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From Mentee to Mentor – Lessons in the Power of Mentorship

25th January 2019
By Katy Alexander

It’s International Mentoring Month and we are excited to continue celebrating the powers of mentorship with another interview. Earlier this month we talked to Ali Smith from Overleaf about his work with Code Your Future. In this blog post, we interview Cathy Holland who has over 10 years of experience in the STM publishing industry. Earlier in her career, she spent the majority of her time working with library consortia worldwide to bring the journals from AAAS/Science to their patrons.

To be a mentor and a mentee are two positions that one moves in and out of during a career. The line between the two is often overlapping. Can you talk about your journey over the past few years as a mentee and a mentor?

Over the course of the last two years, I have been both a mentor and a mentee through the formal Society for Scholarly Publishing Mentorship Program. Each time I was in a place in my career where I needed different aspects of the program I applied for the role that would best suit my current interest. Being on different sides of the fence has been equally rewarding and allowed me to learn and grow as both a person and in my career.

Many people have mentors throughout their career but they are not always found within formal mentorships. Informal mentors are wonderful and many people have a ‘go to’ person when seeking professional advice, however, a formal program can help keep a relationship less ambiguous. This formal structure can be very helpful for certain people, so if you are thinking about mentor/mentee relationships I would consider a formal program.

Additionally, having a more formal mentor can be helpful for individuals in the early part of their career since they often have a smaller network and may want to avoid the office gossip mill by talking with someone in their own organisation.

Programs can also offer guidelines that are sometimes needed for those that crave structure and don’t feel as comfortable talking to someone they just met. A formal program – like the Society for Scholarly Publishing – can give someone a space where they can learn and not be worried about confidentiality.

Progress throughout a career – especially today – is a path that is not always straightforward. What can a good mentor do to make the journey a little more comfortable?

Today, the career path is not straightforward. It is full of ups, downs, lateral moves, and sometimes shifting roles entirely. This can be especially true as one reaches the mid and senior levels of their career. An individual will need varied and different types of advice at these different junctions depending on the challenge at hand. A good mentor will recognize their limits and know when they can help a mentee directly and when they should leverage their network in order to help the mentee gain valuable knowledge. An important point to note is that another integral part of the program (at least within the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Program) is helping a mentee expand their own network through introductions and contacts.

Having a good mentor can also help flesh out a mentee’s passions and motivations. Once these are found, a mentor can help nudge the mentee in the right direction so their role aligns with their true passions. These different perspectives can be eye-opening for some individuals.

We live in a connected world. Digital Science is a company with offices in many different countries. What examples do you know of actions companies like Digital Science have taken to encourage a global community?

Digital Science holds a yearly company retreat. As a global company, colleagues all over the world come together to discuss and brainstorm on ideas, problems, and many other topics. We have a full day of unconference sessions which are suggested and then voted on by peers. This approach allows us to see things from another perspective and gives us time to consider the difficulties other segments of Digital Science might experience. It is also a great way to get to know your colleagues and build trust.

During last year’s retreat, I spent a good amount of time with a colleague from China and now have regular catch up calls with a colleague in Australia. Doing this is so much easier since I have a better relationship with these people due to our time together at the retreat.

Why is it important to pay it forward?

I have some very strong feelings on this and I think the better question would be why would one not pay it forward if one has that opportunity?

I know at some point in my life I am going to need some help, sound advice, or direction.  How would I feel comfortable obtaining that assistance if I have never put into the pool of knowledge that I draw out of?  Is life always fair – no, however that does not mean we should not try to make it fairer. Giving back tends to balance things out.

Another point to consider is that even when you do give back, you also gain from it. For example, by mentoring an early career colleague, you will gain more and more confidence in your knowledge, expand your own network and expertise and increase the positive feeling you get from altruistic behaviour.

What is it about the working culture at Digital Science that allows you actively pursue skills and experiences outside your daily remit? Do those experiences encourage development indirectly by stepping outside the box?

The Digital Science culture is rather unique in that the company embodies the ideals of an innovative start-up alongside those of a more established company. Due to this culture, we are not as risk averse as some organisations and understand that an engaged, excited employee will bring more ideas to the table. This is important as ideas are the foundation for driving innovation forward. Digital Science also has a strong culture of mentorship which allows many within the organisation to thrive.

Doing something outside of your own daily remit has benefits for the company and the individual. I consider a few things here that might be slightly outside my direct job responsibilities:

  1. speaking opportunities at conferences
  2. blogs posts like this one that share knowledge and information
  3. being a mentee or mentor through formal programs like the Society for Scholarly Publishing Mentorship Program

Being able to pursue opportunities like these in the past year, which are different to my everyday job, have greatly benefited me as an individual but also have strong benefits to Digital Science, such as a expanding ones network, gaining new knowledge and highlighting the positive culture to those outside the business. Stepping outside of the box has allowed me to grow faster and obtain fresh ideas which I now bring to work every day!

I have nothing but positive things to say about being a mentor or mentee and encourage those thinking about it to participate in some of the formal programs organisations have available.


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