“…we all build our careers through learning from the experiences of those who have gone before”
Francis Norman is Director at Ulfire and a researcher at Curtin University (WA), and was a Mentor in the IMNIS Minerals/Energy Pilot 2016:
I am an engineer with over 30 years of experience in the design, construction and commissioning field in large, process intensive resources projects. I began my career as an instrumentation engineer in the design of blast furnaces and have since worked in power generation, waste water treatment, mineral processing, onshore and offshore oil and gas, and, along the way, worked in many different countries. The last 10 years of my career have been in engineering management with the last four as an independent consultant where I work with client organisations in a number of different leadership and management related areas. I returned to academic study in 2007, completing a MSc in project management before starting a part time PhD in management in 2011 which I am aiming to complete during 2017.
I have formally and informally mentored both junior employees in my own organisation and in universities for around 15 years, finding it a great way to share my experience and my network with developing professionals. During 2015 I served as the Western Australia division President for Engineers Australia where I continue to be involved as a committee member.
Why did you participate in the IMNIS program?
I believe that mentoring is a very valuable way for experienced personnel to support the development of others and the IMNIS program is particularly important in providing a mechanism for mentors to help PhD researchers build a stronger perspective of industry, establish their networks and give them opportunities while they are still completing their research to begin to plan their future careers, whether within or outside of academia.
Do you have a mentor(s)? What is the most crucial aspect of this professional relationship for you?
I have never had a formal mentor but I have been fortunate enough to have a number of role models and many colleagues who have helped me through my career. I have always looked for others who I can learn from, usually to learn the best ways to do things but occasionally to see how I would do things differently. I believe we all build our careers through learning from the experiences of those who have gone before and this can be accomplished both formally and informally.
How often did you meet with your mentee and did you prepare for these meetings?
We met around once a month, setting the date for the next meeting at the close of the previous one. Our preparation was very much a fluid and organic thing, as each meeting would lead into new areas and different topics. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of mentoring over the years and have often found that the best relationships are those with less structure as it allows the mentee to bring new questions to meetings without feeling they are stepping outside of agreed plans.
Would you recommend participating in the IMNIS program to your colleagues?
Yes, in fact I have been recommending it from when I first became involved. IMNIS is quite different to the usual mentoring programs in that it is external to any formal work relationship and is supporting PhD researchers who often find it difficult to assimilate into an industry role when they leave academia. Many, if not most mentoring happens within an organisation and often the constraints placed on the relationship by it being workplace based make it less effective, IMNIS is not like that, it provides a freer and more open opportunity for the mentee to grow.
What was the most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program for you?
Watching my mentee grow in confidence as the program ran. The first meeting of a mentor relationship is always quite formal and difficult but my mentee quickly developed into a far more confident and engaged individual who I hope will have benefited through the opportunities the program offers.
Francis Norman on Twitter: @FrancisNorman