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Settling In: The Researcher's Guide to Your University

5.3 Types of research mentors

There are many different types of mentors depending on the discussion focus you wish to emphasise. Some relationships will emphasise the broader context of working in a research intensive university, while others will more specifically target your research work and goals. Some possible emphases are listed below. It should be noted that these are not mutually exclusive – an individual may fulfil several different forms of mentorship, depending on his/her background.

Orientation mentors

These mentors are particularly valuable during the first few months of working in a new institution. A person filling this role would often be someone who has a good knowledge of the institution and the way in which research and the broader institutional context operate. They can introduce you to key people and agencies in the institution and guide you as to the culture and politics that may exist. The orientation mentor is also very useful in outlining the broad research processes which should be integrated into your work tasks and research activities. Orientation mentors need to be selected based on their knowledge of the local community and the university operations. They need not be senior staff but do need to be familiar with the broad functions of your university, faculty, and research community.

Contextual mentors

In some situations there is a need to learn about the political and social context in which your work operates, particularly where resources are tight. Sensitivity to the strategic and operational processes can greatly assist in facilitating and mobilising your research and ensuring you obtain the right support and sponsorship. Contextual mentors offer practical insight into how the research context operates, protocols for research practice, and guidance on those who have knowledge, influence, or power in the research setting. They can also offer useful insights into how you might best manage your research relationships with important members of your research community, and possibly how to manage research teams and projects. These mentors are normally found within your local work setting.

Career mentors

Mentors play a very important role in guiding effective career management. A successful research career requires considerable planning and consideration of long-term strategies to identify and benefit from opportunities that arise. Normally a career mentor will be more senior, with a research record that parallels the type of career you are seeking to build. His or her past experience will assist in guiding your steps and strategies. Their review of your research track record to identify gaps and vulnerabilities can be particularly valuable. While career mentors may be found in your local community, they may also be located elsewhere.

Discipline mentors

Research within most disciplines evolves into new fields of research and inquiry. A discipline mentor is someone who has a wide breadth of knowledge of the discipline and the lines of research which are being undertaken internationally. These mentors are expert in their field. Their networks will be wide-ranging and often link to other international scholars who are contributing to the ongoing research. Look out for someone who is widely published and cited, highly regarded, and continuing to publish in your discipline. These people are particularly valuable in guiding a new research interest or in identifying potential areas of collaboration.

Research mentors

These mentors are particularly valuable during the first few months of working in a new institution. A person filling this role would often be someone who has a good knowledge of the institution and the way in which research and the broader institutional context operate. They can introduce you to key people and agencies in the institution and guide you as to the culture and politics that may exist.

Research mentors are particularly important in providing a critical review of emergent research ideas, proposals, and publications. In this capacity they can offer five benefits:

  • Supportive – recognising and acknowledging your strengths
  • Constructive – identifying areas requiring work and how they might be improved
  • Insightful – exploring potential areas of related interest which might be included or strengthened
  • Informative – providing insights into the competitive process and how it operates
  • Realistic – advising if the grant or publication is not yet ready.

They also fill an important role in assisting with the dealing of criticism – a very confronting experience for anyone.

Leadership mentors

As you move into more senior roles you will need a different form of mentor: someone who can provide an insight into the ways of leading research teams, guiding more junior colleagues, and creating an effective vision and strategy for your project, team, or centre. A leadership mentor will normally draw on similar role experiences to encourage your reflection and skill development in guiding and supporting others. They can be particularly helpful in exploring the complex issues which arise when managing tight resources, talented people, and demanding deadlines.

Co-mentors

Peers who are keen to share their experiences and reflect on their progress with colleagues in a similar position can also provide mentorship. Their support can include the exchange of information, learning, insights, research practice, network knowledge, support, energy, enthusiasm, social interaction, and reflections. These mentors fill a very different role – uncertainties, vulnerabilities, and future aspirations are but some of the areas that can be explored in a nonthreatening forum of this nature. It is particularly important to build a friendship network in your research community, and to identify people who would be pleased to act as co-mentors.

You will both gain strong affirmation and encouragement from each other. These relationships will be less formally managed and may operate through an occasional lunch or coffee break. It is important, though, to make time for these important discussions.

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