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Concordia scholars rethink the traditional mentorship model and find major funding success

Early-career researchers team up with English professor to form a SSHRC grant-writing mentorship circle
November 3, 2021
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By Amy Sharaf

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A group of Concordians has turned the traditional mentorship model on its head, and earned sizable research grants in the process.

Instead of using the approach where someone senior guides someone more junior, early-career researchers in Concordia’s Department of English and Jason Camlot, professor and Concordia University Research Chair (Tier I) in Literature and Sound Studies, formed a “mentorship circle.”

Together they shared ideas and support as they worked separately yet together on individual applications for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grants (IDG).

The result was a 100 per cent success rate for the group. All members not only secured IDG grants ranging from approximately $30,000 to more than $71,000, they all scored within the top two percentiles for their applications.

It’s something that group member and postdoctoral fellow Mathieu Aubin says is extremely rare, especially for early-career researchers. He attributes their success to the team approach they took to grant writing.

“We were all bringing something new to the table, whether it be institutional knowledge from Jason, or grant-writing editorial expertise from someone else. Others were just terrific at asking questions and pushing an argument further.”

An ongoing conversation

Dubbed the “IDG Squad,” the group included Camlot and researchers at various stages in their careers: postdoctoral fellow Deanna Fong, affiliate assistant professors Katherine McLeod and Ronjaunee Chatterjee, and Aubin. Most initially came together through their work with SpokenWeb, a SSHRC-funded partnership grant research network that Camlot leads.

What began as weekly SpokenWeb meetings to share ideas about their various projects became workshopping sessions where the group would look at their grant applications as case studies and help each other work through them.

Chatterjee is not part of SpokenWeb and instead joined the group through her work with Camlot. She says she appreciated having it serve as a source of informal support and valuable information on the application process.

“Having the group underscored the importance for junior, under-employed, and precarious faculty members to build some solidarity amongst ourselves in order to succeed. And we did!”

Fellow group member Fong says she also benefited tremendously from the emotional support of colleagues who were going through the same process.

“Grant-writing can be overwhelming and frustrating at times, and it was just nice to know I wasn't the only one struggling to cut those extra 250 words or confused by the application portal,” she says.

For group member McLeod, who came to Concordia as a SpokenWeb Postdoctoral Fellow seven years ago and is now an affiliate researcher, meeting with the group made her think about how an individual research project always has ties to community.

"The members of the group are all colleagues and collaborators who I met at each stage of that journey, and it has been rewarding to share the success of our individual projects together," she says.

Despite being the most experienced of the group, Camlot says he benefitted significantly from his junior colleagues’ insights into his own submission.

“It wasn’t about them just asking me questions about how to write a grant, but about exploring the different kinds of research questions we had, and how best to pursue them. I think engaging in this ongoing conversation has helped me to imagine research projects in new, more exciting, and less solitary ways,” he says.

Camlot was also associate dean of faculty affairs for the Faculty of Arts and Science for six years. To help bolster their applications, he managed to secure letters for the group so that each of them could be Concordia research affiliates for the duration of their grants.

‘Mentorship is a multiple-avenue activity’

Since securing their respective IDGs, the group’s focus has now shifted to addressing the many questions that arise after getting the funding — everything from securing equipment to hiring research assistants. Ultimately, Camlot says this way of thinking about mentorship can be beneficial for everyone involved.

“I think it's much more rewarding when emerging scholars are a key part of the research design process and are empowered to share questions and insights about their senior colleagues’ applications,” he says.

“It's just flipping it a bit in terms of actually thinking about the processes by which we mentor, so that mentorship is approached as a multiple-avenue activity and is not understood as always moving in one direction.”

A model to inspire others

Monica Mulrennan is associate vice-president of research (development and outreach) in the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies and professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment at Concordia. She says mentorship is recognised as one of the few common characteristics of a successful academic career, with increasing attention to the benefits of “peer-to-peer mentorship”.

She is currently working with the Faculty of Arts and Science’s associate dean of research Patrick Leroux and his team to create two grant-writing mentorship pilot projects. She hopes  the experience of colleagues in the Department of English will inspire other researchers to establish their own mentorship arrangements.

“This could be with colleagues within their own department, but also with colleagues elsewhere, including non-academic partners with whom they share research interests,” she says.

“The potential benefits are huge. In addition to greater success in external research grant applications, mentorship can foster collegiality and job-related well-being, and lead to enhanced connections and collaborations.”


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