Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

How does a university teacher become a researcher/teacher?

Rhondda Tilbrook
Educational Development Unit
Edith Cowan University
Edith Cowan has a large number of staff whose main role to date has been teaching and who have little research experience. A way of redressing this problem and teaching the teachers how to develop or improve their research skills was required. A Collaborative Research Team (CRT) Programme, based on the Collaborative Research Group Scheme which was conducted at Victoria University of Technology during 1994 and 1995, has been established and implemented during 1997. The programme involves mentors (staff who have research experience, publication experience and/or external research grants) leading a team of eight to ten novice researchers. A novice is defined as a person who has limited research expertise/experience in any area. The second part of the programme is to provide formal training for mentors and novices as required. The Educational Development Unit is conducting the leadership programme for mentors and arranging workshops for novices as required. This vignette will describe some of the theory on the use of mentors as teachers and examine the issues of how the teaching is performed and how effective it might be.


A small proportion of the academic staff at Edith Cowan University are working in research groups, undertaking significant research or able to apply for an ARC grant. It was felt that the research base within the university needed to be widened and a method for improving staff's research skills was needed. Victoria University of Technology (VUT) used some of their Commonwealth Staff Development Fund for a Collaborative Research Group (CRG) Scheme in 1994 and 1995. The scheme aimed to provide mentor-driven, process-oriented enabling strategies to assist in the development of the University's research culture.

The three components of VUT's scheme were:

Two staff members from Edith Cowan University attended a seminar at VUT in November 1996 where some of the lessons learned from the VUT scheme were disseminated and information was provided which could be used to adapt the scheme in other institutions. Most of the staff involved in the VUT scheme found it a worthwhile process. In 1994 they had 10 CRGs with 102 people involved and in 1995 there were 18 CRGs of which 8 had continued from the previous year and 10 were new groups. VUT had a similar background to ECU as one of the newer universities. It also had a comparable research profile with large numbers of academic staff with little research experience. A decision was made to introduce a scheme to develop research skills at Edith Cowan University based on the CRG scheme and funding was made available for the programme to begin during 1997.

Collaborative Research Team Programme at Edith Cowan University

All academic staff at Edith Cowan University were notified about the Collaborative Research Team Programme. The programme was to provide opportunities for staff to improve their research skills within the context of an overall dynamic, developing and increasingly productive research culture. A Collaborative Research Team (CRT) was to comprise a number of staff (8-10) with a common research interest and whose experience/expertise in research ranged from novice to expert. CRTs could be single or multi-disciplinary, inter or intra department or intra faculty. They were to have a leader/mentor who was located more towards the expert end of the novice-expert experience/expertise continuum. The CRT's would meet regularly, develop and work toward the accomplishment of a number of short and long term goals including specific research projects, the development of specific staff research and supervisory skills related to those projects and the development of the ultimate products of the project.

Funds were made available for the programme from central sources and from the faculties and could be used in a number of ways:

The main focus of the programme is staff development and it is expected that members of CRTs will develop skills in research processes, leadership, team building, planning and goal setting, negotiating, motivation, time management, proposal writing, applying for funding, bringing research to fruition and developing the products of research.

Twelve CRTs were selected to participate in the programme with the Office of Research and Development providing administrative support. The Educational Development Unit arranges centrally delivered courses and coordinates the Mentor Training Programme. The programme was launched on 24 July 1997 with an Introductory Training Session for all mentors. Rhonda Hallett, who was the coordinator of VUT's Collaborative Research Group scheme, facilitated the session. She discussed some aspects of the mentor programme at VUT - roles of a mentor, issues faced by mentors and mentor group meetings and then led a discussion of the scheme at ECU. Since then the teams at ECU have been meeting regularly; the mentors have met as a group; and a number of centrally organised courses have been conducted for team members.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship which gives people the opportunity to share their professional and personal skills and experiences, and to grow and develop in the process (Spencer, 1996, p. 5)
Traditionally mentoring was a one-to-one process where the mentor guided, taught, sponsored and protected a younger, inexperienced individual. One of the earliest mentors was Mentor in The Odyssey who was asked by Odysseus to mentor his son Telemachus. Mentor was asked to protect, advise, guide and train Telemachus during Odysseus' absence and his specific goals were to teach the prince the skills which he would need to become a warrior, leader of men, head of household and future king. The mentoring was formal and planned and other mentors such as the goddess Athena, who was the ultimate mentor, were also used.

A number of different descriptions of mentors are available. Geiger-DuMond and Boyle (1995, p. 54) defined a mentor as "a wise and trusted counsellor". They specified the roles for a mentor as communicator, counsellor, coach, advisor, broker, referral agent and advocate. The mentor will fill each of these roles at different times during the mentoring process. Sands, Parson and Duane in Wheeler and Wheeler (1994, p. 95) believe that individual mentors can be of four types: a friend, a career guide, an information source and an intellectual guide. Harris (1995, p. 100) states that the role of a mentor involves being available, making time for mentees, trying to anticipate their needs and being an encourager. Spencer (1996, p. 20) lists the following as part of the role of the mentor:

White-Hood (1993, p. 60) says that "mentoring is a strategy for teaching and coaching, and creating opportunities for personal empowerment". Each of the definitions includes the concepts of either teaching, guiding, coaching or facilitating professional growth as part of the role of a mentor. Thus the mentor has a responsibility to assist the learning of team members as part of the mentoring process.

The criteria for selecting a mentor according to Harris (1995, p. 99) are:

Some additional attributes of a mentor which were specified by Spencer (1996, p. 21) are: A mentoring programme can range from a structured formal induction programme to an informal buddy system. The programme at ECU would be seen as structured with specified aims for the scheme and an overall process to be followed. Each CRT has a set of specific goals, which they are working towards, and the teams have regular meetings for working on their research project or for skills development.

Wunsch (1994) found that mentors need ongoing instruction, counselling, support and follow through. The ECU scheme provides this with the Mentor Training Programme. The mentors have had lunch-time meetings where they discussed the progress of their team and provided support/suggestions for other mentors. As part of the support for mentors an electronic mailing list (Listserver) has been created to facilitate communication from the Educational Development Unit to mentors and to enable mentors to communicate with each other.

Mentor as teacher?

According to Paul Ramsden (1992) the aim of teaching is simple: it is to make student learning possible. He defines teaching as the process of altering students' understanding of the subject matter they are being taught. Some of the important properties of a good teacher are: Wunsch (1994) states that the "mentoring relationship provides an environment that supports adults while they continue to learn and develop themselves". This theme is shared by Spencer (1996, p. 5) who states that mentoring "is based upon encouragement, constructive comments, openness, mutual trust, respect and a willingness to learn and share. In the roles of counsellor and guide the mentor will provide a caring situation in which team members feel comfortable and trusting. According to Geiger-DuMond and Boyle (1995, p. 53) "the most important element of a successful mentoring relationship is trust" and the team members should feel that the other members are supportive and encouraging. They should be able to admit what they do not know and to feel that the advice, which is offered by others in the team, is constructive, not destructive.

The mentor is providing the team members with situations in which they are learning how to become involved in research, how to develop new skills and how to improve existing skills. It would be expected that the mentor's enthusiasm/love for the process and area of research would be conveyed to the students i.e. team members during team meetings. As the mentor has progressed from the novice stage to the expert end of the experience/expertise continuum, they would have an understanding of the requirements and skills of their team members and could arrange activities within the team to suit the members. A mentor needs to establish empathetic relationships and this includes showing concern and respect for students.

It is expected that the members of each CRT will develop a variety of skills during the twelve month programme as they work together on the team's project. They will be learning actively and cooperatively under the mentor's guidance. Some skills such as planning and goal setting, negotiation and time management, which CRT members were expected to develop, will be learnt as the team works together on its research project. The mentor should have expertise in these areas and the role-modelling of these skills can assist the members' learning. The ways in which the team is managed and members are encouraged to be involved in activities will also affect the members' learning.

Teaching involves the facilitation of learning that engages both the teacher and student in a cooperative activity in order to develop students' understanding and ways of interpreting the world (Chalmers and Fuller, 1995, p. 11).
The CRT scheme provides an ideal situation in which the mentor (teacher) and team members (students) are working together on the research project and team members' skills and knowledge are being developed. A mentor displays all of the properties of a good teacher during the process of working with the team members and making student learning possible.


A CRG Evaluation Plan was developed by VUT to elicit as much information as possible from those involved with their scheme. The evaluation included: VUT found that their CRG scheme was successful in terms of helping a number of teachers become researcher/teachers and developing the research culture. Some of the team members reported that they had been able to develop a number of skills due to the CRG scheme and being actively involved in research activities had helped their skills development and also enabled them to become up-to-date in areas such as computing. They also felt that they were more involved in the research process than they would have been otherwise. Some staff found that the bond, between academics within their department, had grown as a result of working together in a group. Another advantage of the CRG scheme was being involved with other staff and thus research becoming less of a lonely existence.

As ECU's programme is still in progress it is not possible to determine how effective it has been but feedback from mentors indicates that most of the teams are meeting regularly and finding the process worthwhile. Some centrally delivered courses have been conducted already (Use of the SPIN database for research opportunities, SPSS, Journal/thesis writing) thus providing some team members and mentors with skills which they can now apply. ECU will carry out evaluations of participants and mentors using techniques such as questionnaires, interviews and reports. It would be expected that at the end of the twelve month programme a number of teachers will have become researcher/teachers and the research culture within the university will have grown.


Chalmers, D. & Fuller, R. (1995). Teaching for Learning at University. Edith Cowan University. Perth.

Geiger-DuMond, A. & Boyle, S. K. (1995). Mentoring: A Practitioner's Guide. Training and Development, 49(3), 51-54.

Hallett, R. (1995). Embedding Plan. Collaborative Research Group Scheme. Victoria University of Technology.

Harris, S. (1995). A Mentoring Program for New Teachers: Ensuring Success. NASSP Bulletin, 79(572), 98-103.

Ramsden, Paul (1992). Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Routledge. London.

Spencer, C. (1996). Mentoring Made Easy. A Practical Guide for Managers. Office of the Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment. NSW Government Publication.

Wheeler D. W. & Wheeler, B. J. (1994). Mentoring Faculty for Midcareer Issues. In M. Wunsch (Ed.), Mentoring Revisited: Making an Impact on Individuals and Institutions. (pp. 91-100). Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco.

White-Hood, M. (1993). Taking up the Mentoring Challenge. Educational Leadership, 51(3), 76-78.

Wunsch, M. (1994). Mentoring Revisited: Making an Impact on Individuals and Institutions. Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco.

Please cite as: Tilbrook, R. (1998). How does a university teacher become a researcher/teacher? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 331-335. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/tilbrook.html

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