Getting to grips with your research career

Getting to grips with career

Getting to grips with career

Recently we held our twice-yearly UWE research staff development event, this time on the theme of “getting to grips with your research career.” As the title suggests the event was a space for researchers from across UWE to get together and reflect on where they’re at in their career, where they might want to go, and how to get there.

Since the University is about to review the researcher role grading process, it seemed opportune to get some’ feedback via a short questionnaire, about how researchers themselves perceive the step up from Associate to Fellow – both the difference between these roles, and the application process itself. Pam has kindly collated the feedback (see separate document) for you to look at.

We then heard from three senior researchers, who had been asked to offer advice as if to their younger, less experienced researcher selves. Richard, Glenn and Darren were all very generous and honest with their insights, and you can see their presentations via the UWE Research Support webpages.

After “Dear Less Experienced Self”, it was time for “Dear Future Me”: for this, the group used prompt cards articulated to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, to identify a skill or attribute they could do to work on in order to help their career progression – and, because we like to keep things positive, two things they’re already good at and would like do even better.

To help make the RDF feel a bit more concrete and ‘lived’ (and get us up and moving a bit!), each small group stood in a circle and threw a ball to one another: the idea being that when you get the ball, you have to say what card/skill you chose, why, and how good you are at it already – with examples if possible!

While one usually goes away from these events with genuinely good intentions, life – in fact, just the sort of the things w talked about in part 1 – does have a habit of getting in the way. So, to try and keep the good intentions alive, everyone was invited to complete a ‘postcard to self’ listing up to 3 small, practical things to do in the next couple of months to help them move forward on the skills identified in part 2.

Many thanks to all – the presenters, Glenn and the rest of the Planning Group and, most of all, to everyone who came along on the day, for joining in with such enthusiasm – I do hope you found it a worthwhile and fun morning, and we look forward to seeing you again at the next (whole day) event on 1 December 2014.

Project Management in a Nutshell

PM in a nutshell

It's a nutshell

It’s a nutshell

Recently we ran our regular half-day workshop for researchers on “Project Management in a Nutshell”. The purpose of this workshop is to de-mystify some of the jargon which surrounds project management, and to consider some practical ideas for managing your project, be it a PhD or other research project. The discussion was very wide-ranging, so I’ll just summarise what I think were the key points:

Know who your stakeholders (the people and organisations who have some kind of interest in your project) are, and be aware of their expectations. We talked a lot about what happens when there’s conflict between the interests of different stakeholders, and between stakeholders’ expectations and how the project is actually developing. While there are no easy answers here, early recognition and honest communication are invariably key to resolving any issues.

The importance of planning. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to start.

Project constraints. In an ideal world, we’d all have unlimited money, time, academic freedom etc. But realistically there will be some constraints, so be aware of them and plan your project accordingly

Breaking it down into manageable, measureable chunks.

Risk awareness. What might stop you from completing your project? What’s your Plan B?

Project planning tools. Most of us are (too?) familiar with the ubiquitous GANTT chart, but there are lots of other planning tools out there. We particularly talked about PERT charts, which factor in time and allow you to identify your critical task pathways. It really doesn’t matter how high or low-tech your planning tool is – a simple list on a piece of paper can be just as effective – whatever works for you.

Review progress as you go along, keep your plan updated and your stakeholders in the loop as things develop.

Most of all, be honest with yourself and your stakeholders about how the project is going.

On this final point, we talked about the fact that ‘honesty’ is socially and culturally constructed, which can be a particular challenge for international colleagues who find themselves baffled by the nuances of British work-culture. In particular, the fact that direct challenges are generally taboo and that weasel word “nice” which can mean pretty much anything. I can recommend no better reading on this subject than Kate Fox’s funny, astute book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005).

Here are the slides:

How to write an internationally excellent paper

Research journals on a shelf

Research journals on a shelf

In December the UWE Researchers’ Forum tackled a topic at the heart of a successful academic research career, that of how to write papers that are considered to be internationally excellent or even world leading. What we try to do with these events is to help early career researchers to understand what factors are involved in a successful academic research career. We do this by inviting experienced researchers to share their knowledge, expertise and practice. Here’s the programme for the forum.

In the morning we invited two UWE academics who have a lot of experience of writing, reviewing and encouraging others to write excellent research outputs.

First up was Professor Aniko Varadi from the Department of Biological, Biomedical and Analytical Sciences at UWE, an experienced researcher and the lead for the UWE submission in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in Unit of Assessment 3.

We had a video camera running on the day so we can show what Professor Varadi had to say.

Next up we heard from Professor Katie Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments who is also a very experienced researcher and a review panel member for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Professor Williams wrote a handout with tips on how to write quality papers.

The video camera was still rolling so here’s what Professor Williams had to say.

The afternoon of this Researchers’ Forum then sought to explore how researchers could use digital tools to augment their excellent outputs of research to help extend their reach. I’ve written about some of these things in a post the “Digital Researcher” and there’ll be a separate post featuring the video.

Becoming a Digital Researcher – #druwe

Social media is booming. You can now find user generated content in just about all spheres of life; politics, music, history, you name it and it can be found. What about the field of academic research? Are the critics right to sneer at social media as being trivial time-wasting activities or could there be a real benefit to the researchers who do engage using more of the tools at their disposal? As with most things it would appear that there are pros and cons but with the right tools in the right context, it can be an effective way for researchers to raise their profile, swap ideas, get feedback and, possibly, find that all important next job.

This is why that next week, I’m glad that we are running a workshop at UWE entitled “Becoming a Digital Researcher”. This is going to be a hands on demonstration of some of the social media tools that are being used in academic research. I’m especially pleased that Tristram Hooley will be leading the day, he was one of the authors of a Research Information Network publication on this topic: Social Media: A Guide for Researchers who also has his own (very good) blog called Adventures in Career Development.

I’m also interested in how these social media tools have evolved and become part of the toolkit that researchers can access, I can recall clearly how the web based tools moved on at pace throughout my own research degree journey and I like to think that I keep up with some of them!

In thinking about this post, I came across the infographic below from Fred Cavazza which shows the current landscape with respect to social media, an attempt to classify what is out there. Just by looking back at his similar diagrams over the past four years demonstrates how quickly things progress!


The social media landscape 2011, a mapping of the types of social media tools in use


If you are interested in following the goings on via twitter we will be using the hashtag #druwe 

If you are interested in coming along in person, drop me an e-mail