Being a clinical academic can be a lonely experience – trying to keep a foot in both the clinical and the research worlds, without always feeling completely comfortable in either. It is also a hugely challenging role, with lots of decisions about training, clinical specialism and research area to be made, all of which have a major impact on future career direction.
Fortunately, the Academy is there to help. Since 2002, we have been funded by the National Institute for Health Research and others to provide one-to-one mentoring for post doctoral clinical academics in training. We have matched over 300 Clinical Lecturers and Clinician Scientist Fellows with Academy Fellows, and then continued to support those relationships. Access to the Academy’s Fellows is a unique aspect of the scheme, and it is crucial to its success.
Professor David Adams FMedSci, Dean of the Medical School at the University of Birmingham, is Chair of the Academy’s Mentoring Advisory Group. ‘Mentoring has a vital role to play in developing the next generation of medical researchers,’ he explained. ‘It enables them to fulfil their potential. It makes the most of the outstanding opportunities the UK affords for medical research.’
Medical researchers, whether clinically trained or not, have always benefited from informal advice and encouragement from peers and senior colleagues. The chance conversation with a colleague in a departmental common room or the discussion with a former supervisor at a conference can be instrumental in developing and shaping a career. But sometimes, thinks Professor Adams, there is a need for something more structured. ‘Informal advice is great, but it can easily become tinged with personal preferences. There is a need for formal mentoring.’ And he is convinced that mentoring works. ‘There is evidence that mentoring is helping to produce researchers who are more confident in their own abilities, and who value and draw on diverse personal support networks,’ he explained. ‘It also develops the ability to ask the right questions, challenge assumptions and explore options.’
The mentoring scheme is central to the Academy’s support for research careers, but it is also one of the best ways of involving our Fellows in our work. Some Fellows mentor more than one trainee, but we aim to spread the responsibility across as wide a range of Fellows as possible. Currently, 204 Fellows act as mentors. Many of those are not themselves clinicians, but they can still offer their insight into navigating the early stages of a research career.
The scheme has developed a lot over the past 10 years. The Academy’s mentoring team has collected some of the lessons we’ve learned into a booklet and a series of short films, which we hope will be useful to other organisations looking to support early career researchers.
Professor Adams has encouraged the Academy to share what we have learnt. ‘Our scheme provides an excellent model of best practice in this area,’ he said. ‘We know that other groups and organisations are already learning from the Academy’s experiences and designing their own support schemes.’
Our hope is that mentoring will make a difference to all medical researchers, as they juggle the pressures of administration, teaching clinical work and research projects. ‘I believe that the establishment of formal mentoring schemes is starting to create a ‘mentoring culture’ in which researchers receive high quality mentoring and support,’ Professor Adams said.
Watch – The mentees’ journey
View more films on mentoring
The Academy’s mentoring scheme continues to evolve, and our dedicated mentoring team is always happy to speak about it, or to give advice about mentoring in general. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.