Research Mentoring Program

Within the demanding context of academia, building a relationship with a mentor provides the opportunity to invest in your career trajectory mindfully and deliberately, especially in relation to research.

Mentoring does not adopt the deficit model, that a mentee is lacking and needs direction of a mentor to improve. Instead, mentoring involves building a collaborative space where the mentor is a sounding board for future planning and problem solving, focused on research and career development of the mentee.

In 2022, the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) ran a series of pilot research mentoring programs based on this collaborative model. We sought Expressions of Interest (EOIs) to match participants with a mentor from a different discipline, one academic step higher than themselves. Participants also had to provide mentoring to one or two academics a step below (also in a different discipline).

A Snapshot of early career researchers (ECRs)

The 38 FHS early career researchers (ECRs) who self-selected to participate were invited in the EOI process to respond to the two questions outlined below. Each discipline in the FHS was represented by at least one ECR, with most belonging to Nursing (N=7).

How would you describe the research landscape at ACU?

Some ECRs described ACU as undergoing a rapid change in research strategy, with 'traditional' strategies such as focusing on citations and ‘publish or perish’ mentality no longer being the focus. Others described a feeling of change and excitement in research involving new opportunities, external collaborations, and an increasing focus on real-world problem-solving and impact. Many ECRs described using existing Honours and Masters research supervision to drive their research interests. Most ECRs described building a mentoring relationship with an ACU staff member by chance or building on a former supervisor relationship, such as PhD supervision, however for those who had not organically found a research mentor, they felt this was a gap in support.

What advice would you give a more junior research academic at ACU?

Practical advice included:

  • Think strategically in research activities, develop a research story and share this widely.
  • Use a social media profile to promote your research.
  • Take advantage of resources such as LinkedIn training and Intersect.
  • One helpful anecdote was to think of two circles in a venn diagram: one with the type of research that fits ACU's research strategy and one with the type of research that fits your interests/skills/etc. The overlap of those two circles is where you want to focus your efforts. Find the sweet spot that lets you do research that is intrinsically interesting, but also aligned with the institution.
Mentoring for the future

FHS is currently implementing a roll-out of the program in 2023 based on learnings from the pilot. No workload allocation is linked with participation in the pilot scheme. Each mentee-mentor pair is recommended to meet quarterly for up to an hour and contact the program coordinator to manage challenges as they arise.

The core challenges FHS ECRs identified to be targeted by research mentorship included balancing teaching and research workloads, identifying more senior staff both internally and externally who could provide support and coaching for grant writing, and finding time to devote to quality research.

Dr Madeleine Fraser is part of the ECR Advisory Group and was the FHS Research Mentoring Coordinator in 2022. She is working to handover the roll to Matt Penfold, Faculty Research Manager, in 2023.

We would love to share more ideas and opportunities for mentoring via the ECR Teams forum. In addition, the Research and Enterprise Updates Workplace group is a great place to connect with colleagues and upcoming opportunities.

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