Practitioner-Research Mentoring Scheme

Building capacity and confidence for evidence-based environmental health practice


  • Are you an environmental health professional interested in doing research and developing your own evidence-based practice, but aren’t sure where to start?
  • Could you offer advice and support to a fellow professional to help them undertake and write up their research?

If you answered yes, or even just maybe to either of those questions, then our Practitioner-Research Mentoring Scheme is for you.

Here you'll find essential information about the scheme, including:

▼ How to get involved 

Have you got an idea for a research project, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’ve already embarked on a project, but you’ve got stuck part way and need some advice on where to go next? Or maybe you’ve already conducted the research and are wondering how best to disseminate what you’ve found? Then our research mentoring scheme is here to help you. Apply to access the scheme.

Or perhaps you’ve already got experience of undertaking research and/or evaluation related to environmental health? Could you support others in developing their skills and contributing to the evidence base for environmental health practice? Apply to become a mentor in the scheme.

The scheme operates some basic eligibility criteria for both participants and mentors.

Why get involved?

Involvement in the scheme can bring you the following benefits:

  • Skill and career development
    • As a participant you’ll receive guidance and support to assist you in developing your research and evaluation skills, as well as a deeper understanding of the issues you face in your professional practice
    • As a mentor you have the opportunity to enhance your leadership and communication skills, and the ability to challenge and stimulate the development of a fellow environmental health professional
    • The skills you develop and the networks that you will build and/or link with whilst conducting and supporting research can help develop and widen future career opportunities
  • Participants and mentors can claim CPD for activity undertaken within the scope of the mentoring scheme
  • Sharing your professional experiences
    • Participants: through undertaking research into your practice, and disseminating the results
    • Mentors: through sharing your own professional and research expertise with participants
  • Personal recognition of the contribution you have made to the evidence base for environmental health practice (e.g. joint authorship of research articles or presentations, with participant as lead author)
  • A chance to engage with and develop new innovations in environmental health practice
 
▼ Aims of the scheme 

Why?

A key goal for the environmental health profession is strengthening the evidence base for environmental health interventions – understanding social and environmental influences on health, and how EHPs can effectively influence to protect and improve public health. Previous discussions on how this can be achieved have identified a need to build capacity and confidence amongst EHPs for undertaking research. Our Research Strategy and the Membership Network research plan both include commitments to developing a researcher mentoring scheme.

The concept of post-qualification support through mentoring schemes is well-established in many professions, such as teaching, social work and nursing. Effective mentoring schemes can bring benefits to the organisation, the mentor and the participant, as briefly summarised below:

Organisational  Mentor   Participant  
  • Widening of skills base and competencies
  • Helps achieve mission/vision
  • Increased confidence of supported practitioners
  • Bridges gap between education, research and practice
 
  • Improve leadership, organisational & communication skills
  • Improve awareness of own learning gaps
  • Chance to pass on knowledge & experience
  • Offers networking opportunities
 
  • Develop learning, analytical and reflective skills
  • Support through transition
  • Improve self-confidence, autonomy and broadens horizons
  • Accelerate development of own professional practice
 

For a more thorough review of the benefits of mentoring, and mentoring theory and practice more generally, see McKimm et al [1].

Aims of the mentoring scheme

  • Supporting EHPs to disseminate the evaluation of their policy and practice
  • Building capacity and confidence within the profession for evidence-based professional practice, including reflective professional story-telling
  • Disseminating understanding of what has gone before and what we already know

What do we hope to achieve?

  • Contribute to the delivery of our Research Strategy
  • Support the development of an evidence-based practice culture in the profession
  • Increase dissemination of the evaluation of professional practice

[1] McKimm, Jollie & Hatter (2007). Mentoring: Theory and Practice. Available online at:
http://faculty.londondeanery.ac.uk/e-learning/feedback/files/Mentoring_Theory_and_Practice.pdf 

 
▼ How the scheme works in practice 

Our practitioner-research mentoring scheme is based on the following operating principles:

  • An ‘expert-novice’ approach in relation to the participant’s confidence and experience in undertaking research – but recognising that participants are by no means novices in terms of their practice
  • A one-to-one mentor-participant relationship - during the pilot process, each mentor will only support one participant at any one time, and each participant will have a single mentor. We will review this approach as the scheme matures based on the pilot evaluation
  • Communication between mentor and participant is by any means necessary! We anticipate that in most cases it will be mainly via telephone or e-communication (email, Skype, etc.) However we recognise that for some mentor-participant relationships, face-to-face meetings may be desirable, where both partners have agreed to that in the development of the learning agreement
  • All participants and mentors within the scheme are expected to abide by our Code of Ethics and principles of ethical research practice

Matching participants to mentors  

On receipt of their application, eligible participants will be matched to an appropriate mentor based on some or all of the following criteria:

  • Topic/area of practice expertise – i.e. the issue that the proposed research project will investigate
  • Research methodology – the nature of the research methodology to be followed and/or the support requested by the participant
  • Geographical location – although we envisage most communication is likely to be electronic or via telephone, in some situations it may make sense for the mentor and participant to be located in the same region

As the scheme matures, we aspire to develop peer networks of both practitioner-researchers and research mentors, to further share learning, experience and good practice. However in the initial pilot phase we will concentrate on establishing the fundamental aspects of the scheme.

Eligibility criteria  

In order to ensure the scheme works effectively and to a suitable standard, we’ve established some basic eligibility criteria for participants and mentors. If you’re not sure whether you meet the criteria, our advice is to apply anyway and we’ll be in touch to discuss the situation with you.

Participants


To be eligible to access the scheme you need to:

  • Be a member in good standing;
  • Be enthusiastic and motivated for the task;
  • Have an outline idea for a research project relate to some aspect of environmental health practice – this doesn’t have to be particularly detailed but provides a basis on which we can match you with a mentor, and for the initial discussions you’ll have with your mentor.

The scheme is not intended to support the following circumstances:

  • Student members enrolled on one of our accredited degree programme
  • Research projects being undertaken by members in partial fulfilment of the requirements of a degree or related qualification (e.g. dissertation for MSc or MBA)

Members in these situations already have access to appropriate support through the relevant academic institution.

Mentors

In order to become a research mentor you need to:

  • Be willing and enthusiastic to take part – this is perhaps the most important criterion. We anticipate a time commitment of no more than one to two hours per month
  • Have experience of undertaking research related to environmental health, or evaluation of environmental health professional practice. This could be demonstrated by one or more of the following:
    • Successful completion of a taught Masters degree including dissertation
    • Successful completion of a research qualification: e.g. PhD/MPhil/Professional Doctorate/MRes/ResM
    • Publication of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal (based on a significant contribution to authorship)
    • Other demonstrable evidence of the necessary knowledge and skills
  • Hold a degree or equivalent qualification in a subject area related to environmental health (drawn broadly, not purely CIEH-accredited environmental health degree qualifications)
    • This could be the same qualification that you use to demonstrate your research experience, but doesn’t have to be. For example, you might hold a BSc (Hons) Environmental Health (which fulfils this criterion) and a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) that included a dissertation or research project, which would fulfil the research experience criterion

       
 
▼ Expectations 

To ensure that the scheme runs successfully and results in positive experiences and outcomes for all, we have identified these expectations of how mentors and participants will conduct themselves.

Mentors should:

  • Abide by our Code of Ethics and principles of ethical research practice
  • We anticipate that the time commitment for a mentor is no more than one to two hours per month. The commitment may rise and fall at different stages of the research project in line with the ‘ebb and flow’ of the needs of the participant
  • Take a constructive collaborative approach to the mentoring relationship, adopting and embodying the following characteristics and behaviours:
    • be willing to engage and support the participant’s personal and professional development
    • act in a non-judgemental way
    • be empathetic
    • be open & honest
    • be a good listener
    • offer constructive comment, feedback and challenges to the participant
  • Active communication at an appropriate frequency, responding to the participant in line with the timescales agreed in their individual mentoring agreement
  • Honour commitments made and notify the participant of unexpected changes in circumstances
  • Support evaluation of the mentoring scheme by responding to evaluation data collection requests
  • Recognise their role in supporting the participant in their project, not furthering own research interests (this may be an eventual outcome but should not be the primary driver for the mentor’s involvement)
  • Recognise confidentiality of mentoring process

Participants should:

  • Abide by our Code of Ethics and principles of ethical research practice
  • Recognise the limited time available to the mentor (no more than one to two hours per month) and therefore make use of that time wisely! – in line with the terms of the individual mentoring agreement
  • Recognise that successful progression of the project is principally your responsibility – you drive the project and associated mentoring-related communications
  • Commit to agreed key targets and dates for identified pieces of work
  • Not to make significant changes to the research topic or process without prior discussion with the mentor
  • Give mentor reasonable notice and timescales within which to respond
  • Communicate via agreed mechanisms as per individual mentoring agreement
  • Notify mentor of unexpected changes in circumstances
  • Appropriately acknowledge support received and apply relevant conventions for published work
  • Recognise confidentiality of mentoring process

Authorship and acknowledgements

Decisions about authorship of work disseminating the results of a study supported by the scheme (such as a journal article, poster or presentation) should be reached on a case-by-case basis, but the following guidance is provided:

  • Where a mentor has contributed and supported the design, development and implementation of the research project, including contributing to the write-up, academic convention would indicate that they should be listed as a co-author on any published work (with the participant identified as the lead author)
  • In some circumstances, a mentor may have supported a participant in translating their existing research findings into a format suitable for dissemination. In these instances, it may be more appropriate to recognise the contribution of the mentor via an acknowledgements section (typically at the end of the paper)
  • Published work resulting from projects supported by the mentoring scheme should acknowledge that support with a statement such as:
    “Design, implementation and exposition* of this study was supported by our practitioner-research mentoring scheme.”

* Delete/amend as applicable to the specific project and support received. 

 
▼ Developing the mentoring relationship 

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.

Initiation

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.

Nurturing

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 [1]. 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.

Maturing

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.

Ending

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.

Other issues

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.

Useful templates

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:

[1] Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Our Practitioner-Research Mentoring Scheme is designed and operated by the Education & Research Special Interest Group.






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