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Building the academic community together: the benefits of being a mentor

08 Aug 2019 | Dr Dawn Reilly Dr Dawn Reilly Principal Lecturer Accounting, Business School, University of Greenwich, on mentoring Fellows

I would like to share my experience of the benefits of being a mentor to colleagues who are applying for Fellowship. These include the opportunity to build our academic community together, as I talk to a mentee about their professional practice in the positive and supportive environment which the mentoring relationship provides (Asghar and Pilkington, 2018). In those conversations I can learn from colleagues as part of my own development and also find out about other modules, programmes or departments to enhance the relationships within our community.

Since achieving Senior Fellowship in 2017 I have mentored six colleagues. I am at the beginning of my mentoring journey but the applications for my colleagues relate to the three levels of Associate Fellowship, Fellowship and Senior Fellowship and therefore add to my experience of the process.  

In every mentoring relationship there can be opportunities for a mentor to takeaway a lesson learnt, although the examples below are not confined to the level of fellowship shown. In helping a potential Senior Fellow to communicate in their application, how they lead, guide and support colleagues, a mentor can learn about other areas or teams in their department, faculty or institution. I have been able to reflect on a colleague’s impact on others in order to confirm and draw out their practice, and also to take up the challenge of reflecting on how I do that myself. Other areas where an application for Senior Fellowship may provide challenges arise from how a colleague relates to employers and professional bodies and the ways in which these relationships are brought into the classroom to benefit our students. In these ways, mentoring a colleague toward Senior Fellowship can make a valuable contribution to my own lifelong learning in the area of leadership outside of more obvious forms of CPD.

When a colleague is applying for Fellowship, they may not have many, or indeed any, leadership responsibilities and therefore they have the space to focus on teaching. Watching colleagues teach and interact with their students always provides me with a learning opportunity which I can use to enhance my own teaching. As mentor, I give feedback on a colleague’s practice, arising from a teaching observation in particular, but in observing, I can learn from a colleague who might spend more time than I do ‘at the chalk face’. For example, when a colleague includes their own research or that of others in their teaching, this allows me to see their passion and interest and builds a sense of community among us including for colleagues outside my own department.  

A new experience for me is being mentor to colleagues who are applying for Associate Fellowship. Whilst Associate Fellows may have less experience of teaching than colleagues applying for higher levels of fellowship, there are things a mentor can learn from them. For example, when professional people with current industry experience teach on our programmes, this is of immense benefit to our students who are preparing for their own careers in a particular sector. In observing their teaching and discussing their applications, I can see links to industry and a focus on transferable skills which I may be able to echo in my own teaching. It is also a very rewarding experience to play a part in their transition to teaching in HE and to help them to develop as educators.

Mentoring provides the opportunity to find out more about the academic communities we belong to as we learn about the practice of others, including junior colleagues and staff working in other departments. Depending on our specific responsibilities, sometimes we find ourselves working in self-constructed silos. The process of applying for fellowship, which includes not only our own self-reflection but the process of receiving feedback from colleagues, therefore challenges the silos. This is also true of mentoring which provides us with an opportunity to take an active role in building relationships within our academic communities as we demonstrate that we value colleagues’ practice and respect their professional development (Lumpkin, 2011). Once we have achieved our own fellowship, taking on the role of mentor is a great way we can continue to develop our practice, support colleagues and make a contribution to building the academic community we are a part of.

References

Asghar, M and Pilkington, R (2018), The relational value of professional dialogue for academics pursuing HEA fellowship, International Journal for Academic Development, 23:2, 135-146, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2017.1386566

Lumpkin, A (2011), A model for mentoring university faculty, The Educational Forum, 75:4, 357-368, DOI: 10.1080/00131725.2011.602466

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