By Dr Kay Guccione, Head of Research Culture & Researcher Development and Dr Jennifer Boyle, PGR Writing Adviser
Research Staff play a vital role in the day-to-day support and development of doctoral researchers and with the right training and framing they can deliver thesis support that makes a big impact! The Thesis Mentoring programme has piloted at UofG over the last few months and the outcomes show exactly this.
Evaluation data show that working with a postdoc in a Thesis Mentoring programme supports PGRs to navigate the process of writing, improve their relationship with writing, develop their confidence as a writer, and improve their ability to track and monitor progress towards their thesis deadline. Every mentee who completed our pilot programme and evaluation agreed that the Thesis Mentoring programme had had a positive impact on their ability to complete their thesis. There were further benefits for mentees too, taking to a mentor reduced stress and increased perceptions of well-being, self-awareness, positivity and confidence:
Read examples of the positive impact of our Research Staff on the Thesis Mentor Hall of Fame board – click the image below read more.
Thesis Mentoring uses supportive Solutions Focused coaching conversations to enable mentees to take a deliberate and planned approach to writing. Mentors support reflective action-orientated learning in line with the writing objectives set by their mentee. For more detailed information on the programme structure see here.
What about the mentors’ own development?
Data from the pilot programme also confirms that mentoring offers benefits for mentors – our brilliant Research Staff, who volunteer their time. The benefits mentors reported centred on a greater sense of recognition, career development and developing their capacity for research/team leadership, including honing their listening skills, their ability to build confidence and motivate others and their approach to supporting creative problem solving for their mentees.
All mentors who responded agreed that being a thesis mentor had improved their understanding of and ability to support or supervise PGRs, as well as a tranche of additional personal benefits.
Building supervisory practice
In line with my statement at the opening of this post, UofG mentors also told us something really important about how their ability to support and supervise PGRs is developed through having real opportunities to do this work in practice:
“I have a deeper understanding of the issues affecting PGRs and not only think in the science behind the Thesis but also the human being that is putting lot of effort to archive the PhD.”
“I have a better understanding about the fact that what works for one person doesn’t work for others and sometimes advices are overrated as the person experiencing the issue is the only one that can really know how to get out of it. My role as a mentor/supervisor should be more about asking the right questions and be there to listen when needed.”
“It has reminded me of the little struggles all PhD go through when navigating a PhD/writing and it reminded me of how important the support I had from my group was. I am encouraged to keep that support going for new members of my research group.”
Research Staff have been telling us for a long time now that they view experiences of supervision and teaching gained during the post-doctoral period, as core to succeeding with their academic career. We also know that the development of an academic sense of self is, in part, a result of being offered the right formal institutional responsibilities and resources. Yet, Research Staff as a group aren’t always afforded these formal opportunities to contribute to supervision. In many other ways we are preoccupied with the development of Research Staff, and their ‘transferable skills’. For the last decade plus (of Roberts funding, and post-Roberts funding) UK Universities have been crafting bigger and better development provision, but we seem to have got stuck in a training trap – offering plentiful workshops, but far fewer opportunities to put the learning into practice, and contribute in the real world.
I would like to see universities take a broad-minded approach to the development of Research Staff and recognise what they can contribute. To achieve this, I’d like to see an increase in the range of experiences and responsibilities Research Staff are permitted to take on within our universities. If we want to encourage the embedded development of sophisticated leadership and team working practices (which is what mentoring and supervision are), we as a sector need to embed development opportunities within the expectations of the Research Staff role, acknowledge that they can supervise, and permit Research Staff to supervise in practice.
The July-November cycle of the Thesis Mentoring programme is now underway, with similar positive results expected thanks to the excellent mentoring skills of our Research Staff. A huge thank you and well done to all involved.
If you’d like to know more about underpinning rationale behind the design, and some early findings from a previous research project, see the video below. Thesis Supervision: the educational value of postdocs in supporting research writing.