Dr Ryan Thwaites is a Lecturer in Respiratory Immunology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London from October 2021.
Where did you first hear about the BSI mentoring scheme and what drew you to it?
I first heard about the BSI mentoring scheme in Immunology News. At the time I was writing fellowship and lectureship applications and was hoping to get an impartial view on my CV to help me identify areas that I could improve.
How do you feel the BSI mentoring scheme has helped and supported you in your career choices?
Having a BSI mentor allowed me to get an impartial assessment of my CV and to have open conversations about how to address the weaknesses in my CV while highlighting the strengths for applications. It was also really helpful to have career discussions with a more senior academic; including how to pick a research direction (from a long list of ideas!), managing people, balancing research and teaching amongst many other topics. Having a mentor allows you to have these conversations without any of the background you might experience with people more familiar with you and your career. These conversations really helped me in narrowing down my interests and in translating these into applications.
During the scheme what level of frequency of contact did you have with your mentor and what level do you think works best?
My mentor and I had email exchanges every few weeks, then met every three months. My mentor was very flexible in accommodating my needs, so when I was invited to interview for a lectureship position, we met at quite short notice to discuss interview techniques. This worked well for me and usually led to us having one main topic I wanted to discuss at our meetings.
What qualities in a mentor are ideal for a scheme such as this?
I think it’s crucial for a mentor to understand that different mentees will need very different types of support, and don’t necessarily aim to mirror the mentor's career. Being able to step back from your personal opinions on the route a mentee should take allows the mentee the space to come to their own conclusions and set themselves on a path that suits them. While my mentor and I had similar interests and career aims I never felt that I was being nudged in any particular direction, but had the opportunity to discuss different options and come to my own conclusions.
Can you discuss a particular highlight of the scheme that you feel best exemplifies your mentoring experience?
Halfway through the scheme, I interviewed for a lectureship position at my institute, prior to which my mentor and I met to discuss my presentation. This turned into a great discussion on how to field tricky questions, how to communicate your enthusiasm for your work, and how to convince people you are ready for the next step of your career. I’m very pleased to report that my interview was successful, and I will start my own research group in October 2021!
Finally, would you recommend to your peers and colleagues to join a mentoring scheme as a mentee?
I would strongly encourage anyone to look at different options for mentoring schemes; whether you know exactly what you want to do and just need some independent advice on how to get there, or whether you are considering changing job or direction, having the opportunity to bounce ideas off someone open and impartial will help you.