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Reflections on Mentorship and Career Pathways from the 2019 GLOW Conference

Last month, as part of the 2019 annual Global Women’s Health Conference at King's College London, I was privileged to be in the audience for a panel on the topic of mentorship, career pathways, and collaboration in global and maternal health fields. As I myself am a new, young researcher in this field, I found the panel relevant and inspiring—especially for those looking to shape their own future career trajectories.

The panel was moderated by France Donnay, Consultant of Global Women’s Health Policies, Programs and Practices, and panel participants included: Hannah Blencowe, Paediatrician-scientist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); Tatiana Salisbury, Lecturer in Global Mental Health at King’s College London (KCL); Abdul Sesay, Laboratory Manager at Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit The Gambia, LSHTM; Hawanatu Jah, Obstetrician-scientist at MRC Unit The Gambia, LSHTM; Tatenda Makanga, Health Geographer and Team Lead, Place Alert Labs, Midlands State University, Zimbabwe; and Nicola Vousden, Clinical Research Fellow in Global Women’s Health, KCL.

Panelists discussed their own personal journeys of what called them to work in the global health field. Further, they touched upon the importance of taking risks and working hard in the face of adversity to pursue their passions, or as one panelist put it, “It’s not chance, it’s perseverance”. I appreciated the honest perspectives that they shared regarding their own challenges, and how perceived failures can help us to redefine the types of opportunities that we both create and seek out—while also helping us to see chance opportunities with creativity and flexibility.

A key focus of the panel was the role of mentorship—whether mentoring others or being mentored themselves— in helping to shape their own career paths. The ideas around mentorship were some that I find myself coming back to. For me, this discussion challenged my traditional understanding of ‘vertical’ mentorship and emphasised the diversity of forms that mentorship can take. Panelists highlighted the importance of peer-to-peer mentorship, and of viewing yourself as both a mentee and a mentor. This spoke to me on a personal level, as I have often overlooked the sometimes unexpected ways in which young or new researchers might provide mentorship to both peers and perhaps even to those outside our own disciplines.

The final theme of the panel spoke to the need for establishing a community of collaboration. The panelists discussed how so often in academic research we find ourselves working in silos, and stressed the importance of working together across disciplines, or the “bringing together of unlike minds”. I left this panel and conference inspired by the breadth of backgrounds and disciplines brought together by a collective passion and commitment for improving global and maternal health, and my feeling is that others did too. Going forward, I hope that I can harness some of these ideas in my own life and work to continue the discussion and collaboration.