This section provides guidance to mentors and participants on how to get the most out of the scheme. The guidance focusses on developing an effective mentoring relationship between both partners, creating a structured and supportive environment within which research-related goals can be achieved. It follows our approach to the stages in the mentoring life cycle – Initiation, Nurturing, Maturing and Ending.
We also provide some information on a couple of other issues that may arise during the course of a mentoring relationship.
Throughout the guidance we provide links to supporting documents and templates that participants and mentors are encouraged to use – these are collated together at the foot of this page.
The first ‘meeting’ is crucial, and can set the tone for the future mentoring relationship. Successful mentoring is based on the quality of the relationship, so it is important that this first meeting takes time to ensure that expectations, aspirations and core values are discussed. Launching straight into detailed discussion of research ideas and projects is very tempting, but is likely to lead to confusion or misunderstanding further down the line.
Given the significance of this initial ‘meeting’, we expect that it will be conducted either face-to-face, via Skype or by telephone – not just by email. It’s important that mentor and participant are able to establish a personal rapport and relationship.
The focus of this meeting is to develop a mentoring agreement, which among other things will address the following:
- Introductions – understanding each other’s professional backgrounds, the contexts in which you work, and the overall setting for the intended research project
- Mutual expectations between participant and mentor
- We have indicated some general expectations of mentors and participants in this scheme
- Partners in mentoring relationships may also identify specific expectations that they have one another in addition to those already stated
- Desired goal(s) – the outcome(s) that the participant wishes to achieve through their project
- We recognise that goals may change as the participant develops, but every mentoring relationship should have at least one desired goal identified at the start. Other issues may emerge over time and can be incorporated within the mentoring agreement where appropriate, or provide an identifiable ‘next step’ on conclusion of the mentoring relationship (see below)
- Outcomes must be achievable within the duration of the mentoring relationship
- Outcomes may relate to production of ‘outputs’ (e.g. a research paper or presentation) but should also address development of the participant’s research and evaluation skills
- Desired assistance – in general terms, the support the participant is seeking from the mentor
- Estimated timescales for completion of the project
- We expect that most projects within this scheme should be able to achieve identified goals in no longer than 18 months. Some projects will be achievable within a shorter period of time, particularly those supporting dissemination of existing research findings
- Projects requiring longer than this are likely to be too large, and should be reconsidered or broken down into stages, the first of which could be supported by the mentoring scheme
- Communication arrangements
- Generally speaking, the onus is on the participant to initiate contact and take a lead, and that mentors will be responsive to the reasonable needs and requests of their participant and be available for mutually agreed sessions. It is not the role of the mentor to ‘chase’ the participant
- Contact details and preferred mode(s) of communication
- Frequency of communication
- Timing/location of ‘meetings’
To support this initial meeting we have provided a sample agenda (for an hour-long meeting) and a template mentoring agreement. If need be, mentors and participants may take more than one meeting to finalise the content of the mentoring agreement, allowing time for some reflection on initial discussions.
Having established the foundations of the mentoring relationship, further meetings/communication may then focus in more detail on the specifics of the research project. Initially this will involve the participant describing the context of their research project in order that appropriate steps to achieving the overall goal can be achieved. The role of the mentor here is to support the learning and development of the participant, not to direct the project themselves.
We recommend that at this stage the following steps are followed:
- The participant undertakes a personal ‘stocktake’ of their strengths and weaknesses, knowledge and skills, and personal, professional and organisational context – within the general scope of the research project being undertaken. This may be prepared by the participant in advance of the meeting, but needs to be discussed with the mentor so that a shared understanding of the participant’s situation can be gained
- We have provided a self-assessment form on which such a stock-take can be undertaken, although we recognise that other similar tools are available, and each mentor-participant relationship can tailor the approach to their own needs
- This provides a ‘baseline’ against which specific development objectives can be identified within the context of the research project. As it is not possible to tackle everything at once, the partners will need to prioritise which objectives are of more importance, and the order in which they should be addressed
- Ideas for activities to address these development objectives can then be brainstormed and an action plan brought together, incorporating activities, target dates and how successful completion can be demonstrated. These activities are likely to be related to designing, implementing and/or disseminating the research project. By identifying these activities in the context of personal development objectives, a clear link is made between the activities and the learning and skill development of the participant
- These learning objectives and actions can be recorded using this learning objectives template
- Using such a template provides a useful way of recording the key outcomes of each mentoring session and the future actions agreed, without requiring full ‘minutes’ of every meeting
Note that it isn’t necessary (and probably not desirable) to capture all the learning objectives related to the entire project in the earliest meetings – only those most immediately important. Further learning objectives are likely to become apparent as the project progresses.
As the mentoring relationship develops, meetings can review progress on actions previously agreed, and both mentor and participant can reflect on the extent to which completing the actions have been successful in achieving development objectives as well as progressing the research project. This can then feed into a further cycle of identifying/refining development objectives, action planning and implementation.
A template agenda for meetings during the ‘ongoing’ phase of the mentoring relationship is available.
Reflective learning log
We strongly recommend that both partners keep an individual reflective learning log during the course of the mentoring relationship and research project. This provides an ongoing and up-to-date learning log in which details of meetings, experiences, activities and incidents can be recorded. The template we have provided is based on Rolfe et al’s framework for reflexive practice . Reviewing the outcomes of actions taken can then draw upon the entries in the reflective log to make sense of problems, understand successes and make decisions about future actions.
For the mentor, the reflective log should focus on how they have approached each mentoring ‘session’, how the session went and subsequent actions taken by the participant. The mentor can then use the reflective log to consider how effective their approach to mentoring has been in supporting the development of the participant and helping them to achieve their goals. This becomes increasingly important as the relationship matures and the nature of the mentor’s role changes.
Over time, a successful mentoring relationship will shift from one where the mentor is carefully nurturing the growth of the participant’s research skills, to a situation where the participant is developing greater independence and confidence. This will occur earlier in some relationships than others, and is not always easy to define or identify. In a similar way, as the participant’s independence grows the mentor should gradually shift their approach from ‘friendly supporter’ to a more challenging devil’s advocate role – encouraging the participant to adopt different perspectives, to consider the merits of a range of options/approaches, and to devise detailed action plans. This approach encourages innovation and creativity rather than a “Do it like this” approach.
Agendas for meetings in this phase of the relationship are likely to remain very similar – it is the nature of the discussions that shifts.
Good practice in mentoring schemes suggests that every so often a specific meeting is arranged to review both the content and processes of the mentoring relationship. In this scheme we suggest that this takes place approximately halfway through the intended duration of the mentoring relationship, likely to be after around 6-9 months, depending on the timescales agreed in the mentoring agreement. To assist in this process we have provided a series of review questions that participant and mentor can discuss together during this meeting, and in doing so appraise how the mentoring relationship is progressing. Both partners may well wish to review their reflective learning logs as part of this process, which may assist in identifying how the relationship has developed and changed.
At some stage the mentoring relationship will either come to a premature end or reach a natural conclusion. It is desirable to have a concluding meeting during which the following issues can be addressed:
- Have the agreed tasks been completed? If there is any ‘unfinished business’, how will this be dealt with?
- Appraisal of mentoring relationship – using similar review questions as previously discussed. In particular, the participant can give valuable feedback to the mentor on mentoring approach and style
- The future of the relationship between both partners following conclusion of the mentoring process. Partners may choose to continue to communicate and correspond as friends/colleagues, or can choose to finalise and say goodbye – a decision that is left to those individuals to agree upon
On conclusion of the mentoring relationship, both mentor and participant will be expected to contribute to the evaluation of the scheme by completing relevant evaluation tools. We would encourage both participants to also further reflect upon the relationship and the skills and competences developed, and consider the next steps in their own development. Again, the learning logs will be of great benefit in supporting this reflection.
Conflict resolution process
Whilst we do not envisage situations of conflict arising frequently, we recognise that there may be times where there are disagreements about how the scheme is operating – for example, a mentor-participant relationship may be encountering difficulties (e.g. due to slow or non-response of the mentor, or excessive demands being made by the participant). We would encourage all those involved to try and resolve such situations informally, and information in this guidance and about what we expect of mentors and participants is provided to give a clear guide. But where such situations are not so easily resolved, a panel comprised of at least 3 members of the Education & Research Special Interest Group Board will consider the issue and determine the most appropriate way forward.
Mentor research expertise
We expect all mentors to be able to give advice on formulating research questions, searching and reviewing the literature, and preparing findings for dissemination. Beyond that, we recognise that there will be differences in the areas of methodological expertise that different mentors can offer – and this is one of the key criteria used to match a participant to an appropriate mentor.
Where a mentor does not feel comfortable offering advice on a methodological issue outside their typical range of expertise, they should indicate as such and seek support from the scheme to engage an additional adviser for topic-specific advice. This adviser does not replace the mentor, but advises on the specific methodological issue. In this way, both the participant and the mentor can benefit from the adviser’s input, whilst maintaining the original mentoring relationship.
Throughout the above guidance we've referred to templates and forms that might be useful to mentors and participants as you develop your mentoring relationship. These are compiled below for ease of reference:
 Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.