The Challenge of Mentoring in academic settings: A pilot study

In the last decade academics have been facing increased pressures on their time and the way they work as professionals. Occupational stress amongst academics is higher than the national average for workers more generally (Winefield et al, 2002). Both the business management and education research literature contain a strong body of evidence supporting the application of workplace mentoring and coaching as a means of further enhancing the contribution and work satisfactionof knowledge workers and managers. This paper reports initial findings from a cross faculty (Economics and Business/Education and Social Work) pilot mentoring project at the University of Sydney aimed to enhance the teaching, research and work-life balance outcomes for the twenty participants. Data gathering occured during all stages of the project and included surveys, submitted expressions of interest, recordings of group activities, focus groups and interviews.

The project did provide the opportunity, resources and space for participants to engage in positive and relational processes and discuss major concerns about their work. In addition the project provided a catalyst for academics to consider and reflect upon their own professional development and how they might contribute to the mentoring of others in the academic context. The general enthusiasm and positive outcomes cited by participants (including increased productivity) suggest that the pilot project was a major step in developing a culture and community of mentoring in both faculties although the brevity of the program makes it impossible to cite a reduction in participants’ stress. Further work in the area of pairing mentors and the issues around gender are suggested. The project has continued in 2006.