By Professor Claire Gorrara and Dr Sarah Inskip

The Future Leaders Fellows Development Network’s Leadership Mentoring Programme has a unique and considered matching process. Fellows are hand-matched with expert mentors through a ‘people-match’ approach. This allows Mentors to support their Fellow’s priorities and aspirations. This process facilitates a partnership that is built upon individual experiences, preferences, and values.

This is evident in the successful match-up of Professor Claire Gorrara and Dr Sarah Inskip.

Mentor Claire Gorrara is Dean of Research and Innovation for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of French Studies at Cardiff University. Her research encompasses curriculum reform and the teaching of modern languages in schools in Wales. She has worked with mentoring programmes in schools since 2015 as part of her research to support the uptake of modern languages at GCSE level. She is passionate about the power of mentoring to support personal growth and development.

Dr Sarah Inskip is an Osteoarchaeologist and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. Her research focuses on revealing the impact of tobacco on the health of Western Europeans from 1600-1900. Dr Inskip integrates skeletal evidence obtained from archaeological human skeletal remains with historical and modern health narratives. By utilising modern research techniques she is able to reveal new insights into archaeological questions.

Both Sarah and Claire commented it would be unlikely there would have been such an effective mentoring relationship if the process took into account only a ‘skills-match’ as their research spans such different fields. This personal matching aspect is a core value behind the Network’s matching process and enables relationships that help Fellows to develop in areas that matter to them.

In fact, when Sarah applied to the programme she was met with a form that allowed her to provide her preferences. “I was looking for a mentor with a similar background and set of values. I wanted to get support from a female academic who had faced similar hurdles and overcame confidence problems.”

The Network’s Mentoring Manager, Charlotte Bonner-Evans, is responsible for matching pairs and shared some of the behind the scenes processes of creating a successful match.

“We take very seriously the position of trust we have when matching mentees and mentors, combining objectives, experience, and trusted shared information, to hand-match with the best interests in mind of both mentees and mentors. Each match is made and reflected upon before released to the pairs. With this match, I was able to return to Dr Inskip to narrow down what she was looking for in a match, and instead of matching straight away, and potentially mismatching, she kindly agreed to wait, as I was aware that Professor Gorrara had registered for the next Leadership Mentoring orientation session and had presented ideal match information.”

Sarah let Charlotte know that she was looking for someone to support her with schools engagement. She wanted to effectively communicate her findings on tobacco’s long-term impact on health to pupils. Based on the information she provided, Charlotte knew Claire would be the perfect mentor for Sarah and offered the match. On the pair-up, Claire said that “It worked massively being from the same background, we clicked on a personal level as women academics and we both identified as coming from working-class families. Although we had little similarity in our research fields, we both had similar personal trajectories and ambitions. It’s a great scheme allowing people to be matched on values.”

Sarah and Claire also set aside time to meet in person to discuss each other’s academic outlooks and experiences. Sarah described their professional relationship developing through the programme:

“We quickly realised we had overlapping experiences and that we both wanted to make an impact on young people and their life choices. It’s hugely beneficial that she knows is where I’m coming from. It’s incredibly helpful having someone impartial to my institution, who is more senior and I feel comfortable being able to talk to her about anything.”

Professor Gorrara aded that, “Working together is mutually beneficial, it gives us both a fresh perspective, coming from such different fields. There are huge benefits in knowledge and experience exchange and it brings the possibility of collaborating on future projects.”

Claire explained the impact mentoring programmes had on the uptake of modern languages within schools and Sarah found this hugely beneficial. Claire connected Sarah to Lucy Jenkins, Programme Manager of the MFL (Modern Foreign Language) Mentoring Project, with whom she works. Lucy was able to share insights about sustaining long-term relationships with schools.

The impact of this match-up can be felt in Sarah’s daily work, “I’m a lot more confident in trying to do much larger things. I now have a growing network to check in with as I navigate this new area. I’m incredibly grateful to Claire for sharing her experiences.”

Claire also discussed the benefit of the partnership on her own work, “It’s so useful to connect with academics out with humanities who have a different perspective. So I’ve been able to learn from Sarah’s challenges. In my career, I’ve helped support academics on applications to become Future Leader Fellows, but seeing and supporting a live project has given great insight into how Fellow’s carry out their work.”

In the future Claire and Sarah, along with Lucy, will continue to work together to maximise Sarah’s school engagement work. They will continue to work together as colleagues who want to make a difference. Professor Gorrara said, “The Network does truly provide a people-matching mentoring programme. I would recommend it to both mentors and Fellows.”

Explore our Leadership Mentoring Programme and read more about the matching process in our blog from Kay Guccione and Charlotte Bonner-Evans.