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Making a mentorship match

Suzanne Lazaroo

2 August 2019: They’ve been there and done that – and now, a whole cohort of mentors at the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Health want to draw on their wealth of lived experience to support and advocate for their colleagues in the hallways of academia.

“As researchers and teachers, we ask a lot of ourselves and each other – so we thought a support system like this would be a good idea,” said Dr Richard Keegan.

An Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Science, Dr Keegan is one of the co-founders of the Health faculty’s pilot mentoring program, with Professor Lucy Chipchase, Associate Dean, Education and Clinical; Professor Diane Gibson, Distinguished Professor, Health and Ageing; and Dr John Rolley, Associate Professor in Nursing.

The mentorship program was created on a foundation of relationship-building and finding the right match between mentors and mentees who signed up for it.

“It was a case of matching what each mentor could offer and what each mentee was looking for,” Dr Keegan said.

To find the best mentor-mentee match, participants submitted expressions of interest to indicate their preferences and goals, which were then matched to mentor expertise.

“It felt a bit like running a dating website!” said Dr Keegan. “We then worked out the best fits based on the feedback generated from that, and everyone got a chance to review who they were paired with.”

“Some people were looking for very specific help, such as with the writing of grant applications, navigating the system for promotions, writing for publications, assistance with the commercialisation of their work, or simply, seeking advice on how best to maintain a work-life balance,” Dr Keegan said.

While most of the mentors are from within the faculty, certain subjects like the commercialisation of research are specialised enough that the organisers brought in experts on the subject from the Faculty of Business, Government and Law.

The pilot program has started with 25 mentors and 37 mentees, with many more expressing interest – and the people helming the program couldn’t be happier with the response.

“We’ve got everyone from former Deans to high-performing researchers, celebrated educators and a host of experienced old hats!” Dr Keegan said. The call for mentors drew a diverse group with one thing in common – the desire to support their colleagues.

“I think there’s a recognition of how important this kind of support can be, and a desire to give back, underlying the strong response we’ve gotten from the mentors,” Dr Keegan said.

Currently, the program is based on an intended three or four meetings a year – above and beyond that will depend on mentor and mentee.

“It’s a pilot program, so this will give us a chance to find out what works and what doesn’t,” said Dr Keegan. When the program moves into its next phase, it will also incorporate group workshops.

The Faculty of Art and Design (FAD) has also embarked on a pilot mentoring program, which has received great feedback.

“We wanted to implement a mentoring program that would also build research culture and encourage collaboration within the faculty, which has a diverse range of disciplines,” said Dr Sora Park, FAD’s Associate Dean of Research.

The FAD program attempts to match mentors and mentees from different disciplines, to broaden the horizons of such potential collaborations.

To that end, the faculty also started a seed funding project, the FAD Collaboration Project Development Grant, which teams an early career researcher with a senior researcher and an industry partner.

“The initial feedback for the mentoring program has been encouraging – it seems to have helped researchers to get direction, narrow their focus and manage long-term goals especially,” said Dr Park.

The faculties will soon conduct a joint evaluation of the program.