In this article, Haseeb Md. Irfanullah writes about mentoring young researchers that he shared as a panelist in a recent conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s sixth assessment process.
In a recent article on The Scholarly Kitchen, I talked about why and how researchers, particularly early-career researchers, should volunteer in global evidence compilation processes, such as on climate change, and support world-wide policy actions.
While being part of such an unparalleled global exercise brings in many benefits to the young scientists, they need to be mentored by experienced predecessors to become, in this case, competent climate researchers, as well as authors and reviewers of well-regarded IPCC Assessment Reports.
While climate change is an example, mentoring needs are real for young researchers across the disciplines.
From my decade-long involvement with the AuthorAID, and also with the Gobeshona Young Researcher Programme, and the Commonwealth Alumni Mentorship Plan (CAMP), and my personal interactions with young researchers, I have realized that mentoring is crucial for young researchers to understand themselves and to grow.
Sadly, young researchers often do not know they need mentoring support, let alone where to get the support from. In the absence of this realization, they often try to get answers to their questions from inexperienced peers or seek one-off advice from experienced researchers. This can leave them confused, making obvious mistakes or suffering from frustration.
We must not confuse research supervision at master’s or PhD levels with mentoring. Mentoring a researcher goes beyond a time-bound, output-based, degree-resulting research project. It involves understanding her/his aspiration, motivation, limitations, challenges, and career vision. And includes guiding, advising, encouraging, and inspiring them accordingly.
To create an effective mentoring system, we also need to have sufficient mentors interested in mentoring. This aspect of mentoring is often overlooked.
Almost always, mentoring is an unpaid job. Mentoring programmes fail when the facilitating agency does not link a mentor and a mentee properly, does not follow-up with them regularly, or, probably most importantly, does not clearly show how it is beneficial for both mentors and mentees.
The altruistic mindset of mentors is also important in creating an effective mentoring programme. I believe that mentoring cannot be taught, but can only be realized.
In today’s world, we need mentoring to navigate across the ocean of too much information, options, and expectations. To make mentoring work, we need to:
- Encourage both informal and formal mentoring systems for early-career researchers;
- Discuss mentoring more and widely, so that experienced researchers can become interested in becoming formal and/or informal mentors as an ‘academic social responsibility’; and
- Make our formal mentoring programmes work harder to reach out potential mentees.
Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is a biologist-turned-development-practitioner with a keen interest in research and its communication. He is an independent consultant working on environment, climate change, and research system; a visiting research fellow of the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh; and a mentor on AuthorAID.