If you have clarity on your research career vision, it makes sense to invest time to regularly stop and review your progress to give you the best chance to achieve it.  
Review time will help you to stay on track, notice what’s working (or not), make well informed choices and revise your plans in light of new information. 
It is too easy to put your head down, be ‘busy being busy’ and not factor in time for reflection.  Your career, your team and your success depend upon this review time.  It isn’t ‘time out’ or ‘nice to have’.  It is an essential element of your job description as a research leader. 
Taking time out from the everyday grind in order to reflect on our progress – to acknowledge successes and identify areas for development – is the principle behind annual review processes such as the ARC.  

But reviewing progress shouldn’t only be a once-a-year activity. Some research leaders report that they undertake a brief review every week, to help them keep sight of the big picture, refocus, and plan. What’s crucial is to broaden focus from merely reflecting on tasks or objectives.  
Use this resource to take a holistic view of your career progression. The intention is that, over time, you regularly use all of the prompts covered in the list below, not just the research-specific ones, to ensure that you are taking a strategic ‘helicopter’ view. (These prompts are intended to complement, but not to duplicate, the ARC Toolkit.

Mentoring and coaching

"During probation the critical thing is for you to have a really good mentor to guide you through. Usually it's an informal process and very helpful to stop you from panicking or moving too quickly. It's a reassurance thing: newly appointed lecturers can get very concerned about things, but usually concerns are very easily resolvable."

- Prof. Neil Alford, Associate Provost (Academic Planning)

Mentoring accordion

Why use mentoring or coaching?

Alongside your self-paced reflection and more formal annual performance and development reviews, one of the most important career review activities that you can do is to engage in mentoring or coaching. Both are powerful ways to reflect on and plan your next steps and assess your progress.   
You are in a transition phase in your career: entering into leadership and developing independence.  The strategies and decisions that have worked for you in the past may no longer be relevant or helpful.  The challenges and opportunities that you will now encounter may be very new to you and you may find it useful to get advice from someone who has experienced similar situations (a mentor) or someone who is qualified to support and challenge you to find and implement sustainable changes (a coach).  
Mentoring and coaching conversations should continue throughout the remainder of your career, albeit with different mentors and coaches as you make progress.   

Making the most of your academic mentor during probation

As a newly appointed lecturer you will have been allocated an academic advisor and, depending on your department, a mentor.   
Make the best use of this advice as possible. Meet them frequently – these advisors and mentors are absolutely critical to your success in probation and are there to help you to understand whether you are on track, give feedback on your research strategy and proposals as well as give pastoral advice on how to manage yourself through probation.   
Look through all the probation advice and action points in this resource to put together a list of discussion points to work through and let your mentor know in advance so that they can prepare. 
If you find that you don’t have rapport or chemistry with your allocated mentor(s), speak to your head of department about finding an alternative. 

Find your own mentor or coach

It is always worth finding your own advisors so that you know you have trust and rapport, that you respect their opinion, and that they have specific experience that they can share with you.   

If you are unsure who to approach or how to approach them, then there is a lot of advice available: 

  • Getting a Mentor - Although aimed at Fellows, the advice is very relevant to new PIs and newly appointed lecturers. 
  • Mentoring Toolkit – this engaging toolkit by Dr Kay Guccionne is aimed at researchers and includes advice on choosing a mentor and how to ask them to help you. 

Many new leaders also find professional coaching to be hugely beneficial. A coach will support and challenge you to work through challenges and opportunities and find sustainable and motivating ways forward. If you feel that coaching conversations may benefit you, then consider requesting one of Imperial College’s internal coaches: OR you may have your own personal development or training funding to pay for an external coach.  You can also consider writing professional coaching into budgets for grants such as Fellowships. 
If you are not sure how or where to find a coach that has expertise in working with academics and researchers, then ask trusted colleagues for recommendations, or contact the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre or People and Organisational Development to ask for recommended coaches that work with academics and researchers.  


Internal resources and guidance

External resources and guidance

Previous and next

Go back to the previous section: Being strategic in your career (and research)