Professor Ann Ager, Theme Lead for Inflammation, School of Medicine, Cardiff University
Ann first became a mentor on the BSI's scheme back in 2017. She was eager to help out in as many ways as possible and was interested in giving support in terms of grant applications and publishing, networking and collaborations and career planning and development. In the 2020 scheme Ann is mentoring Dr Emily Gwyer Findlay.
Where did you first hear about the BSI’s mentoring scheme and what drew you to it?
I heard about it in the autumn of 2017 when it was first being launched. I was attracted to it because it was cross-institutional and the mentees would be in the immunology sector, which I felt would be an area that I could provide mentorship in.
How has the BSI’s mentoring scheme helped you gain an insight into the contemporary difficulties that early career researchers face?
My mentees have been academics in the HEI sector either planning an independent academic career or in the first few years of setting up their independent research as a PI. What is clear is their need for support from their existing PI during the transition to independence and in the generation of data to support fellowship applications, which are likely to be held at institutes, other than that of their PI. I also advised them on fellowship applications at institutes other than their own, the need to find out who would be best to support the application and how to get to meet and speak to them. And additionally, what sort of support to ask for (e.g. lab space, infrastructure support such as admin, access to equipment, start-up funds etc). For new PIs, active support from their head of department is required for career progression and protected research time in the case of lectureships.
What is also clear from the discussions is how competitive entry level fellowships are and how few lectureships with significant research time are available in the UK.
During the scheme what level of frequency of contact did you have with your mentee and what level do you think works best?
The frequency of meetings was front-loaded with meetings every 1 or 2 months until mid-year and then as and when the mentee requested a meeting. Frequent meetings early on helps the mentor find out what sort of advice and guidance the mentee wants and to develop the relationship in an interactive way.
Could you discuss what level of expectation mentees should have regarding mentors and what is an appropriate level of support?
Mentees should be able to ask mentors for confidential advice on any aspect of their working life or professional development that impacts on their career progression.
Can you discuss a particular highlight of the scheme that you feel best exemplifies your mentoring experience?
Watching a mentee move away from a very fixed career plan to a more flexible plan that took into account the likelihood of academic opportunities in their research field and the demand of their family life.
Finally, would you recommend to your peers and colleagues to join a mentoring scheme as a mentor?
Yes, most definitely. Not only do you get an insight into the lives of early career immunologists at other institutions (which is helpful for understanding and managing your own research group/ department), it is very rewarding if you can assist an individual in coming to a decision about the next stage of their career.