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

physician

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

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Focus on Leadership

forward_sign

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.

team work for success

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

apply_now

 

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

people around the globe

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

Curriculum vitae  concept in word tag cloud

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/

Going Solo – The theory behind self employment

Opportunity

Earlier this month I wrote about the potential benefits of self employment. Now I will consider the theory behind why completing a PhD or being post-doc or Early Career Research puts you in a great position to take the next step to going it alone.

How many of you would say you have expertise in any of the following areas?

  • Analysing
  • Synthesising
  • Critical Thinking
  • Evaluating
  • Problem Solving
  • Inquiring Mind
  • Innovation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Perseverance
  • Self confidence
  • Self reflection
  • Preparation and prioritisation
  • Responsiveness to change
  • Responsiveness to opportunities
  • Networking
  • Income and funding generation
  • Project planning and delivery
  • Risk Management
  • Ethics, principles and sustainability
  • Legal requirements
  • IPR and copyright
  • Society and culture
  • Enterprise
  • Communication methods
  • Team working
  • People Management
  • Influence and leadership
  • Collaboration 

In a recent article from entrepreneur.com Stephen Key lists 5 qualities of successful entrepreneurs. I have mapped Stephen’s advice to the enterprise lens of the RDF and found all of the highlighted attributes are covered in his qualities

1. An unwavering passion. Being an entrepreneur demands commitment and dedication — more than most jobs do, I’d argue.

The Enterprise Lens highlights these attributes

  • Enthusiasm
  • Perseverance

 2. Open-mindedness. The most successful entrepreneurs never forget how much they can learn from others. They ask for advice. They’re flexible. They soak up the best practices around them like a sponge.

The Entrprise Lens highlights these attributes as

  •  Analysing
  • Synthesising
  • Critical Thinking
  • Evaluating
  • Problem Solving
  • Inquiring Mind
  • Innovation
  • Responsiveness to change
  • Responsiveness to opportunities
  • Networking
  • Collaboration 

3. The desire to be an expert. Entrepreneurs like a challenge, but as exciting as it is to consider a new field, high-achieving entrepreneurs know the benefits of staying in the same industry for a while are immense. Learn an industry’s  history. Knowing what’s been done before can help you identify how it can and should move forward. In the meantime, you’ll build a network of relationships to support you in future endeavors, especially when times are lean. Those relationships are invaluable.

The Entrprise Lens highlights these attributes as

  • Society and culture
  • Enterprise
  • Team working
  • People Management
  • Influence and leadership
  • Networking
  • Collaboration 
  • Analysing
  • Synthesising
  • Critical Thinking
  • Evaluating
  • Problem Solving
  • Legal requirements
  •  IPR and copyright
  • Communication methods
  • Income and funding generation

 4. A forward-looking approach. Successful entrepreneurs are always thinking ahead. They may stray from their roadmap, and that’s okay, but they have one in mind. Having a clearly established set of goals will keep you from getting stuck. Your goals may be constantly evolving, but if you don’t know where you want to go, chances are, you won’t get anywhere

The Entrprise Lens highlights these attributes as:

  • Project planning and delivery
  • Risk Management
  • Ethics, principles and sustainability

 5. A constant flow of ideas. Having one project that’s doing well is great. But the successful entrepreneurs I know don’t rest on their laurels. Instead, they’re constantly asking themselves, “What’s next?” They understand that being a successful entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice, not a destination.

The Entrprise Lens highlights these attributes as

  • Evaluating
  • Problem Solving
  • Inquiring Mind
  • Innovation

 Taken and edited from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227776

If this has inspired you to think more about self employment or entrepreneurship why not have a look at What do researchers do? Career Profiles of doctoral entrepreneurs

Going it alone…

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I was encouraged to hear that, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK economy grew by 0.7% in the last quarter of 2013 – the fastest rate since 2007. 

So if the state of the UK economy has been the reason stopping you starting your own business perhaps now is the time to seriously consider taking the plunge.

As the wife of an ‘inventor’ who quit his job in 2007 to follow his dream of setting up his own company, I can assure you, life is not always a bed of roses, especially when you launch your new company on the eve of a financial downturn. But, for every day that we have wondered was this a good idea? How will we pay the bills this month? There have been some pretty impressive benefits. I have never seen Rod more happy and it means he is able to spend time with us as a family, collect our son from school and attend all the school performances and open days that just wouldn’t be possible if he had continued with his 7am – 5.30pm Monday to Saturday job. Suddenly, we have our weekends to do things we want and weekday flexibility to avoid all the stress of Saturday morning supermarket shopping.

Self employment for me came in 2010.  After the birth our first son I took the decision to go part time in my ‘day job’ to help with childcare. A happy up-shot was that I was able to develop my own business in my ‘spare time’. This halfway house between working as the Midlands Hub Manager part-time and also running my own training company has meant I haven’t taken the ultimate plunge – yet! For me I enjoy the Vitae side of my job and the variety it provides but also love the freedom my ‘self-employed’ 2 days per week gives me. With both my husband and me having elements of self-employment in our career we can be flexible with our holidays, we are no-longer limited to 2 days at Christmas to fit in with other members of staff. If we want an ad hoc weekend away we can. Normal working patterns are out of the window. Need to take the morning off…? no problem, just work later in the evening instead! Need an excuse not to visit family – Oh you are busy working!

This flexibility is something that comes up again and again when you ask people what the best bits about self-employment are.

It’s the FREEDOM!! The fact that if I want to have a long lunch or take a day off and go to the beach because the sun is shining, I can do it if I want to (even though I know I have to make the time up later…might as well do it when it’s raining outside)…” Tracey Stead, Independent training consultant, facilitator and coach

Variety also features highly on the list. As you are now head of finance, HR, marketing, operations, strategic planning, catering, estates and staff development, you can be sure there will be something different that needs doing everyday. There is also variety in the opportunities that you can get involved with. No more asking your line manager if you can attend a seminar or business lunch that is not quite related to you role. As Tracey says “you never know what opportunities are round the corner, and if you don’t like some of the things you end up doing, you don’t have to do them again

Jo Gilman of JoG Ltd  adds “I also enjoy working on a range of different contracts because then you start to get paid more than once a month  which is all rather nice.”

The variety associated with being your own boss can mean you are no-longer at the beck and call of those colleagues / bosses that can cause you ‘stress’ –  you don’t have some of the cumulative annoyances that build up when you work in an organisation for a long time, the lack of meetings and bureaucracy features highly on the benefits of working for yourself. “When you work in lots of different places, you know that you probably won’t have to deal with the same issue again (at least not very often), so I have found that I am much calmer and more buoyant, as I can now shrug off some of the things that used to irritate me as I know the next day I will be somewhere else

For Rod, he is his own boss. He decides the mark up of his products, who he wants to do business with and who can and can’t tell him what to do. His creativity is no longer stifled. If he sees a better more efficient way of working he can implement it – no need to take his idea to the board for consultation.     

With the exception of  HM revenue and Customs, there is no-one telling you when you have to do things by. Tracey gives the advice of  being disciplined about putting your money away for your tax bill. “When I get an invoice paid, I don’t see the tax proportion as ‘my money’, I see it as belonging to someone else, so it feels like stealing if I dip in to the tax savings!” You are freed from the unending cycle of “things to do” which comes with a 9-5 – normally imposed upon you by someone else, and instead get to choose what you do, when you do it, and also where you do it which is far more exciting. “There is also that tingle of anticipation when a new opportunity appears and you start to  consider how you might do the work – along with that really affirming high when you either win work or are asked to do work” says Jo.

Of course there are downsides to self employment. The flip side to the flexibility can mean at times you might feel a lot pressure to accept work, even if the timing isn’t great, or it isn’t quite your thing, because you never know when there might not be any. But be honest and say no if you really can’t do something or if you don’t have time.  It is so tempting to say yes to everything you are offered – but in the long run your credibility will suffer if you start to over-commit and can’t deliver. If your new found freedom and flexibility now involves frequent travel and over stays you may find the novelty soon wears off. One self employed consultant commented: “I have no idea why people would ever say they enjoy travelling. They clearly never travel on Cross Country trains, via Birmingham New Street, nor on budget airlines. And they never stay in Ibis hotels…

There will be times when working for yourself means you require more self motivation and discipline than when you are working for someone else, after all, if you don’t do the work who else will? However, as PhD graduates you know the pitfalls of being your own master but have successfully navigated your way through at least one project where you have decided outcomes, managed budgets and managed a vast workforce of one.

Looking at the Researcher Development Framework and the skills and attributes developed as a result of working as a researcher it is not surprising that many PhD Graduates find their way in to self employment or entrepreneurship. If you want to know what these skills and attributes are then take a look at the RDF Enterprise Lens

If you want to know more about starting your own business have a look at:

 Good luck.

New Year, New Job?

Curriculum vitae  concept in word tag cloud

So, it’s the start of another year and for some the end of your current contract may be looming faster that you care to imagine, for others you have decided it is time to look for a new challenge in your career and perhaps for others it is the year when you will take the first step on the career ladder with a new and shiny PhD certificate under your belt.

Whatever boat you are in there is lots of help and advice out there for you.

The Career Blog from the University of Warwick provides a great starting point when it comes to applying for jobs including a salient reminder that “finding a job is a pretty time consuming process: don’t take the path of least resistance by applying for any and everything.”

 As researchers we should know not to skip the most important stage of our job search: research. “Until you know what’s out there and how to get it, you’ll simply repeat the same mistakes or see your efforts wasted” says Helen Stringer, Careers Consultant at the University of Warwick. “Don’t cut corners and apply for something that isn’t right for you.  Take small practical steps instead that will give you a firm anchor until you have the time and motivation to fully commit to your job search.”

When it comes to CVs there is also a wealth of information and tips out there. Vitae and Prospects both have example CVs and advice about the type of CV to use. If you are starting from a completely blank sheet the National Careers Service has some helpful advice including a generic CV builder. One word of warning from ‘The Careers Blog’ which is particularly important to remember is;  as productive as it feels, firing of  hundreds of CVs is little more than application spamming and potential employers can tell. Other useful places to look include the Guardian, which recently published an interested article on refreshing your CV.

For some jobs, you are more likely to need to complete an online application form than send a CV. There are a number of key things to remember when completing your application including drafting your answers offline to avoid losing work and of course grammar and spell checking your text before inputting to the system and pressing ‘submit’.

Whatever your career plans for 2014, we wish you the best of luck.