Posted on: 24/08/2023

Interdisciplinary Mentoring: Collaboration and Sharing Best Practice

By Clare Barrie, Communications Officer, Future Leaders Fellows Development Network

In the realm of academic and professional growth, collaboration often serves as a catalyst for innovation. A great example of this principle is the recent collaboration between the Horizons Institute at the University of Leeds and the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network. Lauren Wray, Institute Manager at the Horizons Institute, and Charlotte Bonner-Evans, Mentoring Manager at the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network, worked together to develop a new interdisciplinary mentoring programme for the Horizons Institute.


The programme was introduced in June by an orientation workshop delivered by Charlotte Bonner-Evans. The bespoke one-to-one international mentoring scheme, conceived by Lauren Wray, materialised as a result of the collaborative efforts between Horizons and the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network. The collaboration came to life through Samantha Aspinall, Head of Interdisciplinary Research Development at Horizons Institute and Specialist in Interdisciplinary Research at FLFDN. Samantha connected Charlotte and Lauren, enabling the exchange of best practices and insights that have powered the Network’s Leadership Mentoring Programme over the last few years.


Enhancing diversity through shared practice

Charlotte said of their approach to interdisciplinary matchups, “Often researchers find themselves paired with other researchers from their field, missing the chance to interact with those beyond their specialty. At the Network, our emphasis is on cross-disciplinary interactions, including those outside of research. Our success in this approach led us to share our learning with Horizons and nurture interdisciplinary mentoring not only across the UK but on a global scale.”

Professor Ben Lamptey, Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds, shared his experience being matched as mentor across disciplines.

“As a Physical Scientist (Meteorologist), I was surprised to be asked to mentor a Social Scientist. However, after engaging with my mentee for the first time, I realised the matching was excellent. I thought these people (the Horizon Institute) must be doing a good job by just studying the backgrounds of two people from different disciplines and realising the two will make an excellent match.”


A mutual evolution

Lauren elaborated on the collaborative process, “Developing this mentoring programme was a first for me and involved a process of iterative discussions with Charlotte. Her insights helped shape the programme as we collectively designed and refined its process. The collaboration was a reflective journey that guided the programme’s evolution.”

The collaboration wasn’t just a one-way enrichment. As Charlotte emphasises, “Supporting an internationally oriented programme was exciting for us. Through this sharing of best practice, we were on a learning journey together. By understanding each other’s goals, objectives and experiences, both of our programmes can grow to provide a great mentoring experience for both mentors and mentees.”


Empowering across borders

The Horizons Institute’s global connections, including affiliations with institutions in Africa, yielded a network that crosses geographic boundaries. Lauren explained, “Our programme extends its reach to academics, policy specialists, and industry professionals in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and beyond. This diverse network of expertise has facilitated enriching exchanges between these international mentors and academics at the University of Leeds.”


Changing research culture

Both Horizons and the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network focus on developing programmes and initiatives that best serve their people, and work to positively move research culture forward. Lauren added that changing research culture for the better can often be about taking risks, something the Horizons Institute embraces.

“There’s something about having a mentor partnership that on paper seems as though it might not work, as Ben highlighted, that will hopefully build the confidence  of mentoring pairs to try ideas and to continue establishing partnerships that are out of their comfort zone even if there’s a risk of failure. So, by matching an atmospheric scientist with a social scientist, and them finding common ground, they can draw from this and grow through challenges with a different perspective.”

Charlotte affirms this approach, “It is important to us as a Network to share our experience in developing an interdisciplinary mentoring programme that contributes to improving research culture. Having a programme conceptualised by an expert in the field, Dr Kay Guccione, and developed by listening to the needs of UKRI researchers and innovators, we have been given the opportunity by UKRI in an open access world to share our learning and support the positive evolution of research culture as part of the Network’s legacy.”


Shared ethical foundations

Collaborative work allowed both Charlotte and Lauren to weave ethical considerations and the mentoring code of conduct into the fabric of the programme. This approach ensured that EDI considerations were at the forefront when embedding support for mentors and mentees. By embracing diverse values and cultural nuances, they navigated a path toward enhancing the broader research mentoring landscape.


Paving the path forward

With a shared commitment to fostering positive mentor-mentee experiences, both programmes aim to spark a culture shift. Charlotte explains, “Ultimately, our goal is to enable culture change and to promote a positive experience for the mentees with their mentors. They go on to be brilliant mentors themselves and have successful careers.”

 This first round of the Horizons Institute’s mentoring programme runs for 12 months and will continue to develop with the learnings from this pilot year.


Future Leaders Fellows Development Network

The Future Leaders Fellows Development Network Leadership Mentoring Programme was awarded EMCC Global Mentoring Award 2022, which recognised the programme’s innovative and needs-focused approach and the flexibility in of the mentoring relationships.


Horizons Institute

Horizons is an interdisciplinary research institute based at the University of Leeds. Their international connections, including three institutions in Africa, develop interdisciplinary research that can address global challenges. Find out more on Horizons Institute’s website.


Read Charlotte Bonner-Evans’ article, ‘Interdisciplinary Mentoring for Researchers: Making equal space for similarities and differences,’ on The Auditorium, a research culture and researcher development blog.

Image credit – iStock, Meeko Media, 2023

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