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Academics and Research Fellows are assigned a mentor when they join the Department.

Post-doctoral Researchers are free to contact anyone in the Mentor Pool, at any point during their time in the Department, and are not limited to having only one mentor for the duration - you might find that you would like alternative views on the same topic, or that you have differing needs at different stages of your contract. 

Annually, all academic and research staff will be asked to complete a 3-point questionnaire to assess impact and value:

  • Do you have a mentor?
  • Have you met your mentor this year?
  • Is your mentoring relationship useful to you?

Getting the most out of the mentoring process


What is mentoring?

Helping another person become what they aspire to be

Mentoring is a system of semi-structured guidance whereby one person shares their knowledge, skills and experience to assist others to progress in their own lives and careers.

Research has proven the value of mentoring for improving the work experience of staff.  It complements the support provided by line managers and supervisors by addressing a different range of questions.  A line manager or supervisor will focus on performance in the job (while not neglecting staff development).  A mentor will focus entirely on the mentee’s personal and professional development and their wellbeing, and is there to provide guidance and support by passing on their experience and knowledge.  The mentor will get to know the mentee so that he/she can understand his/her strengths and develop his/her potential.  The mentor will help less experienced colleagues understand their working environment and culture and pass on their wisdom (“if only I'd known then what I know now”).  The mentor will be a good listener and able to give constructive and positive feedback.  The mentor will help the mentee make their own decisions.

The University of Cambridge notes that there are three kinds of mentoring: induction mentoring (sometimes known as “buddying”), peer mentoring and developmental mentoring (sometimes known as sponsorship):

In the Zoology scheme, the mentee should determine, and ask for, the kind of mentoring relationship and support that is most useful to them.


Guidelines for effective mentoring

The University of Durham offers some useful guidance about what kind of behaviours are, and are not, desirable in a mentoring relationship:




Listening & questioning with empathy

Using coaching behaviours


Sharing experience & learning

Providing help and support

Performance management

Developing insight through reflection

Opening doors


Being a sounding board & confidant

Brokering or facilitating links

Assessment for third party

Professional &/or critical friendship




Set up with specific outcomes intended



Expectations of mentors and mentees

The Open University has drawn up some helpful notes about expectations:

Mentee’s expectations of mentors


Mentees find it helpful if mentors are able to:

  • Act as a resource person;
  • Act as a confidante;
  • Show an active interest in the mentee’s concerns;
  • Give wide professional guidance;
  • Show an interest in the mentee’s future career;
  • Act as a guide to, rather than controller of, their activities.

Management of meetings

Mentees find it helpful if mentors are able to:

  • Hold regular scheduled meetings;
  • Make additional time available on request;
  • Ensure a professional focus is provided for meetings.


Mentees find it helpful if mentors:

  • Know about the mentor’s role and functions;
  • Establish ground rules for the relationship;
  • Are supportive;
  • Are non-prescriptive, leave space for innovation and learning by mistakes;
  • Accept that the relationship is a two-way professional one, implying mutual sharing of advice and views;
  • Are committed to professionalism.

Mentee’s responsibilities in the mentor-mentee relationship

Mentors may expect mentees to:

  • Be prompt in presenting concerns;
  • Be capable;
  • Be aware of departmental regulations;
  • Show dedication/enthusiasm;
  • Take their responsibilities seriously;
  • Show an independent approach;
  • Not make excessive and unnecessary calls on their mentor’s time.



Why become a mentor?

Mentors often cite they want "to put something back" into the system - especially if they've had a good experience that they want to "pass on", and to help a less experienced colleague progress ("if only I'd known then what I know now").

Transferable skills development - the skills needed to be a mentor (see below) are transferable to a wide range of contexts to assist career progression, including management (both within scientific careers and in terms of organisations in the external world who value good ‘people managers’ with active listening skills and good judgement of someone's skills and potential).

The mentoring relationship enables you to:

  • develop strengths (yours and theirs)
  • check assumptions (yours and theirs)
  • clarify misunderstandings (yours and theirs)
  • work with people from different contexts and backgrounds
  • practise offering positive and constructive feedback
  • generate workable solutions together in a mutually respectful way
  • motivate, advise and support whilst empowering someone to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their own actions and development

This all takes place in a 'safe', consensual and mutually confidential environment.