Mentoring week: Dr Parisa Gilani discusses her experience of mentoring

Dr Parisa Gilani is a Senior Lecturer in the Bournemouth University Business School. Her research focuses on leadership development and she has a particular interest in gender and leadership. In this blog post, she discusses her experience of mentorship at Bournemouth University.

Having a research mentor has proven to be the most valuable learning and development experience that I have been fortunate to have in my career so far. In January 2018, I found myself in a position whereby I was nearing the end of my three-year tenure as a Programme Coordinator for a very large degree within the Business School. I felt that I made some form of difference and impact within the educational sphere and had learnt a lot along the way, but three since having completed my PhD at Exeter University, I still had no research track record to speak of. As I had allowed my research to slip, I lost all confidence in my writing ability and did not know where to start in developing papers for publication. As this felt quite a lonely and overwhelming process, I requested a research mentor.

In order to identify a potential mentor, I looked beyond my own immediate research area and approached Julie Robson, an Associate Professor who I knew demonstrated an inclusive and supportive approach to working with Early Career Researchers – as well as being knowledgeable in qualitative approaches, writing papers and developing bids. Thankfully she agreed to embark on a mentoring relationship with me – something for which I am very grateful.

Julie met with me on a regular basis and helped to set challenging, but realistic goals. Having someone else to be accountable to (rather than just myself) pushed me to meet targets and go beyond my comfort zone. She built up my confidence by reading paper drafts and providing constructive and encouraging feedback, which persuaded me to bite the bullet and submit papers that I had been holding on to. Research can feel like a very personal process and allowing someone to read my work (beyond my PhD supervisors and examiners) felt like a big step. However, Julie was approachable, supportive and someone that I very quickly developed a trusting mentoring relationship with.

Julie also enabled me to access a host of other research related opportunities such as assessing PhD Transfer vivas, reviewing papers on a Special Issue she was editing and involving me in a large research project she was developing with the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjustors. Her reach has extended beyond research and she encouraged me and provided guidance in applying for promotion to Grade 8 in 2019. I had applied unsuccessfully two years previously, and she helped me to identify areas whereby I was ‘underselling’ and not articulating impact clearly enough.

Three years on and my confidence has increased – as has my research momentum. I have submitted papers and published and have been promoted to Senior Academic. I’m also working on two large research projects – which have the potential to be future impact case studies. Whilst I recognise, that I have a long way to go in developing my research profile, I cannot speak highly enough of my mentoring experience. This past year has been tough on everyone as we try to juggle multiple responsibilities and demands. However, Julie has proven to be a voice of reason – when I am being hard on myself and focusing on my own perceived lack of progress and has reminded me of my achievements and that we’re only human. She has been there to celebrate my successes as well as being a source of reassurance when things have not quite gone to plan.

I really recommend finding a research mentor who shares the same values as you, is knowledgeable and supportive, who demonstrates a collaborative and inclusive approach and who essentially you feel comfortable with and can get on with! These qualities, in my opinion are arguably more important than sharing exactly the same research interests. However, you may be surprised – and find that your interests overlap more than you think. I would like to thank Julie for all the time and energy she has invested in supporting and enabling my development – something I will always be very grateful for.