Soapbox Science

Supporting tomorrow’s leaders today

Professor David Adams’ clinical interests are transplant hepatology and autoimmune liver disease. Laboratory research interests are focused on mechanisms of immune-mediated liver disease. After initial training in hepatology in Birmingham he continued his immunology training at the Experimental Immunology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, USA, before being appointed to the Chair of Hepatology in Birmingham in 1997. He served on the scientific committee and governing board of the European Association for Study of the Liver between 2004-2007 and currently sits on its Ethics committee. He was a councillor for the European Society for Organ Transplantation between 2004-2008. He was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2000, sits on the Academy’s Council and Chairs the Academy’s Mentoring Advisory Group.

You can follow the Academy of Medical Sciences mentoring team on Twitter – search for @AMSMentoring.

Mentoring has a vital role to play in developing the next generation of medical researchers, enabling them to fulfill their potential and make the most of the outstanding opportunities the UK affords for medical research.

A clinical academic’s career path, whilst potentially hugely rewarding, also presents significant challenges. There are numerous decisions to be made which can have major impacts on the individual’s long term career trajectory. Medical researchers, whether clinically trained or not, have always benefited from informal advice and encouragement from peers and senior colleagues. This advice – whether it’s a chance conversation with a colleague in a departmental common room, discussion with attendees at a conference or through a phone call to a former supervisor – can be instrumental in developing and shaping the direction of an academic career.

However, although informal advice is great, it is easily tinged with personal preferences and I believe there is a need for formal mentoring. There is increasing evidence that formal mentoring is helping to produce a generation of researchers who are more confident in their own abilities, and who value and draw on diverse personal support networks. It also develops in individuals the ability to ask the right questions, challenge assumptions and explore options. I believe that the establishment of formal mentoring schemes is starting to create a ‘mentoring culture’ in which researchers receive high quality mentoring and support as well as the informal advice of peers and colleagues which has always been available.

My first experience of a formal mentoring scheme came through the Academy of Medical Sciences. The Academy’s mentoring scheme provides an excellent model of best practice in this area. Funded by NIHR and the devolved administrations, the scheme is open to postdoctoral clinical academic trainees throughout theUK, specifically Clinical Lecturers and Clinician Scientist Fellows. Mentors are drawn from the Academy’s 1000-strong Fellowship. Mentors and mentees are encouraged to develop their mentoring skills through workshops with dedicated Academy staff available to answer questions about mentoring and to administer the pairing process. I am both a mentor on the Academy’s scheme and also chair a group which assists the Academy in developing the scheme.

As well as providing high quality mentoring to a specific cohort of clinical academic trainees, the Academy’s scheme is seeding mentoring in other institutions. Professor Charles Pusey FMedSci at Imperial College London started a mentoring scheme for Imperial’s Academic Clinical Fellows, clinical PhD students and Clinical Lecturers based on the Academy’s scheme. This scheme is now an integral part of postgraduate medical training at Imperial. Career development support is clearly valuable at every stage of training. I’m delighted that Imperial have taken our model and adapted it to support all their trainees.

Our scheme has developed a lot over the past 10 years and the Academy has collated some principles we’ve learned the hard way into a booklet and a series of short films, which we hope will be useful to others looking to support young researchers. As well as Imperial, other groups and organisations are already learning from the Academy’s experiences and designing their own support schemes.

One size certainly doesn’t fit all and a great example of a tailored scheme is the establishment of a forum for dental academic trainees which was launched at a NIHR event this year. This is part mentoring scheme and part peer support network – tailored to fit the needs of this diverse group. The forum includes a large group of dentists at every stage of academic training. They are planning to meet regularly and connect via LinkedIn during the interim periods. The group aims to provide the benefits of informal mentoring (a diverse network of willing advisors and a chance for one-off mentoring conversations to happen) without the administrative burden of a more formal scheme.

The Academy’s mentoring scheme continues to develop and our staff are always happy to speak about it, or to give advice about mentoring in general. If you are eligible for an Academy mentor I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this excellent opportunity. For my part, aside from my involvement in the Academy’s scheme, I’m trying to set up mentoring within my clinical specialty, as Chair of the British Society of Gastroenterology’s Academic Advisory Committee. How are you contributing to a mentoring culture?


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