, depending on what you want to achieve.
For advice from someone who is more experienced in the field or area that you’re interested in, you will probably need a mentor. A mentor is generally someone who can offer help (but won’t tell you what to do or what decision to make) in a particular area. For instance, a more experienced manager will be able to give you some insight into the kinds of skills and knowledge that a successful manager might need. Someone who has been involved in recruiting academic staff might be willing to take a look at your CV and offer advice, or a Researcher Developer might be able to recommend courses that you could take to improve your skills or performance in particular areas.
Mentors can be formal or informal, and they could be provided by your School, department or the University, or you could find one yourself.
Your school may provide you with a mentor but if not, you may wish to find your own. Choosing your own mentor can have several advantages. You can also identify the person who you think is best placed to offer the support and advice that you need. However, there are some challenges to arranging your own mentor, but the tips sheet below might help you to persuade your mentor of choice to give up some of his/her time to help.
Tips for approaching a potential mentor
- Explain what you mean by ‘mentoring’ (don’t assume s/he will be familiar with it) and your specific reasons for choosing him or her.
- Be flexible with the time(s) that you suggest for your meetings. Meeting over lunch might allow you both to kill two birds with one stone. Also, be prepared to negotiate around how much time you’d like your mentee to give to you. Would you like just one meeting to discuss a very specific issue, one meeting per semester, one every eight weeks, one every three months, etc...?
- If your first choice turns the invitation down, it may be worth asking if they could recommend someone else that you could approach.
- Be clear about the area that you wish to discuss and set a time limit on each meeting. Having an end time for the discussion is likely to reassure mentors that their participation will not entail a huge commitment and will help them to manage their diary, and having an agenda allows the mentor to ensure s/he is comfortable with the topic of the meeting.
- Try to plan in advance. Academics’ diaries can fill up fast.
- Don’t anticipate further support from the mentor. Don’t expect him/her to agree to write you a reference or to introduce you to colleagues. Equally, it is up to you whether or not to accept any further help that is offered.
Preparing an agenda
In order to ensure that you make the most of the limited face-to-face time that you will have with your mentor, it is essential that you prepare and agree an agenda beforehand. The template below is intended to provide some guidance on preparing the agenda. You should, ideally, answer all of the questions and share your answers with you mentor.
- What is the main question or issue that you would like to address in the meeting?
- What related issues do you need to address?
- What other sources of information or advice have you already used?
- Are there any specific pieces of information you would like from your mentor?
If you don’t necessarily need advice, but want someone to help you to figure out to make a decision or overcome a barrier or challenge then coaching may be more appropriate than mentoring. Coaches would usually be expected to have undergone some training (while mentors may or may not have been specifically trained), but do not necessarily have to be knowledgeable or experienced in the area(s) they’re helping with. That is because coaches will rarely offer advice or tell you what decision to take – rather they help you to make your own choices and decisions, to think through problems and identify ways of moving forward. Some issue or challenges that a coach may be able to help with are:
- How to improve your work/life balance
- How to improve relationships with people that you work with
- Particular areas for development (like how to say no, how to prioritise your time/workload, increasing your self-confidence, how to network with confidence, etc)
- How to approach a difficult decision
- How to move forward in an area where you are procrastinating
This list is not exhaustive and a coach will usually meet with you to discuss whether coaching is appropriate for what you want to achieve.
If you are interested in coaching, please email: email@example.com.