Postdoctoral Researchers

SBS postdoc mentoring scheme

The School can support researchers further through our mentoring scheme.

Our postdoc mentoring scheme is available to all research staff across the School (you don’t have to be a postdoc) at any career stage. The scheme is managed by our team of  Postdoc Advisors (PDAs). We have a list of >50 willing mentors made up of PIs at different career stages and with different backgrounds across the School. We are also able to connect you with potential mentors in other schools or colleges, and provide contacts with former staff who have moved into industry and other career paths.

If you’d like to join the scheme, the first step is to contact your institute PDA (or a PDA from another institute if you prefer) and set up a meeting to discuss your mentoring needs. The PDA will then match postdocs to mentors and provide some guidance on how to foster those relationships. Below is some further information on the scheme and what to expect.

What is a mentor? Broadly it is someone who provides support and guidance to another person. For our postdoc mentoring scheme, a mentor provides regular opportunities for a postdoc colleague to have positive conversations about their career and professional development, offering advice and experiences where appropriate. 

How does this mentoring scheme work? Having indicated you wish to be assigned a mentor, your PDA will contact you and arrange a meeting to discuss the kind of person and relationship you are looking for. Based on this, he will suggest one or several possible mentors from within your home institute’s mentor pool or from another institute. You should indicate if you are happy to be assigned one of these suggestions: this should be a positive choice on your part. You can and should request other options if you feel concerned or worried about mentors who are suggested. It is important that you feel comfortable with the mentor you chose, and that your mentor is not someone with who you already are working with closely or someone who might be required to undertake any meaningful form of professional assessment of your work (e.g. line managers, teaching program organisers). Once you have agreed on a potential mentor, the PDA will set up the relationship formally and will email both you and your mentor with an introduction.

We are suggesting that you set up an initial meeting ASAP after this introduction with your mentor. This meeting should be mainly to get to know one another a bit. It is also the opportunity to start laying the groundwork for your ongoing relationship: what do you both see as the purpose of the relationship? What kinds of topics the mentee is most keen to discuss? How often and how do you want to meet and communicate? Discuss the level of confidentiality you both expect with respect to your discussions and make a plan for a follow up meeting. We suggest you arrange a second meeting within 2-3 weeks. Ahead of that second meeting, think about the sorts of issues or challenges you face professionally in order of priority that you would like to discuss with your mentor. You can present a list to your mentor via email, and this will help guide your initial meetings and discussions.

A mentoring agreement / contract. We strongly recommend that after your first or second meeting, you prepare a written agreement or ‘mentoring contract’ with your mentor which briefly lays out the following:

  • What you each expect from the other in this relationship
  • What your main work-related objectives are at the moment
  • How often you expect to meet
  • How you will contact with each other
  • An agreement on confidentiality of anything discussed in meetings

As you move forward, you can review and modify this agreement – it may be useful to reflect on your stated objectives, how you are progressing towards them and if/how these have evolved or changed after each meeting you have.

We suggest you aim to meet 3-4 times per year with your mentor – with occasional extra meetings if required if you feel you need extra support at certain times. We also suggest that initially each mentoring relationship would be set up to run for one year. At end of the year, the formal mentoring relationship should be assessed by both parties, with support from the PDA if required, and a mutual decision taken on whether to continue or not.

How can I get the most out of mentoring? This scheme is set up to be driven by the mentee and you will get out of it only as much as you put in. We suggest you arrive at meetings with an agenda or list of ideas / topics you would like to discuss in some order of priority. Ideally, you could send this list to your mentor ahead of the meeting. Try to be as open and honest as you can with your mentor, as this will help them to understand your situation and concerns and offer the best guidance. You will also need to remain open minded and open to feedback from your mentor – their advice and feedback should help you gain perspective and understanding of your own situation, but you will need to engage openly with any feedback. It is crucial that you, as the mentee, set the agenda and objectives of your discussions with your mentor and that you feel listened to and supported by your mentor.

It is important to recognise that few of the people involved in this scheme will have much experience of formal mentoring, and that it is to be expected that some mentoring relationships will not work through no fault of any party. Ending mentoring relationships that are not working in a swift and amicable way is going to be crucial to the success of the scheme. If you have concerns about how your mentoring relationship is going, you should speak to the scheme organiser (Gerben van Ooijen) about this, and they will advise you.

What is expected of me?

  • To engage with the scheme and its aims, to support your mentee(s).
  • Build a relationship with your mentee based on trust and confidentiality that revolves around positive conversations about their professional experiences and aspirations.
  • Be willing to listen and seek to understand the mentee’s point of view, helping your mentee come to their own conclusions about the best way forward.
  • Provide general career-related and professional support and guidance.

What is not part of the mentoring relationship? You are not expected to be an expert in the mentee’s field of research, collaborate with them closely, or be involved in any aspect of their line management or assessment. You are not expected to not specific give advice on aspects of research or teaching (such 'scholarly mentoring' relationships often already exist informally or can be readily sought out). Offering direct advice can be an important part of any mentoring role, but the primary role is often listening and understanding. 

What are the limits/boundaries of the mentoring relationship? We will avoid pairing you with mentees with whom you have an existing close working relationship (e.g. teach on a joint course or collaborate on a research project) or for whom you might be required to undertake any professional assessment (e.g. line managers, teaching program organisers).

Mentoring conversations can be challenging, and mentees may disclose that they are experiencing high levels of stress or mental health issues, it is not the mentor’s role to provide counselling or mental health support but rather to redirect mentees to appropriate support structures.

How much time will I need to invest? Aim to meet 3-4 times per year – with occasional extra meetings if required.

You should indicate how many mentees you feel you are able to support, and if it becomes too much for you, mentees can be readily re-assigned to other potential mentors.

What support will I get? Your PDA will provide help you need it, and they will be in touch to check that you are happy with your mentoring arrangements. In future, we hope to provide access to additional professional development for mentors.

Sounds good, what do I do next? Contact your institute PDA to get the ball rolling

Contact PDA