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NDS has launched a new, interdepartmental mentoring scheme called RECOGNISE. In this podcast, Gemma Horbatowski (HR Advisor) interviews Monica Dolton (Programme Manager and Research Project Manager) about her experiences of mentor-mentee relationships.

What is your current role in NDS? How has your career progressed within the University?

I’m a Research Project Manager and Programme Manager for the ARTICULATE PRO project. I am also one of two NDS Persons Designated for the HTA licence 12217 - that means I help support the licence holder with all activities relating to human tissue use in the department.

When I first started, 16 years ago, I came as PA to Professor Kathryn Wood, and at that point I’d never been a PA before – I was a Registrar in a College but was made redundant - and my role has changed and developed over the years as my experience and skills have grown. 

I often say that on my first day, I didn’t even have a desk allocated to me as there was no real HR function in the department, and I think that the fact that you are launching this mentoring scheme shows how far the department has moved in terms of investment in its staff and how wonderful the HR support we now receive is!!

Have you had experience of being a mentee throughout your career? How has this helped you get to where you are today?

I’ve never been formally mentored, but I have been fortunate to work with people who have taken an interest in my career and personal development and encouraged and supported me to progress; both in my previous posts before I came to the University, which is when I did my postgraduate management course at Oxford Brookes University and since I’ve been here… things such as enabling me to attend courses within the University like Springboard, and opportunities to attend research meetings both in the UK and abroad as part of my role as a Work Package Leader or Project Manager on various EU grants, have all helped to expand my horizons and gain a greater insight into how the work we do fits in to the bigger picture.  

The Department also gave me the opportunity to do a secondment with the Divisional Office for nine months (part-time) to work on the Research Exercise Framework (REF), which was a huge learning curve for me and meant I worked with people across the Division, this expanded my knowledge considerably, of the way other colleagues work, of research across the University and of some of the politics involved in this kind of exercise. It was also quite personally challenging - for instance, in order to work on the REF project, I had to review and critique a case study and interview before I was selected – I hadn’t had to do something like that for quite a while!

These kinds of opportunities have all helped to develop my skills and insights, and through the NDS mentoring scheme you may be encouraged and supported to take up different challenges or develop your skills in certain ways if that is something that you want - all these types of activities help to develop your personal skill set, your soft skills and institutional knowledge and contribute to your own personal development.

What do you think the benefits of having a mentor are?

For the mentee, there are lots of positives; you will be able to develop your communication skills, learn how to accept feedback and how to act on it, hopefully be able to improve your confidence and you’ll have someone who can act as a sounding board for you to try out different thoughts and scenarios on before taking action… and also someone who can be a confidant.  

We all think in different ways and sometimes hearing another point of view can just unlock some train of thought that provides the key to how to deal with a situation - Monica Dolton

Being mentored by someone who can contribute their knowledge and skills of the University and how it works is also really valuable, especially for people who are relatively new to their role and who haven’t quite understood the culture yet. In department’s like NDS and Oncology where there is a mix of research scientists and clinicians, and clinicians who do research it can sometimes be quite hard to understand how it all fits. Also, we all think in different ways and sometimes hearing another point of view can just unlock some train of thought that provides the key to how to deal with a situation, or what to do next with a particular issue that you might be finding hard. 

I understand you have been a mentor both formally and informally to members of NDS. What made you want to offer your time to be a mentor? Did you enjoy this role?

Yes, that’s right, I’ve been both a formal and informal mentor, and in fact, someone in the department who I didn’t know previously, contacted me a couple of weeks ago to ask for some help and guidance and after a chat, we have now set up an informal mentoring relationship. 

I’ve enjoyed all the mentoring I’ve done and find it very satisfying. Mentoring came to me quite naturally, I think - I’m a people person and enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience. I also like the idea of helping people to succeed and empowering them to feel that they are doing a great job, that they are achieving success in their role and, if it’s what they want, to find ways to help them develop both professionally and personally. After all, whoever we are, and whatever our role, we all like to be congratulated on doing a good job or on achieving something positive and it’s great to be able to contribute to that with other people. 

What benefits did you take away from being a mentor?

By giving something back to the department, we all hopefully gain from the investment in staff and from having appropriately skilled colleagues and a motivated team - Monica Dolton

By being a mentor, I’ve developed my own skills too - so things like active listening; that was something I learnt during my management qualification and being a mentor has allowed me to put that into practice. I like to think I’m contributing to creating an open and supportive environment for people to work in and I find that by giving something back to the department, we all hopefully gain from the investment in staff and from having appropriately skilled colleagues and a motivated team. That reflects well on all of us and makes our working lives more effective and enjoyable. It’s also very satisfying of course, to see people happy and thriving in the workplace and in their personal lives and making a small contribution to that through mentoring is very rewarding.

You have previously been a member of the Mentoring Working Group in NDS, so obviously you believe that having a mentor can have a real impact. What would you say makes a successful mentoring relationship?

A successful mentoring relationship has to be built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Simple things like respecting each other’s time by being on time for agreed meetings, being prepared to engage with each other, being open to sometimes challenging points of view and being committed to the success of the relationship are all important factors in making it a successful partnership. Mentoring is definitely a two-way relationship and the mentee needs to want to progress and be open to change, be prepared to be challenged and to put quite some personal effort in too, but I would say the benefits are very real.  

I think that we should also mention that having a mentor is an opportunity for everyone, at whatever level and in whatever role - it’s not restricted to academics, or post-docs; that’s what is so great about the RECOGNISE scheme, it invites everyone to take part if they are interested.

Find out more about the RECOGNISE mentoring scheme in NDS and Oncology on the Staff Gateway (SSO required)

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