Mentoring at RSTMH: Interview with Professor Diana Lockwood

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Monday, 5 February 2018

Sarah Marzouk, RSTMH's Digital Communications Manager, interviewed Professor Diana Lockwood in December 2017. 

“I have lots of experience mentoring in different settings. I’ve mentored junior doctors through training at all different stages at the Hospital for Tropical Disease. We also have formal educational schemes through the NHS.

“Today for example, I’m spending time with two young doctors. We meet every four months to look at what they’ve done and then look ahead to the next four months to set objectives.

“I also mentor more senior people, helping them to decide what areas they’re interested in, where they want to take their careers and if they want to go into research and academia.”

Professor Diana Lockwood, infectious disease physician and leprologist, is telling me all about her experience as a mentor.

Committed to early career researchers

At the RSTMH, we want to reaffirm our commitment to early career researchers and offer more opportunities for them to find mentors and develop strong relationships with people in similar fields throughout their careers.

As part of scoping what this programme of work might look like, we have organised speed mentoring sessions at our Research in Progress events. We’re also speaking to experienced mentors, like Diana, about the kind of mentoring programme RSTMH should offer. 

Professor Diana Lockwood leading a speed mentoring session at RSTMH's Research in Progress meeting in Tanzania, September 2017.
Professor Diana Lockwood leading a speed mentoring session at RSTMH's Research in Progress meeting in Tanzania, September 2017.

Diana is the head of a research team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) researching the molecular aspects of nerve damage in leprosy. At the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, she provides a national referral service for leprosy patients in Britain, sees new and suspected cases of leprosy and runs the evidence-based medicine programme.

I’m starting to question how she finds time to mentor medical professionals as well as work in a hospital. Then she starts to tell me about her mentoring in academia:  

“Another part of my job is supervising students at LSHTM, including young students doing their Masters’ degrees. I’ve supervised PhD students from all over; Ethiopia, India, the UK…  Today I met for lunch with a tutee from Cameroon to ask how he was getting on with work and settling in in London. He said he liked the public transport and how everything worked really well, but didn’t understand why no one talks to each other!”

The rewards of mentoring

Clearly there is more to mentoring than just the scientific support and advice. There is an important pastoral element in this kind of role, one that Diana seems to understand well.

It’s sounds like a lot of work, I say. Is it rewarding? Diana goes on:

“Seeing people get fired up by ideas and wanting to see them through is great. Working up research projects with people you’re mentoring and seeing them coming to fruition is very rewarding.

“A current student of mine who is studying for a Master’s came up with an idea of seeing whether leprosy puts you more at risk of poverty by looking and measuring households with and without leprosy. Having one of the complications of leprosy can tip your household into catastrophic medical spending. It is the complication, getting diagnosed and treated that is costly. This research has been published in PLOS NTDs.

One of my students also presented at Research in Progress (RSTMH event) on leprosy in Bangladesh. I came along to see the presentation.”

Diana seems very committed to her mentoring, I wonder whether this has anything to do with having influential mentors throughout her career.

“I was lucky enough to have mentors in my early career. Lots of people were very helpful, with one people standing – Jo Colston, a leprosy scientist based in London. He was very supportive when I was doing my doctoral work. I do think there are more opportunities to get help through mentoring now, which is good.

“In 1977, I wrote to John Stanford about wanting to join a project in India on leprosy, as I was convinced I was going to solve the transmission of leprosy in one summer project! To my surprise, he actually wrote back and gave me advice and ideas!

The secrets of successful mentoring

With all this experience as a mentee, as well as a mentor, Diana must know the secret to what makes mentoring successful, I say.

“Regular meetings work best, especially when working on joint projects. Informal mentoring is more difficult to take forward as, if it’s not set up properly, it tends to get squeezed to one side. Email is very helpful, but it has to be more than just sharing an email address or passing on a contact. It’s when an introduction is actually made that it becomes valuable.

“Mentoring relationships should have clear goals, so people know what their roles are and what to expect. A face to face meeting at the beginning is very useful to find out what someone is like.”

Advice for mentees and mentors

Does she have any advice for people looking for mentors or who want to be mentors, respectively, I ask?   

“Ask for introductions and do research on prospective mentors. Find the right person for you with the right skill set, look at what they’ve published, what they’re working on, as well as where they’re working or based.

“You don’t have to be senior to be a mentor. A bit of experience is good, but you don’t need a lot, as being close in age and experience to the person you’re advising is actually very helpful, as you’re closer to the problems they might be experiencing.

“If people are interesting in tropical medicine, there are a lot of resources available on the LSHTM website. There are also university diplomas at Liverpool, Glasgow, London, DTM&H in East Africa and MSF has evening classes in tropical medicine.”

Mentoring at RSTMH

Then the million-dollar question; what should RSTMH do when setting up a mentorship programme?

“Make lots of introductions and match up people, almost like speed dating! A lot of successful mentoring is down to chemistry, location and stages in people’s careers. From my experience group sessions don’t work as well as individual introductions.

“It’s important to look at people’s confidence and needs. RSTMH needs to be that link and offer support to those at the early stages of their career to give them the confidence to approach potential mentors.”  

Read Professor Lockwood's blog