Mentoring Café: it isn't just chatting over coffee

By Professor Louise Ryan, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield

On 9 May, as part of an Early Career Researcher (ECR) one day conference at the University of Sheffield, co-funded by the BSA and the Migration Research Group, I had my first experience of the Mentoring Café. I had been intrigued when Professor Rose Barbour first spoke to me about the idea of a Mentoring Café and I was eager to find out more. So, as my department, Sociological Studies at Sheffield, was hosting the ECR conference it seemed like an ideal opportunity to run a Mentoring Café for delegates.

The conference theme on 'Belonging in a Post-Brexit Vote Britain' attracted ECRs with particular interests in migration, race and ethnicity, identity and belonging. As these themes fit well with my own areas of research, I felt able to share some of my own experiences with the mentees.

Three young women signed up in advance for mentoring. The whole process was managed very efficiently by Sinead in the BSA office. She sorted out the most suitable time slots and ensured that I was sent the mentees CVs in advance. This was particularly useful as it meant that I had time, before we met, to read through their qualifications, research interests, work experience, and publications.

The whole point of mentoring, of course, is to give mentees the opportunity to raise their concerns, ask questions and seek advice on issues of particular relevance to them. Thus, the session was led by the mentees and they framed the discussion. Needless to say, I don't pretend to hold all the answers – an academic oracle I most certainly am not. But I have worked in academia for twenty years and I have learned some useful tips along the way – what works and what definitely does not work.

The questions raised by the mentees included CV layout and design, the best ways to network in academia, how to balance teaching experience with research time and how and where to publish articles. The sessions lasted between 20 and 30 minutes. I hope the mentees found it useful.  I certainly enjoyed listening to their fascinating research topics and was inspired by their energy and enthusiasm.

The idea of combining the Mentoring Café with the ECR one-day conference was good but as we were also speakers at the conference, it was a little challenging to squeeze everything into the day's packed programme. I think three mentoring sessions was an optimal number and it would have been difficult to accommodate any more.

The BSA has a long standing commitment to support ECRs, after all they are the future of the discipline. In these days of uncertainty and job insecurity ECRs face particular challenges. Thus, it behoves us all, especially those of us who are more established in academia, to offer whatever advice or support we can.

In my view, these Mentoring Cafés are a great idea and I hope they will continue to grow.