Mentoring@work: Experiences with the TPM Graduate School’s mentoring system
Sélinde van Engelenburg, a PhD candidate in the ICT section since February 2015 and her mentor Bertien Broekhans, Assistant Professor at MAS, report on their experiences with the TPM Graduate School’s mentoring system.
In addition to a promotor and a daily supervisor, each TPM PhD candidate is provided with a mentor. This is a TPM staff member who is not involved in the PhD candidate’s project. Because the mentor has completed a PhD him/herself, he or she can provide the PhD candidate with objective (process-related) advice.
“It is very useful to stop once in a while and consider what you are doing, your planning and the progress you are making and to get independent feedback on that”
“Bertien and I first met in July 2015. We meet every two to three months in an informal setting. We either go for a walk or have a cup of coffee in the library. The informal nature and setting of our meetings allows for discussing things more freely than usual”, says Sélinde. Usually they talk about the PhD trajectory and research related topics, but sometimes personal experiences and situations are also discussed. “We both reflect on the experiences of the mentee too. These are different for every mentee as I found out in my role as mentor. Topics that are discussed might be: preparing for the first conference, the go/no go meeting, how to discuss research (re)design with supervisors, or how to deal with requests from supervisors that may thwart private plans ”, adds Bertien.
“When you start your PhD everything is new and sometimes you do not quite know what to expect. Since Bertien is much more experienced, she can provide me with valuable advice. She helped me by discussing some of her experiences with for instance going to conferences. This gave me insight in what to expect and enabled me to prepare myself better. I also find it very helpful that Bertien can look at things from a different perspective since she is not directly involved in my work. I sometimes tend to worry a little too much and in some cases it is easier to discuss such worries with my mentor. This helps me gain new and fresh insights. Just as important, it is nice to be able to discuss what you are doing and talk about the highs and lows in your work. I think it is very useful to stop once in a while and consider what you are doing, your planning and the progress you are making and to get independent feedback on that”.
Bertien: “Supportive feedback sometimes is institutional or procedural, whether mentees are familiar with certain rules or facilities for example. Often however we talk about how various people (including supervisors, editors) may deal differently with such issues depending on communication or learning style and their setting and personal situation. Mostly there is more than one strategy that can be deployed on the next challenge in (a PhD) life and research. In a mentoring session we can explore which one seems to be most supportive in the case at stake. Maybe enriching the variety of strategies to use, characterises best what this style of mentoring is about”
It’s about sharing experiences
Bertien often hears from mentees that they feel a bit lonely on their PhD journey, having to figure out themselves all these details about doing research, university rules and regulations, research opportunities, case study selection etc. etc. “Of course research, professionality and academic integrity is not prepared spoon-feed. On the other hand PhD candidates should not be left to themselves either. Many seniors are experienced and willing to share experiences, and they do so in their role as mentor. I try sharing my own experiences from when I was a PhD candidate, but also those I encounter while supervising PhD candidates”.
Sélinde: “I definitely would recommend other mentees to actively participate in the mentorship programme. Every PhD candidate encounters difficulties from time to time. It can be very useful to discuss these with somebody who is experienced and who looks at issues from a distance. Even when everything goes smoothly, it is good to discuss and celebrate this once in a while!”
For Bertien being a mentor works out beneficially too: “I enjoy meeting up with Sélinde. Besides helping her, our meetings are valuable to me as a reflection on my own activities and how my way of looking at and doing academic research can support early stage researchers. I always learn something about my personal behaviour as well. For example I began to see scientific writing in a new light because of Sélinde. It is valuable to have a mentee!