The pros and cons of mentoring by Skype

The pros and cons of mentoring by Skype

Shoba is a Research Fellow at the Amarnath Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, UK, and mentored by Judy Allen, an immunobiologist at the University of Manchester, UK. Their mentorship arrangement was conducted as part of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard programme, which provides financial and practical support to biomedical researchers.

The research focus of Amarnath’s lab is understanding how the immune system inhibits the responses of particular proteins (known as immunosuppressants) in the body, specifically cell-surface receptors such as PD-1, T cells and innate lymphoid cells. how to control. Allen’s laboratory worm parasites study the interactions between worms and their hosts.

Shoba Amarnath

I applied for the Springboard program because it came with a bespoke mentoring system. I liked the fact that this is not hierarchical advice. This is not a Senior Principal Investigator (PI) in your department. Instead, it is a person who is expert in his field. And you have to choose them instead of being assigned to them. I chose someone in immunology. I wanted to understand the scenario.

Judy gives me a broader perspective. Although I did my PhD in the United Kingdom, I never really got into the scientific culture here. After moving here from Chennai, India, I completed my Master’s and PhD in Cancer Immunotherapy at Hull University, UK.

I then did a postdoc in Wanjun Chen’s lab at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. After spending a total of ten years at the NIH, you forget how everything else works. For example, the NIH receives major funding from the federal government, and researchers there do not write grant applications at all. That’s why I never wrote one. I did not know.

I first spoke to Judy in late 2016 and we met for the first time in December of that year. We communicate using Skype, but also in immunology meetings. I e-mail him about my progress and I’ve contacted him again to discuss some of the things happening in my group, including a paper I’m working on for the Journal of Experimental Medicine. was.

She really centers my thought processes. A few months ago, for example, she suggested that the next step for me would be to focus on a larger grant. As a new Pi, this is all very helpful. You don’t know what the important milestones are. In academia this is all ambiguous. There are no set rules.

I give advice to people now and I ask Judy about it. It’s important for junior colleagues to be there. As PI, it is my thoughts that are being taken forward. I really try to step aside and let the students drive the projects and their careers.

One thing I am learning, which is very difficult, is not to push people to academic training. Academics should not always be the focus. It is a bit difficult for an academic to reconcile. I was fortunate enough to be aware of elective tracks, as all my friends at NIH went on to non-academic careers, including policy and grant management. We need scientists in these careers who can advocate for science.

Judy allen

When the people of Academy of Medical Sciences asked me to mentor Shoba, they said that I have to do a mentoring course. One thing I learned from that course that I didn’t fully appreciate is advising someone in your lab who you have a vested interest in, and someone who is outside of your direct influence.

The people I mentor through the academy are completely far from anything with me. I’m more likely to tell a remote person that they should quit or something isn’t working, but I would find it very hard to tell someone in Manchester, as I know them personally and their success . There’s a reflection on me in my lab. I need them to be successful. This is a very different process.

I mentor two people through the Springboard program. I’m well aware of the internal politics of where Shoba and the other person works, so a lot of advice in distance mentoring focuses on how well someone treats their head of department. does.

I try to establish whether they have a good relationship or not and urge them to go to him first. Sometimes women don’t think to ask: “What do you expect from me? What will it take for me to reach the next promotion stage?” I emphasize that whatever I say should not be the last word.

Skype is a wonderful invention and I’m happy to use it at any time, but I think it’s important to meet in person. I have a meeting in Newcastle in a few weeks and would suggest to Shoba that we meet again for lunch.

The main challenge of remote mentoring is that you don’t click with anyone.