The challenges (and joys) of mentoring

The challenges (and joys) of mentoring

HSR2022 Participant Blog Series

The challenges (and joys) of mentoring

This blog is part of a series of blogs written by participants at HSR 2022 reflecting on some of the key messages and learnings emerging from the symposium.

All academics would agree that the last few years have been challenging, particularly to find time to write and, more importantly, submit journal articles. That’s why I did not hesitate to again volunteer to be a mentee for  Publication Mentorship Programme for First time women Authors in the Field of HPSR. This wonderful initiative of Health Systems Global (HSG), Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (The Alliance), and the journal Health Policy and Planning, pairs established researchers with early-career researchers from Low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).  After fortnightly meetings and many drafts, I was excited to meet my mentee, Gloria Benny from the George Institute, India, face to face in Bogotá (the conference of course was an added bonus).

As I attended the sessions, I noted that there were very, very clever, engaged (and well supported) PhD students and ECRs. As I attended sessions on Power and Privilege, and then meet my friend at the Hilton bar for drinks, I could not help to think of those practitioners who were not here. There are many researchers that we could all support, informally or formally, and mentor to help them publish their first paper or to get the lessons of their work out there.  Those without scholarships, without the backing of a prestigious institution; the single parents with so many responsibilities they cannot just chuff off for a week, the busy health service manager, the NGO worker doing a Masters by Research who struggles with their writing, the practitioner with so much to offer but with no confidence.

Like my friend. A very smart, very pragmatic former nurse who I had known for many years was overwhelmed by a task set by her new boss at a local NGO, to develop a “best practice guide for community engagement”.  She threw her arms in the air when she walked in my office and hugged me mummering: “I know what I do; but I don’t know the big words”. I said this is what we will do: You will tell me what you do; how you engage with your community, and we are then going to find all the theory from all these books, I said, pointing to my burgeoning bookshelf. She smiled at the end of the session “You know what I like about you Robyn, you are so real, you have a PhD, but you know you can talk to real people, you are real”.

So as a mentor I understand this transition of different worlds from the practice to the university. Of wanting to remain real. The practitioners, like my friend, must embrace two worlds; of not only being a health worker or a community service worker who has their own language and their own practices.  But also, they need to embrace those big theoretical dilemmas that are sometimes seen as a bit abstract, a bit out there or a “wicked problem” (I didn’t hear anyone say that at the conference, so maybe that term is out of vogue). They need to understand that these dilemmas need to be tackled; to not only build knowledge but to build practice and to, ultimately, ensure better health and social care for our communities.

But yes, all good, you might say, but I’m too busy. I have my own students. I just can’t take on another thing. One little thing that you could do, and I am reaching out to you as an associate editor of a journal is to review. Pop Quiz (don’t stress, it’s multiple choice).  Do you review papers for journals?

A. Yes, I do it cause it’s collegial and add it carefully to my service hours and my Publons record

B. Yes, I do it to keep in good books of Editors

C. Yes, I so it to keep up with my field – I might get some great ideas or find cool people to work with

D. No, I do not do it – Total waste of time I should be WRITING

E. No, I do not do it –  I don’t know enough to review – what if I say the wrong thing and look like an idiot!

F, No, all the papers I get sent are not in my field. I only know about ethnography and case studies of rural health services not medical tourism or community protests against the oil industry in Nigeria.

G. No, I do not do – yet –  I’ve never been asked, but I kind of would like to…but do not know how…

Some ECRs and students answer G, so next time you get asked to review a paper (and you probably have 10 clogging up your inbox now), maybe ask the editor if you can support your mentee to review one of those 10.

So, there are many ways that we can mentor and support others to build and grow the exciting, challenging, innovative and multidisciplinary field of Health Systems Research. Thank you to HSG for your support, I look forward to continue to be part of this community.

By Dr. Robyn Preston, Senior Lecturer, Public Health, CQUniversity,

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