New mentoring programme will lift-up researchers’ careers

The University launches a mentoring programme to support researchers in their career development and to promote gender equality.

The ADVANCE programme will match early career researchers with more experienced scientists. The pilot programme is open to women mentees only, but in its future roll-out it will be open to women and men, with a few of its components prioritising women in academia.

Dr Ines Crisostomo , who is coordinating the mentoring programme with the Gender Equality Officer, Prof Skerdilajda Zanaj , explains the need and scope of such a programme.

Mentoring is a proven resource to advance careers in the science community. Why is that?

A mentor is someone who is able to provide structured advice in an area they have experience in. A person who takes an unbiased interest in supporting a colleague. In short, mentors listen with the intent to understand, ask clarifying questions and use their experience to offer options. Mentors help mentees navigate through the intricate paths and hierarchies of their careers.

In return, mentors expand their leadership skills often learn something new: it’s a mutual learning relationship. As a mentor myself I find it truly rewarding.

A supervisor can be a mentor. Mentoring is about helping an individual with a change, a challenge, or an issue. It is a different role from supervision, but it can be taken by the same individual. The main difference is that supervision is task or project-oriented, a supervisor has responsibilities towards the completion of the project and appraisal of their team members, and this can be conflictual in certain situations. Also, the supervisor might not have the knowledge or expertise to help in certain situations.

How are mentoring and ADVANCE helping to promote gender equality?

Women are underrepresented at academic roles, and many women perceive advantages for men in career opportunities or allocation of resources and workload. In this perspective, having access to an experienced mentor is of significant advantage to make informed choices.

Mentoring is one tool - that must be part of a package of policies and tools in an institution - to sustainably improve female representation in academic careers.

Several studies and practices from other universities, such as the Imperial College in London, universities in Hessen or the Réseau romand de mentoring pour femmes in Switzerland, show the benefits of mentoring for female academics. This is true especially in STEM fields, but not only. Best practices show that mentoring is helpful in all areas of research. Mentoring primarily helps researchers in their first steps towards an academic career.

In the ADVANCE programme, this will be achieved through structured one-to-one and circle conversations, followed by a reflective exercise. Most important, the mentoring activities will be anchored to a career development training program. The vision is to create constructive spaces for academics to explore their career options and plan their future actions.

Who are the participants? How will they be matched?

For the pilot programme, the mentees are women researchers across all disciplines, at doctoral, post-doctoral and assistant professor level. Experienced scientists, also across all disciplines, make up the pool of mentors. Fellows (doctoral candidates and postdocs) will be matched with mentors from the University. The faculty (assistant professors) will be matched with external mentors from their discipline. In the future we will have regular calls for mentors and mentees.

The mentees and mentors will attend the kick-off event on 8 March and there will be a matching event in the end of March.

The pilot programme for one-to-one mentoring includes 24 mentees (19 fellows, one research scientist and four assistant professors). The mentoring circles during the pilot period will be open to 12 doctoral candidates. The first call for the programme will be launched in November 2023. Gender Equality Committee