More Together. Surrey RDP Says…

…part of the More Together series

For many years I have been lucky enough to work with several areas of the University of Surrey.  As someone who appreciates the huge contribution postgraduates make to the global economy, the work done by the Researcher Development Programme (RDP) at Surrey is particularly close to my heart.  I appreciate the value of the RDP’s contribution and it gives me great pleasure to share insights about the mentoring elements of the team’s work.

Please let me introduce you to…

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Dr Samantha Hopkins  |  Researcher Development Officer  |  Researcher Development Programme  |   University of Surrey

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About University of Surrey, Sam says…

The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s top professional, scientific and technological universities and has just celebrated the 125th Anniversary of its foundation. It currently has nearly 16,000 students, just over 1000 of which are postgraduate researchers. Its faculties cover a wide range of subjects from the Arts to Engineering to Medical science.  The Researcher Development team provides training and development opportunities for postgraduate research students and research staff.

About herself, Sam says…

I joined the Researcher Development Programme in 2011 and have developed a range of training and support activities for researchers at postgraduate and postdoctoral level. I now lead on the mentoring programmes and the part time and distance provision. I studied BSc Zoology in the UK and my MSc and PhD in South Africa. Following completion of my doctorate, I lectured at the University of the Western Cape then continued my postdoctoral research at Surrey and spent time at the Zoological Society of London creating a course for research fellows. I am now applying these experiences to my role.

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Mentoring Insights from Sam

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Elaine…  I know the RDP team supports postgraduates before, during and after their PhDs in a range of ways.  Please could you tell us specifically about the mentoring services you offer.

Sam… I am lucky enough to lead on four mentoring programmes for the University. The first programme is the STARS mentoring scheme. This is where undergraduate students in their final year are offered a mentor who is working towards their PhD. The second programme is the Transitions to Research programme where new PhD students are offered a later stage PhD student to help them settle in and quickly get up to speed on what is expected from a PhD. I also run the Early Career Researcher Scheme pairing research staff with academics for advice and guidance on how to navigate academia and finally the Employer Mentoring Scheme where researchers at any level are paired with people outside of academia.

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Elaine…  Your mentoring programmes are obviously well thought out and tailored to meet the needs of postgraduates at different stages of development.  As an organisation, why do you offer mentoring support?

Sam…  I truly believe that mentoring and coaching are one of the best developmental activities you can take part in. The schemes that I run are all important and useful for different reasons but fundamentally they are all about helping people develop to where they want to be.

The STARS scheme allows undergraduate students to have open and honest conversations with PhD students about what a PhD is like day to day. This way they can make an informed choice as to whether it is for them or not. It also allows them to talk about issues they are encountering with their current situation, like workload, and speak with someone who has been there and done it.

The Transitions Scheme helps new PGRs (Postgraduate Researchers) make the best possible start, be that getting settled here in Guildford or settled into the way of working towards a PhD. The PhD is unlike anything that they will have done before so the mentoring helps to define what is expected of a PhD student and also helps the new student realise that it is OK to feel a bit lost at the start.

The Early Career Researcher Scheme is there to help research staff get the support and guidance that they need to move forward. Often research staff are on a fixed term contract and having mentoring conversations with members of academic staff can help them get the most out of their time here; to help them make the next step. This may be around research or publication strategy or career planning.

The Employer Mentoring Scheme is about helping researchers at the university get a different perspective. Mentors in this scheme are working in industry/ business/ third sector etc. and allow the researchers to see how their research is viewed in a different context and also allow them to ask questions about making the move across.

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Elaine…  In your opinion, what are the benefits to mentors and mentees?

Sam… I always ask both mentees and mentors what they get from the experience.

Mentors get:

  • to increase their network
  • a sense of wellbeing for giving something back
  • enhanced communication skills
  • the opportunity to reflect on the work that they are doing currently
  • the opportunity to reflect on the distance they have come
  • increased confidence in their abilities
  • enhanced interpersonal skills
  • a different perspective on their own research
  • to develop skills useful for building strong interpersonal relationships for the future

Mentees get:

  • support
  • a different perspective
  • guidance from a more experienced person who is a step or two ahead of them
  • the opportunity to chat with someone outside of their usual surroundings
  • increased confidence in their abilities
  • making informed decisions about their next steps
  • offers of postgraduate study, employment, funding applications and papers published
  • the ability to make a more informed choice about their next steps
  • the chance to talk about strategies for success whether that is managing workload in the situation they are in or planning publication or research funding strategy

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Elaine… I know you measure success via anonymised feedback.  Please could you share some insights into how RDP’s mentoring initiatives are adding value for those involved.

Sam… I get lots of feedback from mentees about the benefits that they gain from the experience and also a surprising amount from the mentors who give up their time. I’m happy to share some of the feedback that I get.

The Transitions Scheme mentees talk about help in getting settled in Surrey and getting a good introduction to being a researcher at the University. One of the major benefits of this scheme is that new PGRs feel that they have someone safe to talk to and raise questions with who is not their supervisor. Mentees value being able to talk about everyday concerns. Having a mentor reduced their anxiety about the whole process and gave access to practical advice about aspects of the process such as time management and how to structure their days.

In the Early Career Researcher Scheme mentees mention tangible outputs such as applying for funding and writing publications but also about being inspired and having time out to reflect.

The STARS scheme gets feedback where undergraduates attribute taking their next steps to their mentor, of course this would have happened without a mentor, but they see their success as a result of being mentored.

The mentees in the Employer Scheme give feedback about how they approached their PhD work, with one crediting an increase in productivity to being mentored; another about feeling calmer about the process. Other mentees say that the mentor had given them links to resources and confidence to apply for jobs.

All in all, the feedback we receive relating to all our programmes serves to underline why mentoring is so worthwhile.

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A big thank you goes to Sam.

Learn more about the RDP at Surrey here...

 

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

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