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Research Staff Mentoring Arrangements

Introduction

The School expects that all research staff and particularly those in the early stages of a research career at the School should receive constructive advice on career development from senior colleagues.  In this context, the role of the mentor is considered to be of vital significance.

The School has in place two approaches to structuring career development conversations for research staff:

  • A Mentoring Scheme for junior research staff
  • A Research Staff Career Development Scheme which is designed for all Research Staff throughout their LSE career.

Both aim to give Research Staff guidance on how to make most effective use of their career within LSE both for their own development and to ensure their contribution to the School as a whole. The Mentoring Scheme is distinct from the Research Staff Career Development Scheme. Mentors give informal and frequent advice and provide a listening ear throughout the year, whereas formal career development meetings take place annually or bi-annually (for bands 9 and 10 Principal Research Fellows and Professorial Research Fellows) and are normally conducted by the Head of Department/Research Centre Director or his/her nominee. Importantly, the mentor cannot be the one holding the Career Development Meeting.

To gain from mentoring, mentees have to grasp the lessons and encouragement which the mentor can offer; therefore the relationship must be a positive and trusting one. The HOD/RCD should be mindful of this need when allocating new mentors. Any matter discussed remains confidential unless the Mentee reports to the HOD/RCD that the relationship is not a productive one. In this case, the HOD/RCD must seek to assign a different mentor if possible, although it is not expected that for any one individual this change will be necessary more than once. Equally importantly for the mentoring relationship to work, mentees must not place unrealistic expectations on their mentor and must not over-burden them with demands.

Who should have a mentor?

All salaried research staff from Band 6 Research Officer level up to and including Band 7 Research Fellow level (regardless of the length of contract) should be assigned a mentor by their Head of Department (HOD) or Research Centre Director (RCD), in discussion with the Principal Investigator (PI) for the project. 

Research staff above this level may request a mentor via the PI or HOD/RCD. 

Note: Departments and Centres may also wish to assign mentors for Band 5 Research Assistants.

Who should be a mentor?

The mentor will normally be a senior researcher or member of academic staff with a similar research background within the researcher's Department/Centre. The mentor may also be from a related Department/Research Centre. 

Note: Neither the Member of Staff conducting the Research Staff Career Development Meeting with a researcher nor the Principal Investigator should not be the mentor.

The mentor will assume responsibility for regularly discussing the researcher's development in their career and provide advice on possible avenues for further development. (NB: Staff on any form of leave should not be appointed as mentors.)

Note: Human Resources will contact Centres and Departments ahead of the Michaelmas term for names of mentors that have been assigned to research staff. For new research staff, allocating a mentor should take place within 1 month of the researcher's appointment and the HOD/RCD will notify Human Resources that this has been done. The VCAC will receive a regular report on research staff and assigned mentors and follow up instances where a mentor has not been allocated to a researcher.

Frequency of meetings

All mentors are expected to arrange with new colleagues allocated to them dates and times for discussions throughout the year. For the first 2 years, meetings should normally be taking place at least once per term, after which they can take place as and when needed, although not less than once annually. However, given the informal nature of mentoring it is expected that the majority of the mentoring may well take place outside of specifically scheduled meetings.

The Substance of the Mentoring Relationship

The role of the mentor is three-fold:

  • to assist the mentee in developing a good understanding of the expectations placed upon them as researchers within the Department/Research Centre and the School;
  • to provide a listening ear and informal guidance
  • to act as an advocate for the mentee (e.g. if their workload allocation appears over-extended, or if they face difficulties with colleagues).

The duties of a mentor include checking that the researcher has a well-framed programme on which progress is being made, and ensuring that his or her programme offers good scope for the development of research interests and techniques, whilst not being so time and energy consuming as to leave too little opportunity for further study, research and writing. The matters which fall within the scope of mentoring will depend on the specific case. Without wishing to be too prescriptive, matters may include:

  • methodology of research and structure of programme
  • methods of addressing research problems and improving quality of outcomes
  • personal relationships with colleagues
  • administrative responsibilities and work balance
  • individual staff development needs
  • how to publish successfully
  • where to go for further support, advice and information

When the mentor is providing a listening ear/acting as advocate, possible issues that may arise could include:

  • Achieving appropriate balance between the different elements of the research role.
  • Issues arising from writing/research approach/analysis/dealing with journals and publishers etc.
  • Reading and commenting on draft papers/chapters and offering guidance on publication outlets (mentees must be aware that mentors can only do so for a small number of writings).
  • Challenges from teaching (where applicable).
  • Upset arising from and ideas on constructive response to challenging feedback from colleagues.
  • Managing administrative load.
  • Work/life balance.
  • Adapting to LSE and its environment.

To some extent, the mentor relationship has similarities to coaching. It is important that the relationship is kept professional. It is also important for both parties to ensure that they do not over-reach reasonable bounds in terms of professional expertise and for the mentor where necessary to seek guidance/advice from others (e.g. if concerned about the Mentee’s health/well-being). In some cases, it may be appropriate for the mentor to advise the new colleague to discuss detailed matters with other colleagues in the Department or Research Centre and/or to contact colleagues elsewhere in the School (e.g. Teaching and Learning Centre, Research Division, External Relations Division, Enterprise LSE). Note that there is a staff counselling service|, that all Departments have HR Partners| from whom staff can seek advice should it be necessary (e.g. for guidance related to disability, flexible working, caring responsibilities), and that many Academic Staff are members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU)|. The TLC Director can also assist both/either mentor/mentee as appropriate.

The mentor should feel able to offer criticism and advice which the mentee, whilst encouraged to listen carefully, is not obliged to take. 

What the mentor is NOT responsible for

The mentor is very much a ‘guide on the side’. It is not his/her role to ‘line manage’ the mentee, and the mentor is not responsible for the mentee’s career success within the School.

The role of documentary materials in the mentoring relationship

There are no written requirements related to mentoring, or any necessity for the mentor or mentee to share documents. However, if both are agreeable and have time, there may be benefits from sharing:

  • Research papers (including reviewer feedback and how this is handled)
  • A brief email log of matters discussed.

Mentoring skills

Effective mentoring is about building a supportive relationship based on listening, mutual respect and trust. It requires skills and sensitivity on both sides. The mentor can build this relationship through:

  • Establishing initial expectations on both sides.
  • Being available at times agreed.
  • Listening.
  • Being open to answering questions.
  • Drawing on experience and offering models – be it in research or teaching (e.g. encourage the new member of staff to come to observe you teach, see your materials, read your articles, share your reviewer feedback etc before asking to see theirs).
  • Offering insight.
  • Being willing to question and challenge the mentee to reflect on their work.
  • Sharing networks/contacts.
  • Being willing to give both positive encouragement and critical constructive feedback.
  • Seeking/giving feedback on the mentoring relationship – and agreeing when this relationship comes to an end.

The mentee also needs to work at this relationship through:

  • Indicating what you expect from the mentoring relationship.
  • Being available at times agreed.
  • Coming with questions/ideas/things to explore and discuss.
  • Having ideas on objectives and ways forward.
  • Listening.
  • Being ready to adapt – both yourself and the ideas you gain from your mentor.
  • Being willing to accept both positive encouragement and critical constructive feedback.
  • Giving/seeking feedback on the mentoring relationship – and agreeing when this relationship comes to an end.

If any mentor is interested in training in mentoring/coaching or if any mentee would like further ideas about how to make the best of the mentoring relationship, please contact the Teaching and Learning Centre in the first instance (tlc@lse.ac.uk|).

Approved by: Appointments Committee, 18 June 2014

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