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Audrey Tan, Neil Heckels

24 January 2024, 8:22 UTC Share

Submit an expression of interest to join the UPEN Mentorship Programme as a mentor or as a mentee

Want to connect with and learn from policy-engaged peers? UPEN is excited to announce the launch of the second year of the UPEN Mentorship Programme to connect with and support knowledge exchange colleagues across the sector. 

After a successful pilot scheme which saw 8 mentors and 17 mentees take part, we’re opening applications for the 2024 round. This is a perfect opportunity for UPEN members who are looking to expand their networks, engage with ‘critical friends’, and develop their own academic-policy engagement practice through dialogue and discussion with peers. 

What is the UPEN Mentorship Programme?  

Based on evaluation of the pilot programme, we will be continuing with the small group-based peer mentoring format for the 2024 Mentoring Programme. Peer mentoring involves a relationship between colleagues at similar career stages where the more experienced colleague provides informal support for their less experienced counterpart(s). While peer mentoring has more of a flat structure than the hierarchy of a traditional mentoring programme, for the purposes of this Expression of Interest process we will use the term ‘mentor’ to refer to the group leads and ‘mentee’ to refer to group participants.    

Depending on levels of interest, mentors will typically be matched with two or three mentees. We expect each group to develop organically, and in line with the expectations of its members. The programme is relatively informal, but has some structure around expected time commitment and terms of engagement. 

This 12-month programme will run from March 2024 to February 2025, but some mentoring relationships may continue beyond the formal round. 

Who should apply? 

The primary aim of the programme is around providing professional support for people who work in the policy support space. We encourage applications from people who play a role in supporting a connection between academia and policy, e.g. professional services staff, those in allied knowledge brokerage roles, or those who have knowledge brokering and knowledge exchange as core parts of their roles.  

Reflections from the 2022-2023 UPEN Mentorship Programme Pilot 

Neil Heckels, Impact & Policy Senior Manager, Durham University and Chair of the UPEN Professional Development Sub-Committee, reflects on his experience mentoring on the pilot mentoring programme.   

I’m not sure who said it first, but the idea that ‘everyone has something to learn and something to teach’, is one that resonates with me and, I hope, informs the way I work. I also think that it nicely sums up UPEN, a network that has always had at its core, a commitment to sharing learning and experience across and between its diverse membership. Back in 2016, when I first embarked on my academic policy engagement journey, the small group of people we now know as UPEN were integral to helping me find my feet. I had a lot to get my head around, but hopefully a few ideas to offer too.  

No matter how experienced or not we feel we are, everyone has personal insights and ideas that are unique and individual, whether from inside Higher Education or from other experience that they have brought with them. Practice is ever evolving, as is our understanding of what works in different contexts so we need diverse opportunities for fostering and promoting these ideas and insights. One such opportunity is the UPEN mentoring programme, which went through its initial pilot phase in 2022/23 and is now launching its second round.  

Prior to putting myself forwards as a mentor for the pilot, I experienced some serious self-doubt about how valuable others might find my perspectives on policy engagement.  Who was I to determine that I was fit to offer guidance?  How relevant was my experience?  

But I reminded myself of the help I got from more experienced UPEN colleagues in my induction and the support we continue to offer each other. I also reminded myself of the learning opportunity this would represent for me to develop my thinking through working with others that I might not ordinarily meet. 

As it happens, any initial anxiety rapidly vanished. The programme has been a fantastic experience. As a small mentorship group of three we quickly established the approach we wanted to take, which was very much focused on mutual learning and the value of our individual personal experiences. It has felt much more like action learning rather than something more directive or hierarchical, which has led to some brilliant discussions, stimulating ideas and practical suggestions we can take into our respective roles. Personally, it has provided inspiration about the value of UPEN in supporting professional development and was one of my main motivators for taking on the chair of the UPEN professional development sub-committee. 

So, if like me, it still feels like everyday is a school day, perhaps consider getting involved in the next round of the mentoring programme. 

How to apply 

Those who have some experience in the sector and would like to take more of a leadership/mentor role should consider submitting a Mentor/Group Lead Expression of Interest and those who are newer to the sector should apply as a Mentee. 

To learn more and submit your expression of interest, please click here. The deadline to submit your Expression of Interest is Monday 19th February 23:59. 

If you have any questions, please contact Audrey Tan ( 

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