Benefits from mentoring

New ideas, wellbeing at work, connecting to a multidisciplinary research community. The refreshing effect of academic mentoring is evident not only in individuals but also in one’s work community and academic networks.

Text katja alaja images istock english translation marko saajanaho

Mentoring, that’s what I need!

So thought senior university lecturer Lasse Heikkinen upon noticing an ad for a regional mentoring programme organised by the University of Eastern Finland and the Karelia and Savonia Universities of Applied Sciences. He had “jumped” into a deputy position at UEF and discovered he needed help to develop as a leader.

“To me, it comes naturally to look for something to spark thoughts in the brain and find sparring help instead of ready-made answers. I wanted to jump out of my comfort zone with my mentor from a different field”, says Heikkinen, who is active at UEF’s Department of Technical Physics.

In this programme, the actor gets to choose their mentor, the selection of whom included people from outside the university. Heikkinen settled on a personnel developer specialising in coaching leaders.

The pair immediately found the right chemistry, which is important. Mentoring is, after all, a confidential relationship based on interaction, a form of peer support intended to support professional development. The mentor supports the actor’s goals and needs by sharing supportive experiences, perspectives, networks, and peer support and asking questions. The mentor is often more experienced than the actor. Group mentoring can include more than one mentor and actor each. The length of a mentorship and the interval of meetings can vary significantly.

Improved working capacity feeds wellbeing at work

What was Heikkinen challenged on by his mentor?

Through our discussions, I noticed I can involve our staff more – to give experts more attention and delegate more tasks to them. I began to improve at coaching leadership”, Heikkinen says.

Within the department, this change has also materialised as improved wellbeing at work. Heikkinen feels the atmosphere is better now, with a real sense of teamwork.

“When a person grows professionally and gets the opportunity to use their potential, they feel better at work”, Pietarinen says.”

Virva Pietarinen, Human Resources Specialist, UEF

Human Resources Specialist Virva Pietarinen from UEF nods – mentoring supports wellbeing at work. This is the result of the common goals of this mentoring programme for the whole staff being met – the development of one’s own expertise and the strengthening of networks.

“When a person grows professionally and gets the opportunity to use their potential, they feel better at work”, Pietarinen says.

HR Coordinator Saara Minkkinen from the University of Jyväskylä refers to working capacity as one source of wellbeing at work. Wellbeing improves when the worker feels they are capable and skilled at their job. Mentorship can reinforce this feeling.

Another major contributing factor to wellbeing at work is the working environment, such as the work community, working conditions, and leadership. Heikkinen has influenced these by changing his behaviour, creating wellbeing for a larger group of people.

Mentoring is part of the official career development model

Career and work-related matters can also be pondered in the University of Jyväskylä’s ongoing mentoring programme, intended for researchers on the tenure track. It supports the development of the scientific community from the researcher’s standpoint.

Minkkinen tells us the goal is to develop an easily implementable mentoring model for the university’s entire research and teaching staff. The idea is to always make mentoring accessible. In practice, the faculties and departments will support those interested.

At the Aalto University, mentoring has been an official part of new assistant professors’ career development since 2021. Mentoring begins after an orientation period, with experienced Aalto professors working as mentors.

“They have experienced many things, including challenges, in their careers and can offer perspective on matters from university integration to research network management”, says Head of People and Organization Development Carita Pihlman from the Aalto University.

Mentoring also open to all

In a mentoring programme jointly organised by FUURT and Suomen Mentorit, the focus is on polishing up one’s own career. The initiative for a fully open programme came from members.

“People in academia are in a variety of situations and do not necessarily meet the qualifications of mentoring programs. Someone might be unemployed, or a grant-funded researcher does not have an employment contract”, FUURT’s Miia Ijäs-Idrobo explains.

This mentoring programme, like many others, includes group meetings in addition to one-on-one meetings. These meetings gather the mentors and actors around the same table, allowing for broadening one’s horizons even further. Ijäs-Idrobo thinks younger researchers in particular benefit from hearing practical human stories from various jobs researchers have had in their careers.

”It is important for all researchers to become part of the research community, not just in their own field but also in a more interdisciplinary manner.”

Eeva Harjula, JYU. Well, the University of Jyväskylä

The international aspect can also be seen in mentoring. Eeva Harjula from JYU.Well, the University of Jyväskylä’s wellbeing research community tells us about their upcoming group mentoring, which is intended for people choosing a research career. Both Finnish and international experts attend these small, peer-based, interdisciplinary groups.

“It is important for all researchers to become part of the research community, not just in their own field but also in a more interdisciplinary manner”, Harjula stresses.

Peer support is emphasised in group mentoring

Every assistant professor on the tenure track at the Aalto University receives career support through individual mentoring. In addition, as requested by women, assistant professor group mentoring exclusively for women is available.

“Aalto recognises the fact a very small minority of professors are female, so us getting special support is great”, says Assistant Professor Paula Koskinen Sandberg from the Department of Management Studies. She was part of a mentoring group headed by Professor of Management Nina Granqvist, consisting of four assistant professors from different disciplines – business, science, engineering, and art.

Koskinen Sandberg tells us matters related to the career model such as time management, building a research team, and seeking research funding became the topics of conversation.

“Along with the positive things, the career model can also be intimidating, so talking to others helped eased my mind”, Koskinen Sandberg says.

Granqvist finds it important to have been there to support the next generation of researchers. She made sure everyone got to speak and the atmosphere remained safe and confidential. “The benefit of a group is having different views and seeing that others have similar questions. As a mentor, I got plenty of university-level understanding about our activity.”

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