The importance of listening, questioning and summarising information for mentoring across cultures and cyberspace

May 25, 2021

Late last year we announced our first group of e-mentors and e-mentees as part of our new E-mentoring Program. This program was launched to ensure that, despite COVID-19 and its travel and life restrictions, we could continue to help develop the technical and organisational skills and expertise of agricultural researchers, scientists and policy makers in developing countries.

This program builds on the success of our long term existing Mentoring Program, which has seen face-to-face interaction in overseas countries, backed up by electronic contact, and our conference scholar mentoring program, matching young NextGen researchers with experienced Australians who attend our conference.

We hope that these e-connections not only deliver positive and targeted skill-sharing outcomes, but also enduring connections between the Crawford Fund, the volunteering mentors and their mentees, and the institutions and countries involved.

We now present our latest e-mentoring pair reflecting on their experience, Dr Robert Mensah, Senior Principal Research Scientist & Director Australian Cotton Research Institute, NSW Department of Primary Industries and his e-mentee Dr Farah Farhanah Haron, Deputy Director of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI).

You can also read earlier reflections from our e-mentors in Australia and their e-mentees in the Philippines, Ghana, Malaysia and the Philippines again!

Robert Mensah (Australia) and
Farah Farhanah Haron (Malaysia)

Dr Robert Mensah

Senior Principal Research Scientist & Director Australian Cotton Research Institute
NSW Department of Primary Industries

What motivated you to be a mentor?

  • The ability to share my knowledge and experience with someone from the next generation for their own development
  • The opportunity to support a mentee’s development and research efforts
  • The opportunity to meet new researchers of diverse backgrounds, widen my networks, collaborate and develop our ideas together successfully
  • Ability to help mentees and talented professionals within my field to choose the right direction and to maximise their potential
  • To be able to stimulate someone to broaden their perspective, combine different fields of research and ways of thinking (thinking outside the square).

What are the main goals you are focusing on from your agreed mentoring plan?

  • Staff and time management to successfully achieve project milestones
  • Developing new research proposals following completion of PhD study
  • Techniques of developing collaborative projects with other government and private organisations.
  • Publication and report writing skills
  • Identification and registration of IP and patents
  • Seminar organisation for staff and conference presentation skills 

What are the various ways you are communicating and what combination are you finding most useful?

  • Listening which requires hearing, interpreting and responding to what mentee is saying.
  • As listeners, both mentor and mentee try to understand the intent of what the mentee/mentor is saying.
  • Then, we clarify what is being said through questioning and summarising what is being said to ensure that we understand each other.
  • We try to avoid jargon and understand accents, and when in doubt we ask questions
  • We communicate electronically by email, text and skype but we try to avoid miscommunication. Most often we try to talk on skype so we can both pay attention to non-verbal communication such as eye contact, facial expression and body language.
  • The most useful communication is the skype platform and listening, asking question and summarising what is heard.

What are you getting out of our e-mentoring program?

  • I am developing more leadership skills across diverse cultures
  • Gaining personal sense of satisfaction from knowing that I am transferring my knowledge to help someone
  • It is helping my own self-reflection and development in mentoring the younger generation in my professional field

Any lessons you could share with the other e-mentors?

Mentoring someone is self-satisfying. For example, mentoring someone from different culture enriches you to develop skills across people of diverse culture. There is also an influence of fresh ideas from the younger generation

Anything more to add?

  • The mentoring period of at least 12 months is essential for mentees and mentors to develop effective ideas that will guide the mentees in their professional development.
  • Mentors have no known knowledge about the mentee’s workplace politics, infrastructure and staff interaction etc and only rely on what is being said by the mentee. It is important for mentors to visit mentee’s workplace to understand how the workplace operates in order to refine or change the mentors strategic direction/plan of his mentoring. A 2-4 weeks visit by the mentor will be appropriate.

Dr Farah Farhanah Haron

Deputy Director 
Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Malaysia

What motivated you to nominate to be a mentee?

  • To meet experts in my field of research, sharing knowledge and develop ideas together
  • To widen my circle of researchers through networking 
  • To seek advice and guidance from experienced researchers on my career development.
  • To broaden my exposure on research internationally

What are the main goals you are focusing on from your agreed mentoring plan?

  • Time management between leading a department, supervising staff, handling research projects, doing my own research and publications, etc.
  • Communication and collaborative works with other researchers and staff
  • Greater understanding on my field of expertise (integrated pest and disease management)
  • Develop a good, extensive, and impactful research project
  • Commercialisation of a product

How is the e-mentoring helping your development?

I found the e-mentoring really helpful for each session we were able to discuss a lot of things to reach our set goals. We changed ideas whereby every time I ask questions or opinions, my mentor always give constructive answers that help me improve myself professionally. I received a lot of guidance from my mentor in solving issues related to my research work and workplace. I was also exposed to a different perspective and culture and it has broadened my knowledge as a leader. Most of the time I discover new things and getting familiar with a broader research concepts through my mentor’s experience.

Any lessons you could share with the other e-mentees?

If we would like to engage with a diverse research backgrounds, we could gather all our colleagues/staff from different research fields and conduct a short monthly seminar/sharing session to have a better understanding in their research works and at the same time building a good relationship with them.

Anything more to add?

I hope to still continue with the e-mentoring this year and it would be nice if I could have the opportunity to meet with my mentor and have a mentoring session or trainings/hands-on/ face to face at his working environment or having a better exposure through visits to places related to our research fields in his country when the pandemic situation gets better.