The second edition of the Mentoring program run by the European SocieTy for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) is nearing its end. This Mentorship program was organized by Jolien Heukelom, Steven Petit and Daniel Portik on behalf of the Young ESTRO (yESTRO) Committee and the ESTRO Education Council.

Owing to the overwhelmingly positive reactions from mentees and mentors in this and previous editions (read here the newsletter article of the experience of Anthony Chalmers and Steven Habraken in the Mentorship program 2022-2023), the Mentorship program will continue in 2024 and a new call for mentees is open! All people who wish to apply for the 2024 edition can apply until 25th of February. The program has capacity for 20 mentees.

Application deadline for 2024 Mentorship programme: 25 February 2024



In this newsletter article, Dylan Callens and Aileen Duffton reflect on their time as a mentee-mentor couple.


Dylan Callens

In January 2023, I saw the message announcing the opportunity to participate in the Mentorship Program organized by yESTRO. Since I had recently started as a PhD student, I found it to be an ideal opportunity to engage with an experienced radiotherapy professional who has completed a PhD. In Belgium, it is not common for RTTs to engage in academic research. My PhD supervisor is a physicist, and my co-supervisor is a physician, both highly skilled in supervising me.. However, through this Mentorship Program, I aimed to connect with RTT PhD researchers/supervisors. Additionally, in Belgium, RTTs may not consistently possess an educational background in radiotherapy. This lack of specialization can pose challenges when attempting to integrate cutting-edge techniques or procedures within the field.  Finally, in my role as a RTT-mentor within my own department, I wanted to delve into the realm of mentoring by engaging in a discussion with a seasoned mentor proficient in change or implementation management.

During the program preparation, participants were expected to watch two  videos by Clifton Fuller and Kari Tanderup, providing insights into what mentorship entails and its implications for personal growth. After this preparatory work, mentees were required to create a shortlist of potential mentors based on their interests. I found it  heartwarming to see the dedication of experienced ESTRO members in  supporting younger members. As an RTT, I preferred to choose RTTs as a mentor. At the ESTRO congress in Vienna, mentees had the opportunity to meet their personal ”top-five” mentors during the introduction/speed-dating session. I ultimately chose Aileen as my mentor, mainly because of the positive experience during the speed-dating session. The connection with Aileen was excellent, and I found it particularly interesting that she was a graduating PhD researcher and also was involved in clinical research in a Lead research and development role.

Confirmation of the mentor-mentee match came during the congress, and our first meeting took place in the summer, which was ideal given the quieter period. Throughout subsequent meetings, we had insightful discussions about our roles as RTT researchers. I sought to find a sense of recognition of my thoughts and experiences on research, which I certainly did with Aileen. She could evoke specific ideas about navigating one's path as an RTT researcher, and positively challenged me to pursue my own journey.

I had prepared a list of topics for discussions with Aileen, including 'Academic guidance': What key aspects should an RTT focus on when engaging in scientific research? What topics in radiation oncology are RTTs uniquely positioned to research? How can an RTT strike a balance in research without leaning too much towards physics or clinical research? Practical questions were also raised, such as where to submit articles and how many research projects are required to complete in a PhD. Hearing about Aileen's PhD journey was fascinating, and even though I am still in the early stages, our conversations helped me navigate these aspects in my own research process. Other points of discussion included how to facilitate implementation in your own department, and Aileen's extensive experience in this area provided valuable insights. All our conversations were very informal and mainly enjoyable chats, which is exactly what I was looking for. How you fill in the mentor-mentee relationship depends entirely on what you seek/want, and that's the beauty of it—having the freedom to do so. Due to our busy schedules, we met less frequently than we had hoped, but the foundation for a lasting professional relationship has certainly been laid. I look forward to maintaining contact with Aileen throughout my PhD.

My ESTRO network is still growing, and I would like to connect with many RTT researchers as we can learn from each other. Through the mentorship program, I gained an important contact in the UK. My connections in this country were limited, but thanks to Aileen, I could even discuss certain aspects of my PhD research on decision-making processes in image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT) with some of her colleagues.  Therefore, I believe the Mentorship Program is truly a fantastic initiative for all radiation oncology professionals especially RTTs. We are the largest group of healthcare providers in Radiotherapy but still the least represented in attendance at ESTRO Congresses. This, of course, has various reasons, not within in the scope of this newsletter! Nonetheless, we can learn a great deal from each other, and more opportunities to foster our RTT workforce can lead to growth in research and clinical endeavors. We all face our own challenges, encounter obstacles that experienced RTTs may have also faced and overcome.  For example, think about maintaining a good work-life balance, dealing with complex patient groups, carrying emotional burdens at home, contemplating the future, and how we will evolve in our roles. We  are a wonderful profession; let's learn from one another, talk to each other, connect with each other. Whether you're an RTT in Belgium or Scotland, you have a place within the ESTRO community. Engage in ESTRO through programs like this Mentorship Program because it allows you to broaden your perspective beyond your own department. This, in turn, can contribute to your personal growth or bring about changes to RTT-specific practices in your department, strengthening them.

I thank yESTRO for the opportunity I have been given to participate, and I especially thank Aileen for listening, sharing her experiences, and discussing my ideas and thoughts. It was a really inspiring experience!

Aileen Duffton

Having participated in the ESTRO mentoring scheme, I would say it has been a fulfilling experience. The benefits of this formalised programme exceeded my expectations, which was helped by the initial pairing between Dylan and myself following a face-to-face meeting. It was clear at this point that we were enthusiastic about similar things.

It has been rewarding to contribute to Dylan’s growth over the mentorship programme, and to witness his progress during this time. We discussed many aspects of Dylan’s career, and I enjoyed witnessing the many achievements he made with his PhD; and publishing his work. During this time, there were many opportunities to exchange advice and new perspectives.  This was made easy owing to the great communication between us, which made interactions feel natural.

Finding out that Dylan’s experience had been positive added to the satisfaction of being a mentor, providing a feeling that the time we had spent discussing challenges and opportunities were of value. I look forward to continuing with future conversations, which will be beneficial to us both. It is also good to know that we will now have peer support when navigating research careers in RT, and I really look forward to meeting in person again at ESTRO 24 in Glasgow.

Aileen Duffton is Lead Research and Development radiographer at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.

Dylan Callens is RTT and PhD student at University Hospitals Leuven, Belgium.