Mentor groups

Completing a doctoral degree can be demanding and involve many different challenges that go beyond the specific research project to be carried out. Therefore, at the PhD program in Health Sciences, we offer our PhD candidates the opportunity to participate in mentor groups where they can recieve information about and dicsuss various challenges with others in the same situation.

Background for the scheme

In 2020, UiT adopted a mentoring scheme at all levels of study from 2022, including in the PhD program. The scheme aims to contribute to increased psychosocial well-being among students, as well as promote good study quality and integration of the student role, thereby preventing dropouts and promoting progression. The goal at the PhD level is for 70 % off all candidates to have completed their degree within 6 years of admission. Of those admitted to the PhD program in Health Sciences in 2015, 62 % had completed their degree within six years. The faculties were given considerable leeway to design the framework for the scheme in the various study programs. For the PhD program at the Faculty of Health Sciences, it was important that the scheme be independent of the candidate's physical/ geographical location and be substaiable in terms of the faculty's size and organization. 

Causes of dropout from PhD programs

Doctoral education can be demanding. There are many challenges to be solved. In addition to figuring out the research process, one must to a greater or lesser extent also figure out how to take care of one's own health, learn academic writing through trial and error with critical feedback, and not least; how to self-lead through the journey to an approved thesis and defense. 

There are several studies where PhD candidates have been asked why they have either dropped out of the PhD program or are considering it. There are several recurring resons. Many cite challenges with their own or their family's health. For the candidate themselves, this often involves problems that are either caused by or exacerbated by stress. Regardless of the consequences, many candidates cite the perceived stress level itself as a reason to quit. For some, this linked to a lack of perceived mastery, both in relation to the traning component and in relation to the research project. Another important reason cited is uncertainty about future careers, i.e., doubts about whether the education is worthwhile at all, what job opportunities exist, and how to best position oneself for the desired career.

Therefore, various forms of social support are very important. The most important appears to be the academic community. Next comes the community with other candidates more generally and the relationship with the supervisor. Instrumental and organizational support is also important. In addition to the challenges mentioned aboce, we see at the Faculty of Health Sciences that it is normal to experience problems with data collection and that it can be difficult to combine doctoral education with clinical work. 

Many of the challenges that the PhD candidates may encounter are thus shared with other current and former PhD candidates, who can often provide useful suggestions and tips on how to meet and handle various challenges. Therefore, in recent years, there has been a focus on how to systematize this type of support. Liardet (2023) is one of those who concludes that mentoring schemes that help with the transition from student to researcher can be useful. 

If you want to read more: 

Liardet, C. L. (2023). Navigating the transition into higher degree research: an exploration of candidates’ experiences. The Australian Educational Researcher. doi:10.1007/s13384-023-00639-3

Who is the program for?

Everyone who applies for admission to the PhD program in Health Sciences after June 1st, 2022, will be offered the opportunity to join a mentor group. Participation is voluntary. Participants are expected to be active participants in all 12 mentor group meetings. 

Mentor Group:

A mentor group consist of up to 10 PhD candidates who are put togheter across disciplines but who are at the same stage in the program. Consideration is also given to geographical location and language. Most groups will be digital and in Norwegian. 

The Mentor Group Meetings

The groups meet three times per semester in the first year, twice per semester in the second year, and once per semester in the third year, for a total of 12 meetings. 

The main purpose of the meetins is for the group to discuss issues that the participants may encounter, share experiences, and support each other. The meeting are structured with a thematic introduction in the beginning, but it is also desirable for the group's participants to suggest relevant topics to the mentor prior to the meeting for discussions. 

The proposed topics for the meeting, which the mentors have had the opportunity to prepare for, are:

Year 1

Meeting 1: Introduction to the mentor program, getting to know each other, and establish group rules. 

Meeting 2: Social support and self-care

Meeting 3: About UiT and the Faculty of Health Sciences

Meeting 4: Mobility/ internationalization and planning the PhD process

Meeting 5: Teaching

Meeting 6: Research ethics - discussion of cases that PhD candidates may encounter

Year 2

Meeting 7: Career planning part 1, career at UiT

Meeting 8: Publishing and dissemination

Meeting 9: PhD process part 2 

Meeting 10: Funding applications and Open Sciences 

Year 3:

Meeting 11: Optional topic

Meeting 12: Career planning part 2 - career outside academia 

A PhD mentor should facilitate a healthy psychosocial environment for PhD candidates, in our case by brining together and supporting a group of PhD candidates from different departments. For their groups, the mentor will be a guide through the PhD process, a career counselor and a gateway to various resources ( for example, by informing about various programs and services at UiT)

Our mentor are scientific employees fom our ten departments, they have a PhD, and a desire to support our PhD candidates. All mentors should have received training in leading mentor groups before starting, and they committed to a full three-year implementation with their mentor group. For those who are mentors, time is set aside on their work plan in accordance with the hourly norm for seminar teachers. The departments allocate resources to the mentor program according to the number of PhD candidates they have. 

What is the difference between a mentor and a supervisor?

The supervisor's role is primarily more specific and centered around the candidate's research project, where the main tasks are to provide academic guidance for planning, implementation, and documentation of a research project. However, social and personal development task are also highlighted in UiT's development program for supervisors. The relationship between the supervisor and each individual PhD candidate is regulated by the PhD agreement and the faculty's guidelines. 

The mentor is a supplement to the supervisor. The mentor share implicit knowledge and experience at a more general level, which is more focused on coping with doctoral education, career planning, and the work/study life of PhD candidates. Mentors do not address challenges related to individual research projects. 

This webpage is part 1 of the mentor training.

You will find part two here

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