About midlandshub

I am the Vitae Midlands Hub Manager. Vitae is a national organisation funded by Research Councils UK to support the professional and career development of researchers.

That’s all folks!

On December 31st 2014 the Midlands Hub will be closing its doors for the final time. Ten years have gone so fast and it has been great to have such wonderful company on the journey from Set for Success to UK GRAD through to Vitae.

In 2004, the Midlands Hub was formed and the regional office was set up at the University of Warwick. The Hub was advised by representatives from the six founding member institutions:

  • De Montfort University
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Warwick

By 2010 there were 15 member institutions supporting the Midlands Hub and by the end of 2014 all 22 universities in the Midlands were receiving Vitae news and resources to support the development of their researchers, supervisors, senior staff and researcher developers.

The next phase of the adventure will see some exciting changes but for the final post from the Midlands Hub I wanted to take you all on a trip down memory lane. Sit back and have a look through the photo albums of the Midlands Hub – remark on how young we all looked and note that like a fine wine, we have aged beautifully.

A trip down memory lane

Vitae, of course, continues after December, so please ensure you have registered to access the new Vitae website (www.vitae.ac.uk) and find out if your university has bought a membership Vitae from January 2015.

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Professional Development for all, yes I’m talking to you Researcher Developers!

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I recently attended the Vitae Connections event for Researcher Developers who had, to quote the room on the day, “been around while”. We spent six glorious hours in London thinking about our own career development whilst also hearing about researcher development initiatives from various national and international universities.

The day started with a session considering the future for roles like ours and the researcher needs of tomorrow. Using the horizon scanning technique of communities of interest, we considered the impact of emerging technologies and economies, changing supply and demand of resources, social attitudes of young people and future demographic changes on what we do today and how this will change in the future. Generally, the room was positive with many saying that their role had come a long way since the ‘Roberts’ era but the future was a lot less clear.

skills_wordThe second session tapped in to this uncertain future. When asked to reflect on the challenges we now face, i.e of being in a role that has no set career path, it was interesting to be given a copy of the Vitae Researcher Developers’ Professional Framework (ReDProF). However, I found the most useful element of the session was to consider my own abilities, skills and strengths using the analogy of a cruise liner. There was agreement that we are all captains of our own career cruise liner but often we are so focused on “the passengers, the entertainment and the catering” we often forget to take time to consider where are we heading. I found it useful to reflect and ask myself ‘who is currently captaining that ship?’ ‘What small changes do I need to make in order to ultimately arrive at my desired destination?’ ‘Do I know where that destination is?’ ‘Who else do I need help me navigate rough seas?’ We were reminded of the adage you can’t turner a tanker on a sixpence, and through implementing change at this point we could ultimately plot our own course. Keeping that analogy in mind what followed were 3 insightful speakers sharing practise, knowledge and experience of working in, influencing and challenging higher education policy and culture.

Firstly, Dilly Fung, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching at UCL provided two interesting casestudies on the perceptions of teaching, research and learning at UCL and her challenge to bring these areas together under the banner of UCL Arena“If you teach, supervise, assess or support students’ learning at UCL, in any context, UCL Arena is for you. It’s a meeting place for colleagues to share approaches to teaching and learning in our research-intensive university – a conceptual space for debate and exploration. UCL Arena is accredited by the Higher Education Academy, so it’s also a place in which you can choose to gain professional recognition awards for your teaching expertise.” (Taken from the UCL Arena wesite)

Dilly was keen to share the experience reminding university staff of the ethos of education and teaching within a research institute. The launch of Connected Curriculum in Septemeber 2014 has allowed all UCL students the opportunity to become involved in research from the very start of their degree programme and for research skills to become embedded in all undergraduate courses, closing the gap between researchers and students.

“Comprising seven dimensions of connectivity, Connected Curriculum sets out a plan for a joined up approach to education. As well as defining the relationship between students’ learning and their participation in research, it also describes the connections to be made between disciplines, years of study and staff and students. Connected Curriculum is a standard for the future of education at UCL, and over the next five years (2015-2020), UCL will work towards ensuring all courses meet its seven dimensions.” (taken from the UCL Connected Curriculum website) 

What I took from this session was the potential and possibility of change within an institution. By bringing together 2 separate areas and highlighting the similarities, the benefits of working more effectively together for the good of those who are the future of research were obvious. It reminded me to consider the communities of interest who have a stake in the future of higher education in the UK and who I need on my career cruise liner.

Secondly, Kelly Coate, Director of King’s Learning Institute at KCL set out an interesting body of research looking at the concept of the prestige economy and the gender inbalance of senior staff positions in higher education. Kelly spent time demonstrating that “…academics are motivated by prestige factors accrued through advancement in their careers. Prestige, authority and status, we suggest, may be more easily acquired by male academics” (Coates & Howson 2014, 1).

By comparing the factors influencing progression for women in academic roles, I asked myself what could this mean for us as women researcher developers? As I looked around the room of 25 women and 1 solitary man I considered how the recommendations to avoid ‘fixing women’ could be extrapolated to consider how we could empower our women researcher developers and ultimately enable them to progress from researcher developer to more senior roles, especially when that role does not exist – yet. The answer is surely identifying the prestige economy and the currency of esteem for researcher developers.

Finally, in stark contrast to the ideas put forward by Kelly, Guy Woodward, a Reader in Ecology at Imperial College with over £7M of funding to his name, presented a personal view on why researcher development is not top of his agenda. It was his view that, when it comes to being the research leaders of the future, researchers should research first, teach second and do admin third. In order to get ahead in the world of academia he encourages his researchers to ‘shape the field’, write opinion papers, attend conferences, lobby, co-ordinate writing proposals for RCUK and sit on panels for funding and papers. He also talked about the need to collaborate in order to play to your strengths, build alliances and know who you can work with always with an eye on future funding and ultimately expect rejection as a marker of how high you are aiming.

To start a presentation stating that researcher development isn’t needed in a room of researcher developers was always going to be controversial, yet in a strange way I found the session inspirational. Perhaps, what Guy was saying was using experience and ‘real-time’ training is just as valuable as attending a workshop, something I think most researcher developers would agree. If you want to get noticed in a university attending a workshop in networking and influencing skills is just part of the journey. If you can, why not learn on the job and accept that sometimes there will be rejection or you might get it wrong? If you start small (remember that career cruise liner making small adjustments to its trajectory?) those rejections don’t push you off course that much and through reflection and learning from that experience you can correct for that over time. Just ‘doing it’ can be just as good a way to learn.

Perhaps, it is just about jumping in at the deep end, being brave – its just that researchers and researcher developers who have attended a training session jump in wearing a life jacket…

life jacket

References

Lifejacket image from http://www.lifejackets.co.uk

Kelly Coate & Camille Kandiko Howson (2014): Indicators of esteem: gender and prestige in academic work, British Journal of Sociology of Education, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2014.955082

“physician heal thyself” Taken from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/281850.html

Focus on Leadership

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We have all heard stories about inspirational leaders and what they have achieved but what is your leadership story? Whether you are just starting out or have been in a leadership position for many years there are always areas for improvement. In 2015 the Midlands Hub will be offering the opportunity to 20 researchers to improve their leadership skills by taking part in a 2 day leadership course.

Preparing for Leadership for Research Staff is a course specifically for researchers who are in the first 4 years of their postdoctoral career and who are starting to take on leadership roles or who wish to take on more leadership roles in the future.

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The 2 day course will take place on the 8th and 9th of Janaury in Birmingham and will take participants though many aspects of leadership including:

  • Leading self
  • Intellectual leadership
  • Team leadership

By the end of this programme, you will be better able to:

  • Appreciate the critical situations that have led you to be successful to date
  • Consider what leadership might mean
  • Understand yourself and your preferences that will allow you to exercise leadership in a way that suits you
  • Clarify the tasks that are expected of you both now and in future roles
  • Identify the areas of competency that are required for the next steps into leadership positions
  • Create a vision and strategy to implement; decide what is important for you
  • Decide the culture you want to create
  • Decide how to get the best out of other people
  • Decide how to develop yourself to do all of these things more effectively
  • Appreciate what is important and essential in any future role
  • Develop a peer network

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If you would like to know more about your leadership style take a look at The Leading Researcher; it gives an overview of different leadership styles and offers advice and guidance on how you could gain more leadership experience in your current role regardless of whether you are the boss or not.

 

Research Staff: Careers Beyond Academia

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Vitae has been involved for some time in the ‘What do Research Staff Do Next?’ project: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/impact-and-evaluation/what-do-researchers-do/WDRSDN .

Some interesting preliminary findings were discussed at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference on 9-10 September 2014, along with further useful insights into the job market and career progression for researchers published in Research Fortnight’s Vitae Supplement, to accompany the conference: https://www.researchprofessional.com/0/rr/news/uk/careers/2014/9/Lack-of-job-security-drives-out-researchers.html

Whilst tracking of (initial) career destinations for graduates and knowledge of career paths within research have existed for some time, there has been no information about where research staff have gone upon leaving university research positions.  ‘What do Research Staff Do Next?’ aimed to reach people who had moved away from postdoctoral positions and through a survey find out why they had left, where they had gone and reflect on the transition.

‘Lack of job security drives out researchers’ is the title of one of the pieces in Research Fortnight’s Supplement, in which Janet Metcalfe – chair and head of Vitae – set out the reason for the project in a competitive job market.  “Through this project we will provide careers resources to institutions and information for staff looking for alternative careers”.

In one of the conference plenary sessions Janet expanded on the survey’s preliminary findings, with some interesting statistics.  In terms of destinations, a variety of sectors were represented fairly evenly including public administration, finance, IT, manufacturing, health & social work and charities.  However, 24% had opted for different roles within higher education.

79% of the surveys collated noted better long term prospects as a key reason for leaving their research role, reinforced by 76% referencing more job security.

Lack of flexibility and the change in organisational culture were highlighted as significant challenges in the transition process, but the support of new colleagues proved a common and helpful factor in transition.

It will be interesting to see further details on the preliminary findings to be released soon by Vitae.

Career Development Profiles Online: Promoting Yourself and Your Research

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Social media networks are not just for chatting to friends and sharing holiday photo’s and more specifically, professional networking sites such as LinkedIN are not just for the business sector. Whilst this post doesn’t aim to be an advert for LinkedIN, it is worth considering as a platform to take some control of your online presence and support career development opportunities. If you’re in the middle of a research project recruitment may not be at the top of your priority list, but (as noted in last month’s post about networking and collaboration) working on your profile now bring benefits in the future – short or longer term.

LinkedIN was initially focused on networking in the business world but university staff have really seen the value and possibilities on offer in an increasingly competitive HE sector. You may be surprised to note that the biggest growing group currently joining LinkedIN are students and recent graduates: with over 30 million profiles added. A big draw for this community is recruitment.

Even if you’re only speculatively looking for the next step – either inside or outside academia, an online profile (external to your institution) is useful and potentially more adaptable or user-friendly than a CV. Don’t miss out – online recruitment is increasingly big business and LinkedIN has a built-in recruiter application. Recruiter tools are used by agencies to pick up who has set up 100% of their profile and review entries for ‘persons of interest’ against the recruitment needs of organisations and head hunters.

Your profile can highlight not only your skills and experience but also be a vehicle for spelling out your aspirations. ‘Recommendations’ should not be seen as job references but are good modern day testimonials.

If you are looking for a new job and reach the interview stage, LinkedIN may be used by BOTH parties in the interview decision process. Employers and universities can and do look for LinkedIN profiles before an interview to gain a broader perspective about a candidate. Equally, in the immediate run up to an interview, ‘follow’ the company or institution to become aware of what is high profile and current – it may be on the agenda, or at least worth referencing during your interview.

To set up your own profile visit: https://www.linkedin.com/

The Value of Networking for Researchers

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Your current research may be your all-consuming focus at the moment, but it is likely that you will move on in terms of both location and research remit before long.  Thinking beyond your immediate environment now will help you to plan your future in research.

Original research – the kind that gets funded – can be as a result of ‘individual creativity’, but it is also defined as a new combination or connection between ideas – the result of positive collaboration.  This idea is explored further in ‘The Creative Researcher’ booklet, part of the Vitae Researcher booklet series, which can be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/vitae-publications/guides-briefings-and-information/vitae-researcher-booklets

When you reach a certain level of seniority the value of international collaborations is perhaps more obvious, but for early career researchers a regional network can be key to your next funding step.  A recent blog post from The Researcher Whisperer included a telling quote:

“I was listening to a wise old researcher the other day when she said:
International networks are lovely, but it is your national network that will get you funded … we don’t often talk about the importance of building a local network.”

Some practical reasons for networking to support future collaborations:

  • Funding opportunities are increasingly inter-disciplinary and across institutions. As just one example, RCUK has six priorities for funding which draw across the spectrum of academic disciplines and EXPECT collaboration to address the priorities.
  • REF and Impact. With ‘impact’ set to have an increasing place in the REF, wider networks can be invaluable in increasing your research profile in new areas.  Impact also looks increasingly at collaborative research with industry and the public sector.

Vitae’s training programme on ‘The Collaborative Researcher’ includes exercises focusing on how to approach planning for networking and collaboration.  In considering how ready you are to network effectively, how easily and succinctly could you answer the following questions to someone from outside your area of research?

  • What’s the focus of your current research/area of research interest?
  • What are your plans for developing/disseminating your work?
  • Do you have any ideas or opportunities for collaborating on future research?

Or, to what extent could you respond to these points positively about your research?

Provide clarity – could you or someone in your department (not your supervisor) describe your research in simple accurate terms?

How visible are you? – Does your name or work come up in a web search for your research topic?

Translate – Have you described your research in interesting and relevant terms to someone from a different faculty in the last 6 months?

Be interested – Do you make a habit of talking to other researchers about their work and do you find them interesting?

Create opportunities – Can you think of three possible applications for your expertise outside your current project … do you know where to start looking?

Tune in  – What do you think the main research questions will be in your field in five years time … how would you know?

The Midlands Research Staff Association (MidsRSA) is building on its mailing list of 100+ research staff to set up a self-sustaining forum for networking to discuss shared issues and explore future collaborations.  If you’d like to know more, or join the MidsRSA please contact midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk

If you’d like to find out more about the national Research Staff Association (UKRSA), visit: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/communities/uk-research-staff-association

The future of Doctoral Training

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Summary:

On 19th June 2014 Vitae held an ‘Open Space’ discussion event to explore the new challenges for universities and researcher development in the evolving landscape of doctoral education. Discussions centred on whether, with current recruitment practices, the best doctoral candidates are being selected and how we can support the professional career development of researchers.
In addition, it was interesting to note concerns about the potential for a two-tier system of support for students, the allocation of resources and different models for managing the rising number of doctoral training programmes.   The day concluded by raising possible directions for Vitae to work in support of this high profile area.

Perspective of a PhD student at the event.
A PhD student from the University of Warwick who took part was happy to share the following feedback:

“I am part of an interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) at Warwick that aims to span the interface between the Physical and the Life Sciences. I attended an Open Space workshop run by Vitae, in which the changing structure of doctoral education was considered at length. Topics of discussion included the pros and cons of traditionally funded PhDs compared to PhDs studied within a DTC set-up, along with the role that Supervisors play in supporting both types of PhD student. 
For me as a research student, the event provided the opportunity to discuss my experiences as a PhD Student funded through a Doctoral Training Centre. When initially applying for PhDs, I found funding more accessible through DTCs rather than through traditional 3-year PhD projects, despite my initial efforts of PhD applications being targeted to 3-year pre-defined research projects. In DTCs, there is a more defined training element to the course, with a cohort-based approach – the advantages of these aspects of DTCs were discussed at the Vitae event and how all postgraduate research (PGR) students could benefit from the ethos that comes with DTCs. It was really interesting to hear these issues discussed from the viewpoint of the professionals working to support PGR students and what they do to continually aid the development of researchers.”  Amy O’Reilly, University of Warwick

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The theme of the event, which informed the initial speaker presentations and later discussions was:
“ How can we, together, support researchers, ensuring an equality of professional development provision for all, in light of the changing structures for doctoral education, such as doctoral training centres?”

Anna Price (Acting Assistant Director of KCL’s Graduate School and Vitae London Hub Manager), looking from the perspective of professional development and academia, Anna noted the key points in the theme as together, equality of opportunity and excellence.
Together: Collaborations within HEI’s are increasing, but also across and beyond HEI’s into the business world.
With the rise of doctoral training centre’s (DTC’s) and doctoral training programmes (DTP’s), seamless training provision with no gaps or duplication is the aim across academic and skills provision. This requires working together, but with different models available the challenge is to establish effective strategic communication.
Equality of opportunity: The current funding drivers and meritocracy can lead to the possibility of a two-tier system.
Excellence: Professional development should be preparing researchers for future careers in addition to academic research – understanding the job market and transferable skills needed across sectors.
The realities of a competitive academic career should be made clear at an early stage for researchers. But the question was raised, ‘is the extra support provided in a DTC potentially shielding them from some of the realities?’

Rebekah Smith McGloin (Doctoral Training Programmes Manager, University of Nottingham)
Rebekah raised some thought-provoking and pertinent points in considering some of the key questions about DTP’s in the face of huge RCUK (and other) investment, involving more recent and increasing cross-institutional consortia with ‘complex connectivity’ across industry, international networks, peers, academic community.

  • Complex administration can be involved in effective integration
  • A tension between T&L and research provision needs to be addressed.
  • Working across research organisations
  • What happens to the students who aren’t part of DTP’s? And for those involved, do they miss out on broader research community interaction?
  • Interdisciplinarity needs to be set up and supervised effectively to really work

Robin Mellors-Bourne (Deputy Chief Executive and Director, Research and Intelligence, CRAC)
Robin’s talk concentrated on understanding the recruitment and selection of PGR’s from an institutional perspective, using recent survey findings.
Why do HEI’s recruit PGR’s? Responses showed that research development and output was at the top of the list, with excellent researchers seen as ‘engines of innovation’. Income and teaching support were actually very low priorities.
Most universities are also seeking and expecting growth in the number of researchers in the next five years, whilst interestingly recognising that the total market is likely to shrink. Working towards growth is particularly true in post-92 institutions, plus an increasing international focus – therefore funding is key.
One of the most important factors in assessing applicant quality remains academic attainment with a big rise in the requirement for a Masters degree. HEI’s want to see existing expertise in research skills, showing that the researcher can hit the ground running.
Emerging issues:
What is the impact of DTP’s on everyone else? With some HEI’s diverting money to match fund research council awards, is there a danger of reduced provision available for following their own institutional research agenda.
There is an expectation of more professional doctorates and ‘blended’ models of PGR study.
Could recruitment come from a narrower base as a result?

Iain Cameron – (Head of Research Careers and Diversity, RCUK)
Shaping the future: expectations for doctoral training from research councils.
Supervisors should recognise doctoral study as broad training for a range of careers, with increasing numbers of postdoc’s now facing careers outside academic research. He encouraged HEI’s to collaborate and share resources.
HEI’s should continue to work with PI’s and supervisors to increase engagement in the broader researcher development agenda.
Current funding can be seen as ‘leverage’ but the expectation of match funding research council money is to ensure strategic consideration in HEI’s are given priority.
The impact of obtaining PhDs.
It was noted that a report due for publication in the autumn will include the following observations:
Employers value deep specialist skills and knowledge.
The importance of ongoing government funding
Doctoral graduates contribute to innovation.
As a result, skills and attitudes of graduates can spill over to other employers. Reference was made on the importance of embedding and sustaining training provision as renewed funding is never a guarantee.
With the development in doctoral training, where is the ‘value added’ for the broader PhD community? The value in DTP’s is often in cohort provision, inductions and some skills training. Should HEI’s consider reconfiguring their provision to include all research students to embed training and avoid a two tier system.

The Open Space discussions (the concept of sharing and openness, not hierarchical, to provoke honest discussion) covered a range of topics including:
How do we/should we better manage PhDs expectations of training/careers during recruitment processes?

  • Many take the opportunity as a means to an end: the chance to do their research. At that stage their career plans are unknown or focused on academia, so being clear on the value of the training is important in the recruitment process and induction.
  • Ask alumni to give talks on their career outside academia and how their training and PhD led to this. The cohort approach which people positively invest and engage in is already showing the benefits of this networking approach.
  • The involvement of supervisors is important to reinforce the training message at recruitment, induction and later.
  • If PhD research is viewed as a job, not the continuation of being a student then there should be an expectation of training for professional development as there is in the commercial world.

How do we support supervisors to engage with the researcher development agenda and to identify their own training needs? How might the role of supervisors be better embedded in DTC’s?

  • How do we solve the divisive potential of provision for DTC students v traditional self-funded students (in the interests of equality in the over-arching theme)?
  • Have the research councils deliberately set this up to create a two tier system, to show the value in their funding?
  • Intentional or not, a two tier model is a potential outcome.
  • Doctoral training is a very diverse landscape with different expectations of resource and training, including different expectations of students and supervisors.
  • Would it be possible to have an equality of experience with limited or ring-fenced resource in some HEI’s?
  • On a positive note, can a HEI learn from DTC provision to provide some aspects more broadly and share good practice.
  • Concern that DTC’s have developed adhoc in some cases where central coordination in training, etc is not in place.

How best to include public engagement training for PGR’s and what is most useful to them?

  • Build it into the idea of researcher personal development.
  • Seed funding for events
  • Disseminate examples of good practice in training etc. (possible involvement from Vitae?)
  • It is important to understand what funding bodies want from public engagement and impact.

These and other discussions will continue online at: https://vitaeworkspaces.basecamphq.com/projects/12192758-vitae-open-space-19-June-2014/log

Conclusions from the event and the message coming out of each theme for Vitae? 

  • What does a PhD mean today? More of a job than a continuation of study/being a student.
  • Case studies for models of excellence could be helpful.
  • Mapping the researcher developer role and context in doctoral training to raise awareness.
  • Explore the idea of excellence, reflecting on what this may mean for students and HEI’s.
  • Transferable skills training
  • What is CDT/DTP cohort good practice? Case studies on different models
  • Define public engagement in this context: models/case studies on what it is and the importance for researchers
  • Training for supervisors on the value of the researcher development/training agenda.

Effective academic writing: no-one’s first language.

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It is commonly assumed that postgraduate and particularly postdoctoral researchers will have already learned everything they need to know to write for scholarly publication as students. However, in a recent Vitae Midlands Hub workshop, Catalina Neculai, pointed out the fact that “academic writing is no-one’s first language”. Collaborating on Researcher Development (CoRD): Academic Writing Case Studies was a workshop held on 15th May which brought together researcher developers from across the region to look at different examples and models of inspiring academic writing support and training.

The case studies included:

  • The work of the Centre for Academic Writing (CAW) at Coventry University. CAW has a whole institutional teaching and consultancy approach to writing support: also carrying out pedagogical research to further inform their teaching and support.
  • The writing summer school offered by the University of Birmingham, addressed a gap in academic writing provision at discipline level and the differences in what can be meant by ‘academic writing’.
  • The Warwick Writing Programme of workshops, individual meetings and group away days. Along with the Thesis Writing Group for students, this provision highlighted the importance of making researchers conscious of how they write and tools/strategies for improvement.
  • The Social Writing Series at the University of Nottingham is so-called because it brings students together with a facilitator and is self-directed in a ‘shut up and write’ programme for target orientated writing.
  • The doctoral writing provision at the University of Leicester, which includes the peer review of doctoral writing.

The range of offerings certainly showed how different models have been developed by institutions to meet specific needs, but also highlighted some common considerations.

Researchers can and do learn a great deal about writing FOR their disciplinary peers FROM their disciplinary peers. However, if someone lacks knowledge or confidence in their academic writing abilities, support from the wider network of university experts can be very valuable. From structured workshops to facilitated ‘space’, time to work on academic writing skills can give someone the confidence to develop their ‘writing language’.   An improved skill-set will give an individual confidence in presenting their work back in a disciplinary setting, but in a time when the majority of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers are increasingly making their longer term careers outside academic research, confident writing is a real asset.

If you’d like to find out more about the presentations, discussions and recommendations from this CoRD meeting, please contact midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk

If you are interested in this topic you may like to attend ‘Future Directions in Academic Writing’ – the 15th biennial Writing Development in HE Conference. The event is being held at CAW, Coventry University this year, on 9th – 11th July. For further details visit: http://www.coventry.ac.uk/events/WDHE2014/

What is Unconscious Bias?

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‘Unconscious Bias’, sometimes known as implicit bias, has become quite a buzz-phrase in training recently: a thought-provoking consideration in any working environment, including higher education and research. Issues pertinent to equality and diversity have found new focus with the Athena SWAN award (http://www.athenaswan.org.uk/content/awards ) links to funding in STEMM subjects, plus the more recent trial by the Equality Challenge Unit of the Gender Equality Charter Mark (GEM) for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (http://www.ecu.ac.uk/our-projects/gender-charter-mark ). ‘ Unconscious bias’ looks at how we think and how we act.
This month’s blog aims to highlight some of the key considerations and tips, plus sign-posting to further information.
So, what is unconscious bias?
In psychological terms it is a bias we are unaware of, or is outside of our control, triggering automatic judgements and assessments influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. This can have an effect at work, not least in recruitment, interviews, appraisals and promotions. We all have such biases but their effects can be reduced by positive awareness on a personal level and positive strategies in the workplace.
Be aware.
By understanding the existence of our unconscious biases we can mitigate their impact. On an individual level for example, if you are being interviewed but feel that a disability of situation in your life may count against you, volunteer the information to overcome any assumptions that may be made by the panel. In the wider workplace, processes, policies and procedures can be reviewed to mitigate shared or potential biases. For instance, build in diversity as a requirement on recruitment panels or even research project advisory groups.
Take action.
To find out more you may wish to visit the ‘Teaching Tolerance’ website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias . This is linked to ‘Project Implicit’ and Harvard’s Hidden Bias Tests. If you’re interested in taking one of the tests on a range on topics visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ … they can be an eye-opener.
Ultimately, even if you are aware of your biases, and those of the people you work with, it is up to the individual WHAT action they choose to take.
Vitae have a programme of resources linked to equality and diversity issues in the HE research environment. ‘Every Researcher Counts’ materials can be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers , primarily for use by researcher developers to support research staff and academics leading projects. Please register (free) with Vitae to see the full range of resources available, or contact the Midlands Hub manager (midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk ) for ideas on how best to use the case studies and other programme material, to further the understanding of equality and diversity issues at your institution.

Researchers taking control of their own development

I’d like to introduce myself to start this month’s blog post.  I’m Lisa Lavender, based at the University of Warwick and I’ll be Vitae Midlands Hub Manager until October, covering for Kate whilst she is on maternity leave.  One of my first activities in post was to attend the Vitae South West and Wales Hub Annual Good Practice Conference, which was held in the wonderful Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff Bay on 12 March 2014.  I hope to draw out some of the highlights and useful links in this article.

This long-standing conference has been running for over a decade now, offering an interesting mix of talks and workshops reflecting on key issues in UK researcher development.  This year the Concordat theme of ‘researchers taking control of their own development’ ran through many of the sessions.

Presentations from the day can now be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/events/vitae-sww-hub-annual-good-practice-conference-2014/presentations

The keynote talk was given by Professor Michelle Ryan, University of Exeter, on ‘Uncovering the Glass Cliff’ Michelle examined the precariousness of women’s leadership positions – what do they face when they’ve broken through the glass ceiling?  The discussion centred on women in FTSE 100 companies, where it has been suggested that women in high positions on a board leads to a reduction in the company’s performance.  Michelle’s research found that women are often put on boards when performance is bad – the glass cliff – with almost an expectation of ‘challenge’ at best, failure at worst.  Women may be preferentially selected for challenging rather than maintenance, established roles because they are seen to be good in a crisis or because they and their careers are more expendable.  Whilst Michelle’s research suggests the former, the important thing to note is that it is not just the quantity of women given senior positions that is low, but also the quality of those positions is low.

Later in the day Karen Cooke from Cardiff’s ENFYS was inspiring and enthusiastic in her talk about the role of staff networks and how they can benefit both the members of the network and the HEI.  Linking your network to aspects of the university strategy and securing buy in from senior leadership is the key to success.  The resulting funding and exposure can facilitate the outputs that benefit the network … success, awards and publicity are excellent payback for the institution’s leadership.

ENFYS (Welsh for rainbow) is the LGBT+ Staff and Postgraduate Student Network at Cardiff University.  Take a look at their huge range of activities at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/govrn/cocom/equalityanddiversity/sexualorientation/lgbtstaffnetwork/lgbt-staff-network.html

Speak Up, Speak Clearly – how Research Staff Associations can make a difference. 

Using the RSA’s at Bristol and Exeter as case studies, this workshop started with the important, but often ignored point that active involvement in a staff association is NOT about being a researcher who doesn’t want to do research!   An active RSA can provide useful career development training and opportunities for long term benefit of the researcher beyond their pure research practice AND be a focal point for key institutional stakeholders to engage with researchers.  The message is – get yourself noticed.

The Midlands RSA is now a sizeable community and we are currently putting together an event for later in the summer around career development and networking.  If you’d like to get involved or find out more please email:  midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk .  UKRSA have produced three useful guides about RSA’s which can all be found at https://www.vitae.ac.uk/communities/uk-research-staff-association/ukrsa-projects-and-publications :

  • A Guide to Research Staff Associations
  • Understanding Research Staff Associations and their impact
  • How will getting involved with a research staff association benefit you?

Supporting Researchers with Equality and Diversity Issues was an interactive session led by Tracy Stead.  Vitae’s ‘Every Researcher Counts’ material was designed to help PI’s recognise and support E&D needs amongst the researchers they manage.  Tracy’s current project aims to offer institutions more possible uses of the existing resources and widen the perspective to all research staff.  The package will be more clearly modularised, making it easy to pull out specific resources and case studies.  We look forward to more resources coming online later in the year, but take a look at what Vitae currently offers on Every Researcher Counts at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers