Forging mentor-mentee links

2014-15 was a very busy year for the Mentoring and Careers team.

In the space of twelve months, they took on a new three year contract with NIHR, allowing them to offer more extensive mentoring to non-clinical(???) academics, renewed the existing clinical mentoring contract with the Medical Research Council, and extended their contract with GSK – overall, greatly increasing their capacity to offer mentoring support and resources to bioscience researchers across the country.

Alongside all this “behind the scenes” work, they also spent plenty of time meeting people in person, holding  career developments all around the country, including Durham, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Leeds.

They also found time to hit a very significant milestone, when they matched their 400th mentor and mentee.

Of course, mentees are at the heart of everything they do. Here, we take the opportunity to find out a little bit more about Associate Professor Jonathan Cook, who has now been a mentee within the scheme for over a year.


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, including a simple description of your work?

I’m a statistician by background. Following my undergrad degree at the University of Aberdeen, I undertook a PhD related to dealing with surgical learning in trials. After that I worked as an applied statistician for a few years before I was fortunate to get two MRC fellowships back to back both related to the surgical trials methodology.  Just over two years ago I moved down to Oxford to work at the Centre for Statistics in Medicine. My main research interests are regarding the design, conduct and analysis of randomised trials methods particular in the area of surgery. I dabble in other areas too!

What first inspired you to seek out a mentor through the Academy’s scheme?

I jumped on the opportunity when the scheme was launched as I had been thinking about getting an external mentor (I had an institutional one) but I felt some outside input would be helpful. At the time I was considering making a big career move which I’ve now done.

What have been the main benefits of working with a mentor? Have they given you a particularly memorable piece of advice?

It’s probably the chance to talk out loud to an experience colleague who understands the general area without being personally involved. It’s nice to hear someone say “yes that was a difficult situation” or “you dealt with that in a good way” as you can sometimes start to doubt yourself when you come across a difficult or unexpected work related situation. I used my meeting as an opportunity to reflect about my work and plans. I’d certainly become a mentor myself in future, if I was offered the chance.

What traits would you advise people to look for in a mentor/mentoring relationship?

There may not be a perfect match but someone who comes from roughly the same area and has carried out work that you admire would be a good place to start. If possible, it’s also good to have some idea that they are the sort of person you are likely to get on with (perhaps by sounding out someone who knows both of you).

What advice or tips would you give someone starting out in a mentor/mentee relationship?

Don’t expect too much as they can’t tell you what to do (nor should they!) but they can provide a sounding board and give you feedback, helpful advice and food for thought.

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