This post is guest-authored by Esther Plomp, OLS-3 and 4 mentor.
The Open Life Science programme (OLS) is a mentoring and training programme for Open Science ambassadors. It is a 16-week long personal mentorship and cohort-based training, where participants of this program will:
Anyone in the world is welcome to join the programme. At TU Delft, the PhD candidates from the Faculty of Applied Sciences enjoy the additional benefit of receiving credits if they follow the programme (link accessible only by TU Delft staff).
I have been an OLS mentor since the start of 2021 (OLS cohorts 3 and 4). This means that I meet once every two weeks with the mentees to discuss their projects and progress. I had very little experience with mentoring before I became an OLS mentor and I benefitted hugely from attending the mentoring training that the programme provides, the templates they have already set up for mentor-mentee meetings, and the support from the organisers and my fellow mentors in the Slack channel and in the mid-cohort mentor meetings.
In this blog post, I would like to share some of my experiences and resources that might be helpful in your own mentor journey.
As a mentor in the OLS programme, my main responsibility is to hold an accountable space for the mentee to achieve their Open Science goals through participation in the OLS programme. The programme teaches mentees how to set goals, objectives and milestones to measure success in their projects. The mentor meetings serve primarily to check if the mentee is moving towards these objectives or whether they might need to be adjusted, and provide guidance where necessary. As a mentor, I listen without judgement to any concerns that the mentee has and encourage and support them with advice. I ask whether the mentee has questions or needs any specific feedback on the assignments, training materials or project work, and make sure to empower and prepare my mentee for the next meeting. I also serve as the mentee’s sounding board, which can mean that I recognise and celebrate their progress and encourage them to ask different questions to discover new ways to move their projects further. As a mentor, I also share my experiences and ideas with them, as well as hear the mentees’ perspective and their insights. The mentor-mentee relationship provides an opportunity for both to learn and grow.
One of the main skills I learned as a mentor is to ask open questions to get to the root of what is going on. Examples of open questions are questions that cannot be answered with a yes/no, such as: ‘describe for me… take me through what you have already done?’ Any question starting with how, what, where, when or why would generally work. To move forward to action I found the questions ‘What needs to change?’ or ‘What is the way forward?’ ‘How can I help you reach your goals?’ and ‘How do you feel about your progress?’ helpful. I also still use closed questions, primarily to clarify or summarise. Asking open-ended questions is not only a great skill to have as a mentor, but a useful tool in any conversation, personal or professional.
In the OLS programme, mentors have the opportunity to review applications of mentees. This process allows mentors to identify mentees who they would feel most comfortable mentoring, because of shared research interest or mentoring needs that were indicated by the mentees. This helps with establishing a relationship with shared interests and aligning the goals of the mentee with the background and skills of the mentor. As part of the OLS programme, the role, purpose, duration and expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship are already clearly laid out, which helps to set expectations. This includes the format and frequency of meetings, but each mentor-mentee pair can adjust these to better suit their needs.
Before each meeting with my mentee, I take some time to prepare and check what was discussed in our previous meeting to make sure I’m able to check-in on any previously agreed to goals for the next meeting. I also look at the OLS schedule to see if there are any specific assignments or milestones for this week so that I can ask about these in case the mentee does not bring this up themselves. The notes of these calls also serve as a reminder for any action items on my list for our next meeting (for example, feedback on the assignments of the mentee if they have asked for this). Some form of documentation or establishment of milestones helps to keep track of the progress. The shared notes also make it easy to keep track of resources that are shared during the meetings.
If you are interested in anything Open Science, I very much encourage you to consider becoming an OLS mentor. OLS is an amazing and supportive community with members that are working on incredible projects. To me it has been an opportunity to develop myself as a mentor and broaden my network. It has also given me a lot of motivation and hope for scientific research in the future. To become a mentor you can first go through the program as a project lead to gain an understanding of different materials covered in OLS. If you already have experience contributing to or leading an open project, you can join a cohort as an expert and then as a mentor. For more details, you can contact the organisers at team[at]we-are-ols.org. If you are interested to participate in the programme as a mentee with your project a new round of applications for OLS-5 is open until the 15th of January 2022.
The role of the mentor and a coach are quite similar which is why some resources on coaching are included here. Nevertheless, mentors tend to be more experienced in the particular topics that the mentee wishes to address, which allows them to provide advice. Coaches do not provide advice and instead aim to encourage people to unlock their own solutions to their problems by asking questions, challenging them and providing feedback.
Thanks to the OLS team for making my mentor journey possible, and to Emmy Tsang and Malvika Sharan who’s feedback greatly improved the text of this blog!