The idea is that this project, which will take place over the summer months, will explore ways in which we can make better use of ICT to create greater efficiency and effectiveness in our Early Career Academic Mentoring Scheme. But what exactly is the problem that we are setting out to solve?
Our cross-institutional mentoring scheme for early career academics has proved to be a successful way to support post-doctoral researchers, helping them to react to changes in the research environment, raise their research profiles, access new funding streams, build their institutional knowledge and develop networks. It is also an effective way to develop leadership, coaching and mentoring skills within the more senior academic cohort.
As a strongly research-focussed institution it is important that post-doctoral researchers receive this kind of support, that the necessary skills are propagated within the organisation and that we continue to build a culture of developing and supporting talented researchers.
However, with each successive cycle of the scheme, the cumulative amount of data on participants and mentoring partnerships increases. During the last cycle the scheme also saw growth of 60% in participant numbers, reflecting the increasing level of support required in the changing research environment. This resulted in strains on the systems, processes and resources associated with the scheme and poses a number of challenges. These can be summed up with the following question: with the same (or lower) resource input, how can we more efficiently administer a mentoring scheme, which is more effective in achieving its desired outcomes (i.e. delivers greater ‘added value’) and which has the capacity to grow in size?
We need to meet these challenges and this is the problem that must be addressed.
The project will therefore seek to provide the means to achieve:
- A fit-for-purpose mentoring scheme with the improved systems and digital resources.
- A more efficient mentoring scheme, where the processes are mapped out and streamlined to address any existing problems and weaknesses
- A mentoring scheme with the capacity to handle a greater number of participants, larger amounts of data and higher activity levels. An increase to 50 live mentoring pairs during each future cycle, for example, is quite realistic.
- Outcomes that can be applied to other non-academic mentoring schemes within the University of St Andrews, and that could also be shared with other institutions across the sector.
In order to address these goals the project will focus on two main areas:
1. Better data management and administrative processes
The project will investigate lessons that can be learned around data management, designing databases, mapping business processes as well as evaluating the proprietary database products currently available. Ultimately this strand of the project will deliver, in one form or another, a ‘proof of concept’ for a mentoring scheme database/management system.
2. Better support for mentoring scheme participants (and prospective participants)
The project will explore the concept of creating an online ‘mentoring centre’ that will bring
together a wide range of learning resources and tools in a variety of formats, that will
support the development of mentoring skills and which will be accessible via a single ‘virtual’
location. Part of this strand will revolve around investigating and evaluating open
educational resources and other learning materials which could be included, and a
further aspect will be to look at developing a ‘proof of concept’ for a site where all these
resources and tools could be hosted.
In future posts I will provide regular updates on the progress of the project, but I will also provide more information about our mentoring schemes, about some of the lessons we have learned and about the benefits that mentoring schemes can deliver.