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Friday, 29 January 2016

Becoming an EPQ mentor

David Dewar, a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) in Musicology, reflects on the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) Fair on 9 November.

I saw that there was an opportunity for research postgraduates to be involved in mentoring sixth form students undertaking the Extended Project qualification and to advise them in research skills. As a (somewhat) mature PGR, who has undertaken a fair bit of research and lecturing in previous careers, and being interested in teaching here at Bristol, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I’ve found that I learn at least as much from undertaking teaching, coaching, and mentoring as does the recipient!

So I signed-up and attended a briefing in the Victoria Rooms, which itself was packed with information.  One particularly significant feature was a chance to look at completed previous EPQ project reports from candidates; those were really outstanding. I was looking forward to the chance to meet some of the new cohort of candidates at the EPQ Fair.

On the day of the Fair I had the chance to meet the three students assigned to me. Not only were they all impeccably polite and a pleasure to talk to, they had an impressive grasp of their topics. They also had definite aims in life – equally important in maintaining a sense of motivation. They had to get to grips with the specialist repositories for their subject, which we are used to dealing with, and the construction of effective Boolean search criteria.

Given the ambition of some of the projects, the timescale for completion is tight. The mentor’s task does not so far seem to be onerous; there is just the requirement to be positive, encouraging, and thoughtful when there is contact and I’m looking forward to further discussions with each of them.    

Their projects, apart from one, do not directly relate to my own research, but do make use of life-experience and interests. Since the overall aim is to be a ‘research-colleague’ or sounding-board, it is not necessary for the mentor to have project-specific knowledge. Having had initial discussions, I can now do some thinking around their particular projects to be able to take the discussion further when next we might meet or exchange emails, and to be able to suggest some additional materials for them to consider.

I’d recommend this programme for the experience it gives to hone one’s own skills in interacting with potential future colleagues; showing that researchers are not necessarily geeks(!); genuinely trying to help those trying to gain a qualification in an important life and academic skill; and in the chance to show the University in a good light.

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