Kickstart Your Allied Health Clinician-Research Career With a Mentor

We engage in mentor partnerships for different reasons over the course of our allied health careers. Mentors are particularly helpful when we are contemplating or making changes in our careers or learning new skills. Starting off in research is a great time to engage a research mentor.

Research mentors benefit researchers at all stages in their career but are especially helpful for new researchers. This article describes 9 different ways new clinician-researchers can benefit from having a research mentor.

1. Mentors reinforce and apply knowledge gained from research training

Research training is an effective way to gain the knowledge required to plan and conduct research. There is a lot to learn and so no matter how considered and well-paced the research training is, it is easy to come away feeling overwhelmed and not always entirely sure where to begin. This is where research mentors are extremely valuable. They help you to understand how the different concepts relate to real-life health research.

Mentoring has become a key feature in almost all recent approaches to building research capacity in health organisations. Research training coupled with mentoring leads to better outcomes – including more successful translation into practice.

A mentor can help you to apply your new research knowledge in practice as it relates to your own research idea or project.

2. Mentors share research methods expertise

Let’s face it, research methods are not exactly intuitive. The language can seem confusing and data collection methods and analysis processes can be complex. Your baseline research methods knowledge may be limited to that covered in your undergraduate degree. That undergraduate research training is likely to have been light touch or feel like a lifetime ago.

What’s more – there is a myriad of research designs, methodologies, and methods you can use to approach your research. It takes time and sometimes a detailed understanding of the research methods to understand what the best approach might be.

A knowledgeable mentor can help you to understand the pros and cons of different research methods for your research idea or project and can help to shape your thinking. They can also guide you toward resources such as journal papers, textbooks, research software, or even people that can help you with your chosen research methods.

3. Research mentors keep you accountable and on track with your research

Research mentors keep you accountable and on track with your research
Mentors can help you stay on track with your research project

When starting anything big and new, it is easy to get lost in the process. There is so much to think about and do. Formulating a researchable question, developing and running a literature search, writing up a research protocol, applying for ethics approval – this is before you have even collected any data! Many research-related activities and tasks may be very new to you.

There is nothing like having an experienced researcher who has set time aside to help you to along your way, review your work and provide feedback, to keep you accountable.

Your research mentor can also help you to put together a realistic plan with relevant milestones and timeframes to help to stay on track.

4. Research mentors help you navigate different stages of the research journey

Preparing an ethics application, writing a research grant, preparing a manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal are all common research activities that can be quite daunting and difficult for new researchers to tackle.

Having a “go-to” person that you can ask silly questions, seek honest and reliable feedback from, and even just find out where to start, is invaluable. You won’t need to be stepped through everything and sometimes your mentor won’t have the knowledge or experience you need.  

A good research mentor will work to understand your organisational context and can help to guide you through the various stages of research as you need.

5. Mentors celebrate the research wins and help you deal with the failures

Research mentors  support mentees celebrate wins and deal with losses
Mentors can help you when things don’t go to plan

As a new – or even experienced researcher, it’s important to celebrate the wins no matter how small they may seem. Your mentor will be delighted to hear that you got your project approved by the ethics office. They will be thrilled for you when you have completed your data collection. They will celebrate your first complete draft of a manuscript with you.

On the flip side, the world of research can be grueling at times. Failures will be a feature of your clinician-researcher career. No matter how much effort you put in, how experienced you are, or how good your proposal or paper is, the competition is tough and standards are high. Your papers will be rejected by journals, the ethics office will pull your protocol apart, you will have challenges recruiting participants and you will land very few of the grants you apply for. This is all part of the journey, but it can be hard to swallow.

A good research mentor will be there to help you to navigate the failures and find the way forward.

6. Research mentors explain research etiquette

Research mentors navigate mentees through awkward scenarios
Some scenarios can be awkward to navigate throughout the research journey

What does it take to meet the authorship bar for a research paper? How do you determine the order of the authors on a paper? What do you include in a cover letter to an ethics committee or a journal editor? How do you respond to journal reviewers’ feedback? Do you need permission from all of your co-researchers to submit an abstract to a conference? What do you do if a co-researcher is not contributing? These are just some of the scenarios we encounter as researchers and sometimes the etiquette is not clear.

Mentors can provide some guidance on how to navigate some of these challenges and sensitive scenarios.

7. Mentors help you to develop your research network

Research mentors support development of research networks
Research networks are key to research success

Having a supportive network is a predictor of research success and promotes researcher identity. Your mentor is likely to be a central member of your research network. They can also play a key role in kick-starting your network by connecting you with other researchers and key people.

Your research network may include academic researchers, other clinician-researchers, clinicians with a special interest in your project area, consumer groups, educators, and others. It can feel awkward approaching people – especially high-flying academic researchers out of the blue. This is where mentors can help by making introductions.

A great mentor may even take opportunities to raise your profile with other researchers or organisations. Don’t be surprised if your mentor lines you up as a facilitator at a conference or even as a guest speaker!  

8. Research mentors offer a different take on your research idea

Clinician-researchers sometimes find themselves in a team of researchers from the same discipline or working in the same clinical area. Your research mentor, however, may come from a different clinical or discipline background or may have different types of clinical exposure and experience to you. This means that you can benefit from a different view of your research idea.

A different perspective can help shape your approach to research (methodology or methods) and can also help you to think about who you need to speak with and otherwise engage throughout the research process. In the long run, this means that more people will be on board with the research and will help you successfully implement the findings into practice.

A good mentor will help you to consider some alternatives to your approach but will not push their own agenda or lead you down a path that does not align with your own objectives.

9. Mentors provide career guidance

Once you have some research experience under your belt and you may start thinking about what might come next. You may be asked to join research teams, run workshops, or even be offered a new job. Your research mentor will have supported you through a key developmental stage of your career and may therefore be well-placed to guide you as you work through important professional decisions.

A good and trusted mentor will act as a sounding board while you contemplate career decisions.

Plants are a metaphor for research mentees
Mentees develop research and mentor skills throughout the mentorship process

Throughout the course of your mentorship, you, as the mentee will have gained skills that will soon make you a great research mentor for others.

Conclusion

New allied health clinician-researchers can benefit in different ways from having a research mentor. Research mentors can help you navigate the various stages of the research process. It’s not just the mentee that benefits, the mentor learns and grows in this role as well.

If you are a manager of clinician researchers, see our article on the most effective ways to be a research enabling manager.

We would love to hear from you about your experiences or ideas about research mentors. Please like and follow AHP Workforce on Facebook or leave your comments below.

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