Mentoring: Rooting the path for progression

Logo: British Ecological Society

By Amy Padfield, Head of Professional Development

Selfie of Amy Padfield
Amy Padfield (British Ecological Society)

Mentoring is a way to support individuals in fulfilling their potential, whilst providing unique perspectives, advice, inspiration and a structure for achieving goals. The British Ecological Society (BES) has a long history of providing mentoring opportunities in different forms. We have learnt a great deal over the years in how to provide an offering for those either working within ecology, conservation and environmental roles, or those hoping to enter the sector.

The BES has now launched a new mentoring programme to allow individuals to have the greatest opportunity to participate and achieve career progression, whatever their career stage. This mentoring programme is not subject specific to topics within ecology and the environment, but rather focusses on goals relating to personal and professional development for those both within and outside of academia. Depending on the needs of the mentee, mentoring has covered a wide range of topics such as dealing with imposter syndrome, enhancing decision making skills, developing networking skills and so much more. Goal setting focuses on the ways mentees can increase their skillsets and ultimately progress their career.

(British Ecological Society)
Pelicans flying across a blue sky

We hear the word “mentor” a lot, but what does it actually mean? When thinking of mentoring, we often think of the traditional senior mentor and new professional mentee. There are many forms of mentoring and many are not what you’d expect - reverse mentoring, peer to peer – you might already be doing the mentoring work with a partner without realising or putting a name to it!

Active listening is key in a supportive and impactful mentor! Mentees should understand that it is not the mentors role to provide all of the answers; mentors PULL, they don’t push! They ask questions, they can suggest options, they can offer guidance, they help solve problems – but they won’t solve them for their mentee. Managing expectations at the beginning of a mentoring relationship is essential to success and ultimately results in a huge range of benefits to both parties.

People gathered around a picnic bench during some mentoring
Mentoring at the Summer School (Ed Hall Photography)

The idea of being a mentor can be daunting for many but at the BES we encourage individuals at an early stage of their careers to consider becoming a mentor themselves. We view mentoring as a career development opportunity and aim to provide training, networking opportunities and support in mentoring technique. Mentors can learn how best to support another individual, improve their listening skills and also have increased understanding of potential barriers for mentees, either in entering the sector or progressing within roles for a wide range of reasons.

Professor Zenobia Lewis, University of Liverpool, took part in a mentoring programme with the BES as a mentor and gained a huge range of benefits:

“The whole experience was extremely rewarding for me. Yes, there is that golden glow associated with helping someone. Yes, it’s reaffirming that I have reached a point in my career when I am able to support someone in this manner. But most importantly, thanks to my mentee I feel that I’ve learnt so much about myself, how I got here, and what I need to do better in future. Of course every mentor-mentee relationship is different, as I’m sure yours will be if you join a scheme. But I am confident that the experience will be beneficial to both parties”.

Portrait of Fiona LeRay with the countryside behind her
Fiona LeRay (British Ecological Society)

Remember there is no ‘right way’ and it’s important to enjoy the flexible nature of mentoring which needs to adapt to meet the needs of the mentee. Every mentoring relationship is different and all work in different ways towards different goals and at their own pace. There are a number of different mentoring schemes for those hoping to progress or gain entry into the environment sector and each offer the opportunity to take part in something extremely beneficial. The positive benefits of mentoring on navigating this competitive sector can not be underestimated for both mentees and mentors. The BES believe strongly that mentoring can bring endless benefits for individuals and invite you to consider participating. To embrace the ability to shape careers, your own and of others, and to work towards shared success.

The BES Mentoring Programme launched in October 2023 for members and already has a large number of mentoring pairs setting and working towards goals. Many are seeking ways to enter highly competitive ecology and environmental roles, as well as have a complete career change. The mentoring programme provides a platform in order to analyse the skillsets required and how to achieve these. If you would like to know more about the scheme, or would like to join, contact Fiona Le Ray, Careers and Inclusion Officer at the BES and Mentoring Programme Co-ordinator at

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Posted On: 05/01/2024

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