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December 18, 2015

The Researcher Life Blog

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/pghub/wolfsonresearchexchange/

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If you are interested in content for early career researchers you may wish to try one of the suggested blogs and networks below:

April 03, 2013

Networking in HE, on and offline: Guardian live chat, Friday 5th April

This week's Guardian Higher Education live chat is on the subject of "Networking: engaging effectively, online and off". I'll be on the panel talking about my experience of networking as an early career researcher, and it would be great to see more ECRs and Warwick researchers join in! The chat takes place this Friday, 5th April, from 12-2pm and to join you simply need to be registered as a Guardian user and respond in the comments section of the blog post that will go up on Friday morning.

April 02, 2013

Work–Life Balance – Career Progression & Planning day, session 4

On Friday 1st February the IAS held an Advanced Workshop Day on Career Progression and Planning; in this series of posts we blog the highlights from each of the four sessions on Developing your Career; Contracts and Career Planning; Gender and Academic Careers; and Work-life balance.

A session on work-life balance formed the last part of our "Careers Progression and Planning for ECRs" day back in January. While work-life balance is perhaps not something typically thought of when considering "career progression and planning", the events throughout the day had repeatedly reiterated the ways in which career development encompasses and accommodates a whole range of life factors, from the skills and experience you've gained throughout different career paths to the personal family and lifestyle issues that your career may have to work around.

This session further demonstrated that successful career progression is facilitated by good work-life balance. Although the competitive and demanding environment of academia can push us to think that success lies in having a lifestyle in which work far outweighs life, the time taken to stop, think and recharge on a daily, weekly, or termly basis is often what's needed to get through that never-ending to-do list quicker, and happier. Implementing good work-life balance seems near-impossible as an ECR, especially if you're working towards that elusive first permanent job, or feeling that you need to prove yourself worthy once you get there; but putting good techniques into practice at the start of your career is well worth the effort, setting yourself up for a much healthier and sustainable career path.

In this workshop, Kate Mahoney (VitaeMidlands Hub Project Officer at Warwick) took us through some exercises to think about work-life balance and the changes that might help you to achieve a better balance. All of the resources are available on the Vitae pages for researchers, and specific sections are linked below.

What does balance mean to you?

The first point of working out what you want to improve upon is to consider what "work-life balance" means to you, and how you'd picture your balance at the moment. There are key signs that flag up imbalance, such as stress, fatigue, isolation and worry, and these should always be taken as signs to stop and readjust your work-lifestyle. But beyond this everyone's idea of a "healthy" balance is different, and in the session it emerged that our opinions varied wildly: to some, taking work on holiday isn't a problem if you enjoy and want to be doing it; to others, anything to do with work should stop when the office door closes at the end of the day.

Most people's happy medium is somewhere between the two, but the important thing is to identify what you want your work-life balance to look like, and what you need to do to get there. It might help to identify specific goals - more time for exercise, seeing friends, taking up a new hobby - or to recognise ways in which your off-time could be improved - for example you might have regular time away from work but find it difficult to truly switch off. It's also ok to realise that you might be perfectly happy with the balance of your lifestyle and only need to make a few tweaks to what you're already doing - in which case, please, share your secrets below!

Balance at Work

The first step to making changes is to look at your work patterns and identify what could help stop the overspill from work hours into home-time. The common factors most people experience are: taking on too much; emails, emails, emails; and not getting enough time for research. A few tips we discussed included:

- Saying no and delegating: "no" is probably the most underused word of a researcher's vocabulary (can you remember the last time you turned down an opportunity? I can: it was in 2011, and felt so unusual that it's stuck with me all that time). It's not easy to turn down great opportunities, but it's important to be honest with yourself as to whether you have enough time: if you say yes, will you actually be giving your best to the project? Is it that beneficial to your career, or just more CV pollution? What would you be using the time for otherwise? Saying no doesn't have to be rude, and there are ways to politely decline; you might also be able to delegate the task for someone else, or recommend a colleague for the job - particularly good if you know it will be advantageous to them. Vitae's assertivenes techniques are especially useful here.

- Beating the email deluge: good email management techniques are essential to preventing hours of your life being eaten away by replying to emails. Kate Mahoney recommended Vitae's plan of "Do it/ diarise it/ ditch it": either reply straight away, or set aside time when you will deal with it, or hit delete. Be strict about when you check and respond to emails, e.g. only at the start/end of the day, and you could also try to delegate times to different types of email - many teaching ECRs find that student emails can get out of hand especially around essay deadlines; I've found it helpful to store up student emails over a couple of days and then sit down for half an hour (or more...) to deal with them all in one go.

- Research time: this is the main thing that slips away in a busy day of admin and, as the guilty pleasure of academic life, probably the main thing that feels most acceptable as take-home work. Of course that's fine to a point (and this goes back to finding your personal ideal balance), but it's nonetheless worth seeing if you can increase the amount of research time in your working day/week. Blocking out time in your diary is one good suggestion for making this happen- an hour a day, or a day a week, which you prioritise as highly as a meeting or seminar. Good time management techniques are also essential in increasing available research time.

Balance at home

This part of the session was about redressing the "life" side of the equation and getting that proper off-time that will help you recharge. Some of the main problems revolve around truly switching off from work, and sticking to the boundaries you set. It can be difficult to leave work at work especially with constant email access, and deciding to finish up some editing or an abstract in the evening can quickly turn into a late night at the computer. A few tips and ideas:

- Decide what your boundaries are: no emailing once you've left the office? no work after 8pm? Make a decision about what your personal rules are, and identify what would help you stick to these: enlist the helps of family or friends, or line up something to do for the off-time that means you'll have to stick to it - rather than leaving it free just in case you want to spend a couple more hours on that paper or doing your emails because you might as well.

- Block your time off: on a similar note to the previous point, block time off in your diary in the same way that you would for work or research. This can be especially hard when on short-term contracts that don't come with annual leave allowance, and even with the option of taking proper holiday, a busy conference schedule starts to eat into time off. Block off the time you want to take well in advance, and be strict about it.

- Switch off: taking an evening/day/week off is all very well, but sometimes it's hard to fully switch off from work. Email access is a big culprit here - constant iPhone alerts keep work on your mind - and social media can also keep you in the work zone when you're having time off. Un-syncing my email from my iPhone has been a bit of a revelation for me over the last couple of weeks, and making use of the "rules" on Outlook (so that all work emails are automatically filed away) has also been useful in allowing me to access the emails I need without seeing the ones I didn't want on my mind. I only implemented both of these things because I was on annual leave but I'm thinking of continuing as it will help with day-to-day work-life balance.

Theory into action

Sometimes putting ideas into action is much harder than it seems, and I have been to work-life balance workshops in the past where I've thought "that sounds amazing... and I have no idea how to actually make this work". One useful thing in the session was identifying small, achievable goals to focus on, and looking at what would help with achieving/sticking to these - some examples of goals from the session included leaving work on time, taking a proper lunch break, making time to go to a new class.

Good self-management is essential here; ultimately, only you are going to care enough (or directly benefit from) these changes, so it's your responsibility to be strict with yourself and assertive with others - something I've increasingly realised is that others can only respect your boundaries if you do so yourself. It's also useful to think about what might be blocking you from making a change - academic guilt, stress about deadlines, expectations of yourself/ by others - and working on these as much as the practical changes. Vitae also usefully reminded me in a tweet today that it can take up to 15 times to make an effective change, so if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

What is your experience of trying to achieve good work-life balance? Do you find it difficult, or have you found effective strategies for maintaining a healthy academic lifestyle? What tips can you pass on? Please share your wisdom or difficulties below!

Further resources

Slides and handouts from the workshop on 31st January are available on this page. Some additional helpful resources include:

Vitae's The Balanced Researcher(booklet), and pages on Time Management, Work-Life Balance, and Assertiveness

Storify of the latest #ECRchat on healthy ways to stay motivated and productive

Pat Thomson on Making time not to think

Jo Van Every's advice on how to stop feeling guilty

Tips on staying focused and motivated from The New Academic's Research Survivors series

March 08, 2013

All about the REF for The New Academic

Today on "The New Academic" you can read a guest post that I have written on the subject of the REF 2014 for early career and PhD researchers: this collates and updates some of the information that I have previously written for the Research Exchange. In the post I outline: what is the REF? will I be included in the REF submission? what happens if I'm included? Impact and the REF; so how does this affect me? And what happens after the REF?

If you haven't done so already, do check out the rest of The New Academic which includes excellent guides and resources covering everything you need to know as you embark on an academic career.

February 26, 2013

Gender and Academic Careers – Career Progression & Planning day, session 3

On Friday 1st February the IAS held an Advanced Workshop Day on Career Progression and Planning; in this series of posts we blog the highlights from each of the four sessions on Developing your Career; Contracts and Career Planning; Gender and Academic Careers; and Work-life balance.

Women&AcademiaIn recent weeks, my Twitter feed and blog reader have been buzzing with news items about gendered discrepancies in Higher Education. A recent Guardian HE Network piece The university professor is always white drew attention to data from a UCU report that "just one in five professors are women (20.5%), despite the fact they make up almost half (47.3%) of the non-professorial academic workforce." This prompted an insightful response by Professor Tomlinsonrecounting the slow progress in HE over the last 30 years or so, citing that in 1984 the Association of University Teachers recorded that 3% of all professors at the time were women (93 in total in the UK), of whom only a few had children.

This isn't just an issue at the top level, either, and a recent study on postdoctoral applications makes for alarming reading: Christine Wenneras and Agnes Wold reported that "our study strongly suggests that peer reviewers cannot judge scientific merit independent of gender. The peer reviewers over-estimated male achievements and/or underestimated female performance" (p.1). At mid-career level, this report on women in biomedicine by researchers at Cardiff University revealed barriers at the level of promotion from lecturer to senior lecturer, while a report in Austalia across all career levels, reported in this piece "Who works harder?" by Dr Angela Dobele on the Research Whisperer, found that women academics tend to shoulder a higher workload burden but remain still under-represented higher up.

Recent studies have also investigated trends that might be behind these employment and promotion patterns: a recent article in the British Journal of Sociology of Education found that women in the social sciences publish fewer journal articles than men, further elaborated on in a post on the Guardian HE Network that linked women academics with more involvement in collaborative research practice. The causes might extend beyond academia, too: in January the THE reported that marriage is a disadvantage for female academics.

It was timely, then, that as part of the Career Progression and Planning Workshop on Friday 1st February we included a session on Gender and Academic Careers. We were delighted to invite Dr Kate Sang from the School of Management and Languages at Heriot-Watt University (and acting chair of the FWSA) to present on her research into gender and academic careers.

Kate began by surveying the current HE landscape, adding to the stats about gender inequality by considering further issues that factor into academic careers: for instance, male academics are more likely to receive job offers outside own institution (see Blackaby et al., 2005); academia might also be seen as a "masculine career model" (Knights and Richards, 2003) that prioritises an uninterrupted career history, privileges personal traits such as aggression and competitiveness that are encouraged in men and often demonised in women, and regards research more highly than teaching and admininstrative loads (which women might be given more of as assumed "better" at pastoral and supportive roles). Kate also looked at the issues around being a feminist academic, posing the question "is it getting harder to be a feminist academic?" in an era when there is heavy resistance to feminism from students and faculty, as well as other changes on an institutional level that are increasingly incompatible with feminism in academia.

Accompanying Dr Sang on the panel was Professor Alison Rodger, Director of MOAC, an EPSRC-funded Doctoral Training Centre, and of the Warwick Centre for Analytical Science. Alison began her career in the late 1980s and her experience spoke to many of these issues, highlighting the difficulties of working in a male-dominated field (for the first 11 years of her career she was the only female academic in Chemistry) as well as issues around work-life balance that contribute to the challenges of an academic career. Alison similarly shared statistics that demonstrated the drop-off rate of female academics throughout higher career levels, suggesting that what is needed is a culture change from academics who are committed to the concept.

While all of this makes for a bleak landscape for early career academics, Kate and Alison both gave valuable advice about how positive changes can be effected.

Alison highlighted the work of the Athena Swan Charter which exists to recognise and celebrate good employment practice for women working in science, engineering and technology (SET) in higher education and research. Working towards the Charter has been instrumental in improving the representation of women in science subjects and in establishing initiatives such as the Athena Swan Network - an informal group that meets regularly to discuss progress towards the Charter and share examples of good practice across the University. One example of a new initiative is the Warwick Conference Support fund which contributes to child-care costs associated with conference attendance.

Other useful advice included:

  • Networks are a valuable way to get support on shared issues and concerns, and increased transparency about silent issues can help to effect change; if you can't find a network, set one up!
  • A mentor is another way of getting support on career development and on dealing with issues such as sexism/gender bias in the workplace; see the University's pages on mentoring for staff; if you're an ECR you could approach a past supervisor to mentor you or ask a colleague who is a career-stage ahead
  • Women-only writing retreats have been shown to be particularly beneficial for women academics (see Grant, 2006); could you set one up with other colleagues

For me, the key thing that struck me from the session was the importance of transparency and communication about gender bias: it was striking how many people had felt themselves to be alone in facing such issues, but also how positive it was to discuss perspectives, share experiences, and gain advice on good practice. Silence serves only to benefit institutional structures, but individuals (both men and women) have a lot to gain from talking about the gendered inequalities that exist throughout the HE landscape. As Alison finished by quoting: "Both men and women benefit from good practice, but women are adversely affected by bad practice more than men".

The session generated some lively debate and I would love to hear more perspectives on the issues raised by this blog post: do you think gender inequality exists in academia? What can be done to respond to this? Do you have any examples of good practice or suggestions on what needs to change?

Further reading

Some resources on the internet:

Further sources from Kate Sang's talk:

Chilly Collective (Eds). 1995. Breaking anonymity: the chilly climate for women faculty. Waterloo, ON. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Davidson, D. and Langan, D. 2006. "The breastfeeding incident: teaching and learning through transgression". Studies in Higher Education. 31(4): 439-452.

Doherty, L., Manfredi, S., (2006) ‘Women’s progression in UK universities’ Employee Relations, Vol 28 (6)

Edwards, R. 2000. Numbers are not enough: on women in higher education and being a feminist academic. Academic Work and Life, Volume 1, (International Perspectives on Higher Education Research): 307-333. Ed: Tight, M. JAI Press.

Lee, D. 2005. Students and Managers Behaving Badly: An exploratory analysis of the vulnerability of feminist academics in anti-feminist market driven UK higher education. Women’s Studies International Forum 28: 195-208

Morrison, Z.; Bourke, M.; Kelley, C. 2005. ‘Stop making is such a big issue’: Perceptions and experiences of gender inequality by undergraduates at a British University, Women’s Studies International Forum 28:150-162

Sang et al (forthcoming) Frayed Careers of Migrant Female Professors in British Academia: An Intersectional Perspective Gender, Work and Organization

February 20, 2013

Contracts and Career Planning: Career Progression & Planning day, session 2

On Friday 1st February the IAS held an Advanced Workshop Day on Career Progression and Planning; in this series of posts we blog the highlights from each of the four sessions on Developing your Career; Contracts and Career Planning; Gender and Academic Careers; and Work-life balance.

This session on contracts and career planning was led by Stephanie Humphrey from Warwick's Human Resources and Dr Susan Burrows, a researcher in the Department of Physics. Early career researchers entering into the job market face a range of job positions available: sessional tutor, research assistant, research fellowship, lecturer; fixed-term, permanent, hourly-paid; full-time, part-time, fractional, set hours; and so on. The aim of this session was to set out the differences between various contract types and the various entitlements each entails, and to help ECRs consider how this might impact upon, or be built into, their career planning.

Contract types

Stephanie Humphrey began by outlining the 4 sets of Terms of Employment at Warwick:

  • 1a – 5 (non academic staff)
  • 6 – 9 (non academic and senior management)
  • Academic, Research only & Teaching only
  • Casual contract

Academic, research only and teaching only contracts include the following

  • Annual leave entitlement
  • Option of USS pension
  • Sick pay dependent on length of service
  • Incremental annual salary progression
  • There is no normal retirement age
  • 3 months notice period required, or expiry at end of term

Casual contracts

  • Paid at hourly rate including 12% uplift for holiday (i.e. there is no additional annual leave entitlement)
  • Pension scheme eligibility depending on overall salary
  • There is no entitlement to occupational schemes with pay, e.g. maternity, sick pay etc; but you are entitled to statutory provisions, if eligibility criteria met (see www.hmrc.gov.uk)
  • 1 month notice period is required to end the contract

Taking leave

Career breaks are unpaid breaks from 3 months – 1 year in duration

  • Career breaks can be taken if you have a minimum of 5 years continuous service
  • A career break doesn’t count as a break in continuous service
  • You can’t work for another organisation during this time without prior approval
  • Career breaks can have implications for visa regulations

Study leave

This is for Research staff only; teaching staff have no entitlement to study leave

  • Entitlement to study leave comes after 3 or more years continuous service
  • Maximum 10 weeks leave for every 2 years service

Parental/ maternity & paternity leave

Parental leave is unpaid time off work to look after a child (aged under 5 or 18 for an adopted/disabled child)

  • 1 year’s service is required
  • you can take 18 weeks leave in total for each child (max 4 weeks/year)

Maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies are complex depending on contract type and service, so you should check with HR's relevant pages on maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Further guidance on parental leave is also available here.

Where to look for more help and guidance:

  • For guidance on your current contract consult your terms of employment or speak to your HR adviser
  • See the HR intranet pagesfor further details of each scenario outlined above.

How to have a career in research

In the next part of the session, Dr Susan Burrows spoke about her career as a researcher in Physics in which she has worked in positions across a range of departments and in different posts. Susan gave valuable advice on what to consider in different research positions, outlined below, but also very usefully highlighted the way in which temporary and/or part-time positions can be used to your advantage: Susan has moved between fixed-term contracts for a number of years and provided an indicative example of how researchers can successfully maintain research careers in this way.

3 golden rules for research positions:

  • Be Flexible! Be open to different possibilities, don’t be too fixed in your options
  • Be prepared to travel – how far you're willing to go is an individual choice; if you want to stay near by, looking to other local universities and colleges can be a useful option
  • Communicate and work with other groups and departments – research skills are often transferable across disciplines and working in different departments can be a useful way to enhance your skills

What to consider when going for a research post:

  • Length of contract
  • Location
  • Publications
  • Teaching opportunities
  • Maternity/paternity rights
  • Flexible working possibilities
  • Staff development opportunities – courses, training etc

Research Staff Forum

Susan also highlighted the work of the Research Staff Forum, a committee that meets regularly to discuss and implement changes for research-only staff across the University.

The Research Staff Forum:

• Make the University aware of researchers' views towards the Fixed Term Employees' Regulations.

• Contribute to the documentation and processes for Six-monthly Career Reviews.

• Try to influence University policy on study leave and promotion for research staff.

• Shape the focus of the Careers Service work for Research Staff.

The RSF has been a valuable force in effecting improvements in research staff working conditions at the University and if you are a member of research-only staff then it is worth making contact with your representative, if you haven't done so already; each department should have its own research representative and the RSF are keen that all departments are represented at the forum - if you’re unsure who yours is then contact your department or the RSF, and consider becoming a rep yourself.

Universities and Colleges Union

The discussion following these talks also drew out some of the difficulties and potential problems that researchers have faced in working on some contracts, particularly casual, part-time and temporary contracts; and the issue was raised that many people are unsure as to what constitutes an acceptable contract of employment, what they are entitled to in their working conditions, and who they should contact if they have any queries about a casual contract. As well as addressing issues via your RSF representative, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has useful a current campaign to “stamp out casual contracts” and the resources on this page provide guidance on accepting casual contracts.

February 19, 2013

Doing My Duty – a silent war with data management policy change

“There is a growing international consensus on the need to preserve and share research datasets in a manner that maximises their long-term value….The Wellcome Trust expects all of its funded researchers to maximise the availability of research data with as few restrictions as possible.” (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/about-us/policy/policy-and-position-statements/wtx035043.htm)

How do you feel having just read that?

Confident? Ethically and legally secure? A little smug that every bit of your data once painstakingly gathered has been carefully logged, formatted, and is ready to send back out into the world at the disposal of whomever wishes to scrutinise it?

I’m not saying that we should all hit panic stations. In fact, like me, you may have felt nothing at all. At least not at first. Once you break it down it’s a lot to think about. And then the questions start forming. You start to look over your shoulder.

A growing international consensus’Nature

Did you know that nearly 4 years ago, in 2009, a group of scientists, ethicists, lawyers and editors met in Toronto to endorse the value of rapid release data sets and suggest best practice principles? And what happens in the sciences will come to bear on the social sciences, arts, and humanities in time. The article made the front page of Nature – a man in a lab coat, arms folded, looking suspiciously at another lab-coated man who is hiding a laptop behind him. The image pre-empted the reaction: fear. This fear is not just of what might happen to our intellectual property but where the opinions and orders are coming from. I feel small fry at the best of times but this global shift can make me feel like a Hobbit under the Eye of Sauron.

‘Preserve and share…maximises long-term value’

See, those are nice words. Preserve. Long-term. My work will live on after I’m gone. Who doesn’t want to leave a beautiful legacy in their field? Very persuasive. And share. Value. Someone cares. Lots of people care. Aren’t we just a happy, hugging, global community of altruistic beings? Yes, here: have my data. I’m sure you will love it and take care of it, just as I have done. Won’t you…?

war poster‘The [Funding Body] Expects’

That’s not just a helpful guideline in your research contract, by the way. Look back 99 years and you’ll find thousands of army recruits marching off to war, following the moral code of the nation. “England expects every man to do his duty.” By keeping our data to ourselves are we being selfish; irresponsible; morally wrong?

‘As few restrictions as possible’

So I can impose restrictions? Some form of protection? What are these things you speak of? How many can I have? What will I be left with?

So yes, I have a few questions. Time to looking for some answers. Come, comrades. Let us march onwards.

The Research Exchange is holding a Data Management seminar on Friday 1st March, 9.30-1pm. Working lunch included. See the ‘Events’ page on the Institute of Advanced Study website for details and book your place by emailing lib.network@warwick.ac.uk

February 14, 2013

Developing your Career as an ECR: Career Progression & Planning day, session 1

On Friday 1st February the IAS held an Advanced Workshop Day on Career Progression and Planning; in the next few posts we'll be blogging the highlights from each of the four sessions on Developing your Career; Contracts and Career Planning; Gender and Academic Careers; and Work-life balance.

This session on Developing your Career was led by Sandy Sparks from the Learning and Development Centre; Sandy is the Learning and Development Adviser for Research-active staff, and in this session she looked at how early career researchers can take practical, effective steps to developing their career trajectory. This centres around a 4-stage model that any researcher can use to think about these issues for themselves; at the end of this post, you'll also find further resources around this issue.

Developing your career - 4 stages to assess and progress your career

A useful framework for assessing your career development is to work with the following 4 questions:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where do you want to be in the future?
  • What do you need to develop to get there?
  • What's your plan of action for achieving this?

It might be useful to make a record of your answers to reflect on and check back with later.

Where are you now?

How would you describe yourself in your current position? It might be easy to think about your job title, PhD, and positions you've held, but you should also include your skills, knowledge, and experience. What makes you unique? What can you offer that others can't? Think broadly and about the individual combination of skills, knowledge and experience that distinguishes you.

Where do you want to be?

What is it that you are aiming for? Where do you want to be and why? This might be a specific job/role, a particular type of job (teaching/research/academic/admin), a contract type (fixed-term/permanent, full/part-time), a salary/grade/level, at a particular University or in a regional area. Be specific about what you want, even if you're open to several options, as this will help to focus effectively on what and how you develop.

At this point, it might be helpful to look at the Vitae "Broadening Horizons" framework (p. 43-44); where would you position yourself?

What do you need to develop?

There are various tools for identifying what and how you need to develop. At the simplest level, comparing the requirements of what you want vs what do you have now should help you to identify the gaps in the middle - this might involve looking at job advertisements and getting advice from more senior colleagues about your experience.

These resources can also help you to think about different types of skills:

What's your plan of action?

Working out what you need to develop is often the easy part, making the changes needed to achieve it can be much harder. A good starting point is to create a simple 3-part action chart: what do I need to develop; how can I do this/ who can help me; when do I need to do it by?

The practicalities of identifying, planning and achieving your goals are going to present different challenges for everyone but some tips for success included:

  • Identify just 3 points that you want to work on: this keeps things manageable and realistic;
  • Make a realistic timescale that accounts for factors beyond your control, but gives you activities that you can start work on in the short-term;
  • Understand the challenges and possible barriers: what resources do you need to develop? are they available, how can you access them? do you need to plan ahead for some opportunities?
  • Talk to others; identify not just what you need to do but who can help you get there, either by providing opportunities for your development or by helping you stay focused on your objectives (and keeping you accountable to your goals). If you have a mentor, use them; if not, could you ask someone to mentor you?
  • Defend your career development space: long-term objectives can often get lost among short-term responsibilities. Working out the "how" should incorporate factors such as time and other practicalities that you'll need to accommodate; think about how you can prioritise career development, even just for a short time each week;
  • Review your progress: set aside a time for when you will check back on how you're progressing, whether it's once a week, once a month, etc. Review what you've done, and use the time to reflect on how you can improve your work towards other goals.

Further help

Within Warwick, researchers can make use of the following:

Outside Warwick

  • Vitae has a large range of online resources for researchers and run workshops
  • The British Library run sessions for researchers; check the website for more information
  • Professional Societies & Bodies are a good source of specialist skills-training

February 07, 2013

ACE event: Impact and public engagement for ECRs

The Academic Careers and Employability session on 31st January was on the subject of Impact and Public Engagement. Our panel consisted of Nadine Lewycky and Katy Wilkinson, Impact Officers for the Arts and Social Sciences, Dr Karen Throsby from Sociology and Dr Michael Scott from Classics. Laura Lane also presented on the work of Warwick Ventures, which I have included in the next blog post.

This event on Impact and Public Engagement for ECRs ran as a panel discussion, starting with Nadine Lewycky and Katy Wilkinson discussing their roles as Impact Officers for (respectively) the Arts and Social Science Faculties. Nadine and Katy provide support for researchers around impact and public engagement in a variety of ways, such as providing guidance and resources on policy and definitions, running training workshops for researchers, preparing departments for the REF 2014 submission, and supporting individual researchers on developing public engagement projects.

Much of what they do involves one-to-one consultations with researchers on individual public engagement projects, assisting with areas such as: putting together applications for public engagement funding schemes and research grant applications that require demonstration of impact activities; advising on the practicalities of running public engagement events; and helping with other elements such as webpage development, social media, and means of communicating with the public that might be unfamiliar to researchers. Nadine and Katy are willing to help with anything that involves engaging the public with research and are keen to talk through your ideas - just get in touch! If you're applying for funding or have a date for an event in mind, then the further in advance you get in touch the better, as it can take longer than you think to develop a good project.

Michael Scott, a lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Warwick, followed by talking about his experience of public engagement as a researcher. Since completing his PhD in 2007 Michael has built up a very full profile of public engagement activities including a book for a wider audience, a number of TV programmes and series for BBC 4, visits to schools, public talks, and even lecturing on cruise tour of the Mediterranean. Michael's story was interesting in demonstrating a commitment to public engagement right from the start of his academic career - he wrote a trade book and academic book at the same time - and in showing how accepting one small opportunity - a chance email looking for an academic specialist for a documentary - had a snowball effect, opening up further activities.

Karen Throsby, lecturer in the Sociology Department, spoke about her experience of public engagement and impact which is centred around her current research project on Channel swimmers. Karen used the media right from the outset of her project, featuring in a newspaper article that generated interest among potential participants in her research project. As the project developed, she has used a range of initiatives to engage the public that are the focus of her research: her website collects together resources such as books, videos, and blogs, she created a newsletter about and for the swimming community, uses Twitter, all of which engage with and communicate the results of her research with the Channel swimmers that she researches. One thing that was especially clear from Karen's project was the importance of understanding your public: who are you trying to engage with, and why. Her work involves both communicating with the swimmers involved, as well as speaking to the wider public via the media, and these different audiences require different means and modes of communication.

The main advice that came out of these talks with regards to media work was the importance of knowing your boundaries: with TV in particular, but also for public talks and lectures, you might be asked to speak on a wider topic beyond your specialism or be asked to fill-in a particular knowledge gap. It's important to understand what you are getting into and not feel pressured into working outside of your remit; always get full details of what they want and why, and if you are pushed outside of your comfort zone then don't be afraid to be proactive about suggesting a different approach. At the same time, don't be afraid to try new things and different approaches as you can never predict what will work best. Above all, a key message here was to enjoy it: public engagement is hard work but it can also be great fun, opening up new ways of framing and understanding the importance of your research.

Key tips for public engagement and impact

  • know the difference between impact and public engagement: public engagement is about communicating research to a wider public; impact differs in that it must be directly underpinned by high-quality research and has to show a demonstrable change in the audience. If you're aiming for impact then this needs to be taken into account right from the start of developing a projects
  • Feedback is therefore vital for impact, but it is also useful in any public engagement activity (especially if you later want it to count as impact): build in opportunities for creating and storing feedback from an early stage of project planning
  • Don't dismiss public engagement because it isn't impact: communicating with the public in any form is valuable in developing new skills and finding out what works for you
  • It's fine to start small: don't think you have to go straight in with a big project, instead think about what's appropriate to you at your career stage. Building up a profile of smaller-scale activities can often lead to further opportunities
  • Talk to the Impact officers and make use of their resources: if you have an idea, get in touch with Nadine or Katy and get input from an early stage. Have a look at the webpages (see below) to get inspiration from other projects
  • Don't feel pressured into saying yes to every opportunity that comes along: for media work, always get the full details, take a day to think it over and research the production company/journalist; only agree the next day if you are comfortable with the remit and your involvement.
  • Once you're involved, know and stick to your boundaries: never work to someone else's script, and when giving interviews always run through the questions with the interviewer in advance. You can frame this in a positive light and be proactive with different suggestions - "I can give you a better interview if we talk about it in advance", and "how about I talk about it from this angle" are useful approaches to take.

Further reading

February 05, 2013

ACE Event: Collaboration and Co–Authorship

The Academic Careers and Employability session on 17th January was on the subject of Collaboration and Co-Authorship. Jenny Delasalle (Academic Support Librarian) covered the theory of collaboration, while David Wright from Cultural Policy Studies gave his advice on putting collaboration into practice.

Collaboration and co-authorship is on the increase: the Finch report stated that "UK researchers are more likely than those in almost any other major research nation to collaborate with colleagues overseas: almost half (46%) of the articles published by UK authors in 2010 included a non-UK author.” The numbers differ across disciplines and career status, typically higher for STEM subjects and at Professorial level, but trends are fast changing. With the increase of interdisciplinarity, new funding opportunities, and changes in the publishing landscape, collaboration and co-authorship are likely to become more popular across all disciplines.

What do we mean by collaboration?

Collaboration can be:

  • Interdisciplinary
  • International / National / Institutional
  • Between individuals, groups, institutions, sectors, etc…
  • co-authorship, but not all co-authorship is collaboration - collaboration is between equals

For the purposes of this session we focused on forms of collaboration from the perspective of individual early career researchers.

Why collaborate?

There are many potential benefits to collaboration

  • Pooling resources and skills can have a cost and time benefit: for scientists, sharing equipment & training can be beneficial; in many disciplines, writing partnerships can play to different strengths and knowledge areas
  • It’s easy: although travel might be a barrier, advances in communication and digital collaboration tools are making it easier and faster to collaborate across distance
  • It's fun: for ECRs, collaboration is a great way to overcome intellectual isolation and reignite motivation in a post-PhD lull, and sharing ideas can be more inspiring than working alone
  • It opens up new networks of contacts, increasing opportunities for dissemination of outputs
  • It can help to achieve “impact” - collaborations crossing disciplines & sectors can improve opportunities for impact and public engagement work
  • There are political/external drivers such as moves to facilitate European collaborations through funding bodies which might open up new funding possibilities for your research

Of course, collaboration is not without its problems:

  • It can take time to find a common language between disciplines and to build up effective working relationships
  • Differences of opinion are inevitable, and not always productive
  • It can be more time-consuming to work on a shared document as drafts need to be distributed and approved among authors
  • It can incur additional costs, such as travel, that wouldn't otherwise have to be factored into the research
  • It needs to be equal: discrepancies between career status of collaborators can lead to issues

Tips for successful collaboration

Many of the pitfalls of collaboration can be easily avoided with some planning, and a few tips from the session:

  • Build on existing working relationships: collaboration can be a useful way to extend contact with new fields and researchers, but building on existing contacts can smooth out some of the potential issues - it's much easier if you know who you are working with, how they work, and what common conceptual ground you both have
  • Agree practicalities in advance - some questions to consider include: what are you going to publish and where? who is responsible for which area (and how much) of the research/writing? what deadlines are you working to? what will be the author order on the final publication? How are you going to respond to peer review comments? Make sure you discuss these issues at the start and if possible put into writing (even if just a short email recap of a meeting) to avoid confusion later on
  • Allow time: be aware that timing for publication practices vary in different disciplines and may take longer than you expect

Other issues to consider

  • Co-authorship and the REF: there are guidelines for the inclusion of co-authored articles in the REF2014 submission. Within the same unit only one of you can put the publication forward for REF; you need to demonstrate a material contribution as an author, in order for it to be credited to you for REF. For further information see the REF guidelines
  • Vancouver protocol for co-authorship: this is internationally recognised as the standard for determining authorship on publications. Authorship credit should be based on all of these: (1) substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis of and interpretation of data; (2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; (3) final approval of the version to be published. For more information see here.
  • Consider who is going to sign the authors’ agreement from the publisher, and how co-authors are implicitly authorising the lead author to agree to those terms and conditions. If you are the lead author, then you will need to be aware of your responsibilities, indemnity clauses and such like. You may need information in writing from your co-authors, just to be sure!

Finding a co-author/collaborator

Many collaborations arise organically from your current work and contacts, but you might be in a position where your findings aren’t significant enough for a whole paper/project and you want to expand to consider different, perhaps interdisciplinary, directions.

Some suggestions from where to look include:

It’s also worth thinking about how you would respond to invitations from others, and what issues you might want to consider in deciding whether to accept an invitation to collaborate.

Other resources & further reading

Finally, talk to others about how their collaborations have come about, what makes for a successful collaboration, and how others have managed potential difficulties. Every collaboration is different and will produce different challenges, but equally, once you start collaborating the possibilities for fruitful new directions are endless!

January 22, 2013

Variety is the spice of life: My Post–doc career to date – by Sarah–Louise Quinnell

Many people know me from my online musings as one half of Networked Researcher, Early Career blogger for Social Science Space or on Twitter as sarahthesheepu. If you have followed my online writing over the last year you will have an idea that my post-doc life has been varied and at times stressful and not really what I expected at all but where I am now is a better place than I would ever have hoped I could be. Below is an abridged version of my career story proving that experience comes in many guises and that academia isn’t the only route.

I completed my PhD in 2010. When I started out on that journey I had expected to take the ‘traditional’ academic trajectory, PhD to post-doc or two and then lecturer etc. etc. This had always been what I had wanted to do. However, by the time I got to the end of my PhD I knew that the real world didn’t work like that. I could see all my friends were either filling in application after application or stuck in a cycle of short term contracts as such I was thrilled when I got my first ‘proper’ job all be it 2.5 days a week in a University. It wasn’t an academic position; it was in what is interestingly referred to as professional services. It wasn’t related to the topic of my thesis – it related more to the methods I took to collect my data and was more of a support role but I loved it, initially.

Lets just say things didn’t go as expected and I joined the number of freelance post-doc consultants after 6 months. I enjoyed it, I got to experience different things and work with a range of clients but still I needed a stable income so I began to apply for other jobs outside of academia and started a full-time 10-month contract developing an e-learning strategy for a professional body. I originally thought I had found my niche, nice job, long hours but nice money and I was looking for stability so when I was offered it I took it, even though during the interview I sat there thinking ‘hmm’ There was something not quite right about it all, however, I decided it was just my paranoia and the job was what I would make it. Sadly after 6 weeks I realised it wasn’t paranoia and it was 3 months of extreme stress before finally enough was enough. Back to consultancy I went.

The two periods of consultancy I did were amazing, I was generally busier than I was when I was doing 9-5 days for other people. I was doing what I wanted; I was developing my technical skills, my communication and project management skills, all essential. I was also developing my own post-doc identity. People approached me for training courses, talks and presentations etc. It was a great confidence boost and allowed me to find me feet and understand what I really wanted to be doing.

At the same time I was on the look out for position number 3. On the same day 3 people emailed me a link to job advert at a new community interest company called Maudsley Learning based at King’s Denmark Hill campus. Everyone told me to apply. I did and unlike the other jobs I’d been interviewed for this time I felt confident, and happy that this was the right one for me. It was a blank canvas that allowed me to do research, to create a practical education environment and be part of the senior management team of a project right from day one. I had two interviews for this position and was offered the job in mid-November. I was really happy to be back on a KCL campus but this time I was working in partnership rather than for them. I’d grown up in terms of skills and abilities and in terms of confidence. I am really enjoying my new job. I never expected to be working in the commercial sector even if it is in partnership with my old University. While people have called me a failure for not being a research based academic I believe I have succeeded. I have a full-time permanent position doing what I enjoy and potentially making a difference to society.

I have learnt a lot in these last 12 months and I would suggest the following to any new post-docs:

  • View your PhD as a process not just the end product. The product passed the exam; it’s the skills you gained that will get you a job.
  • Network – develop your identity away from your PhD and your institution
  • Look beyond academia, there are some brilliant opportunities out there that suit PhDs and our varied skill sets
  • When you go for an interview think about whether you want to work for them – it’s a two way process, if you have any concerns don’t do it.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something different or to go it alone for a while.
  • There is no failure only feedback – I’ve had some real highs and some real lows this year I have learnt from them all and as I was told the other day I needed all those experiences to make me who I am today.

Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell is the Learning Technology Manager for Maudsley Learning.

January 18, 2013

Career Progression and Planning – 1st February 2013

The next Advanced Workshop Day for ECRs is on the subject of Career Progression and Planning on Friday 1st February 2013. We have a really varied and exciting line-up for the day, covering everything from planning your development, understanding contracts and your rights, gender and academic careers, and work-life balance.

The full programme for the day is as follows:

10-10.30am – Coffee and welcome

10.30-12pm Career Planning Workshop; Sandy Sparks, Learning and Development Centre

12.05-12.30pm – Contracts and Career Planning; Stephanie Humphrey, Human Resources

12.30 -1.45pm – Lunch (provided)

1.45-3.15pm – Gender and Academic Careers; Guest speaker Dr Kate Sang (Heriot Watt University; Acting Chair of the Feminist and Women's Studies Association)

Warwick and the Athena Swan Award; Professor Alison Rodger (Director, MOAC; Chair, Athena Swan Network Group)

Women in Physics at Warwick; Professor Pam Thomas (Chair, Faculty of Science)

3.30-5pm – Work-Life Balance Workshop; Kate Mahoney (Vitae)

You're welcome to sign up to the whole day or an individual session, and attendance is free with lunch and refreshments provided. All early career researchers at Warwick are welcome to attend, but should email lib.network@warwick.ac.uk to book a place before 28th January.

January 17, 2013

Open Access: Information and funding for Early Career Researchers

There's been much discussion about open access in recent weeks, as from the 1st April 2013 the UK government will put into place policies which will require all publicly funded research to be made available through one of two OA publishing options. It's a huge sea-change in the higher education and publishing landscape, and one which is still under much debate: I recently posted about a rather tense OA talk at the LSE Future of Academic Impact Day, and just this morning the editor of a leading humanities journal published a call to "go green".

In light of these changes, it's welcome news that the Library and Research Support Services (RSS) have announced a stream of funding available from now until the end of March to support the publication of journal articles via Open Access. The funding will specifically cover the Article Processing Charges (APCs) which are associated with Gold Open Access (OA) for the following:

• Any University of Warwick research;

• Any journal which offers a Gold OA option;

• Any journal articles accepted for publication by the end of March 2013;

• Any journal articles already published which the researcher would like to retrospectively make Open Access.

The funding is available on a first-come-first-served basis, and has to be spent by March 31st 2013. In order to help early career researchers understand more about Open Access and the funding available at the University of Warwick to support OA publishing, we are holding an information session led by the Library’s Open Access Officers, Helen Albrow and Dr Cheryl Rounsaville. The session will take place on 29th January 2013 from 1-2pm in the Wolfson Research Exchange. The session will include a presentation followed by Q&A. If you can’t make it to the session between 1-2pm, then Helen and Cheryl will hold a drop-in session immediately afterwards, from 2-3pm, to answer your questions on a one-to-one basis.

If you can’t make either of these events, please do not hesitate to contact them at openaccessfund@warwick.ac.ukand you can also find out all you need to know about the funding here.

You might also like to read these links to library information on OA:

January 15, 2013

ACE Event: Talking Teaching – Professional Development Opportunities

The Academic Careers and Employability session on 10th January was on the subject of Teaching and Professional Development opportunities, both at Warwick and beyond. In this post I've collected together the information that we covered in the session; do feel free to comment if you know of other similar opportunities for UK teachers in higher education.

Why Professional Development?

We began the session, led by Christine Smith from the Learning and Development Centre, discussing why we might want to pursue professional development opportunities. Christine asked us to think about "why is teaching important to you" and "what do you want to get out of your teaching". Later on, we also considered teaching challenges that you have overcome, and challenges that still remain to be dealt with, which professional development activities can also be helpful in addressing.

Professional Development at Warwick

The Learning and Development Centre have a number of initiatives to professionalise teaching and learning at Warwick:

There are two award schemes:

  • Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence, for all staff who teach or support student learning at Warwick
  • WATE PGR, to recognise teaching excellence among postgraduate research students who teach (those within a year of gaining their PhD are eligible for this route)

In addition, the LDC support PGR and ECRs who teach through "Talking Teaching with Peers", a discussion group to share advice and experience around teaching issues.

There is also an annual Teaching and Learning Showcase, and Faculty-specific showcases throughout the year - the Faculty of Science Showcase is coming up in February 2013.

Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning also has a number of schemes to support innovative, interdisciplinary, inclusive and international teaching and learning at Warwick - particularly relevant to ECRs is the Pedagogic Interventions scheme which encourages active and performative approaches and digital media initiatives with funding awards of £1000.

If you want to take your teaching beyond the confines of a small seminar room, then IATL's bookable spaces and the Teaching Grid are worth investigating (see this blog post on one example of using the Teaching Grid).

Professional Development beyond Warwick

The Higher Education Academy's professional recognition service is well worth pursuing as an early career teacher (note that the LDC courses above are now accredited through the HEA, but if you took these courses in previous years then you will need to apply as an individual). There are four levels of professional recognition, two of which are applicable to early career researchers: Associate Fellow and Fellow. Which one you apply for will depend much on how long you've been teaching and what kinds of experience you have gained, as Fellow status requires fulfilling all five areas of activity (compared to 2 for Associate Fellow).

Gaining HEA professional recognition is valuable in giving you nationally-recognised accrediation of your teaching and learning: it's a portable asset that will stay with you when you move between institutions; it indicates your professional identity to others in higher education, demonstrating that your practice is aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework; and it demonstrates your commitment to professionalising and developing yourself as an HE tutor. If you have a lot of teaching responsibilities as an ECR then it's highly valuable to get recognition for all the hard work that you put into this.

I'm currently putting together my application and I'd identify a few other key benefits as follows:

  • Writing the application involves completing an Account of Professional Practice which requires concise and well-supported detail about your teaching experience; this helps you to articulate your teaching practice in a way that is beneficial for job applications and interviews where you may have to talk about your teaching approaches/philosophy with examples to hand.
  • Reflective and critical thinking about teaching practice is useful in recognising the value in what you're achieving through your teaching (something which it's easy to lose sight of in the weekly treadmill of marking and preparation) and helps you to identify ways in which you can further improve.
  • Peer/colleague support and discussion: writing the application is a useful opportunity to gain feedback about your teaching from more experienced colleagues, and to discuss teaching practice with your peers - one suggestion from the session was to set up a working group of peers to give feedback and advice on one another's applications.

If you have any other information on how early career researchers can continue their professional development in teaching, either at Warwick or beyond, do let us know.

January 10, 2013

Playing the research game in a new kind of sandpit – by Hannah

I was sat in my office, when my inbox gave the familiar ping. I opened the email:

“Congratulations on being selected to participate in the First Interdisciplinary Collaborative Sandpit Workshop,which will take place on the 11 - 12 December 2012. As you know the Collaborative Sandpit will be a full 2-day event of intensive work dedicated to develop new and creative interdisciplinary research proposals, with the best proposals being awarded £5,000 each.”

I can’t deny that the financial incentive was enticing. But it wasn’t a cash prize, it was, more importantly, the promise of being able to say those magic 3 words: I have funding. Whether it is for resources or ourselves as ‘researcher time’, the phrase means open doors, moving forwards, investigating possibilities.

However, there were no guarantees here. A risky, open-ended coming together of individuals from many different disciplines, thrust together to be ‘interactive’, ‘creative’, ‘critical’.

I stepped into the room, hung up my coat, and took a seat at the edge of the large semi-circle of 25 expectant faces; some confidently looking around, some furrowed-browed over their various android devices.

Post It Border

We began by racing through the usual introductory exercises: who are we? what do we want to achieve? how are we going to make judgements and decisions as we collectively work together? Then it was on to a ‘tablecloths’ exercise: responding to the core questions in groups by sharing our varied knowledge and experiences and sketching words and images on large sheets of paper. Discussions covered biometrics and counterterrorism, social media and social mobilisation, and sustainability and the environment.

That was the relatively easy part.

Then came a rather more frantic speed-dating session. I had a germ of an idea but I couldn’t see how it made a research project. Some knew exactly what they wanted to research but couldn’t find any collaborators from other disciplines. Some confessed to having no idea and floated. We were all anxious. Time pressure was good; it got us moving. But our brains wanted to press pause.

Self-doubt crept in. We made individual presentations. And then a chance meeting and it seemed I might have a collaborator. Oddly, two people seemed to be more magnetic than one and more joined the group. Back around the table and we started to really question the possibilities. Things became clearer. We sketched, drew arrows, made links. Then someone would toss in another helpful spanner and it all fell apart again. We clawed it back a little. Made some revisions to our thinking.

Time was up. End of Day One.

Somewhat refreshed we entered again for Day Two. Some had not returned – either due to external circumstances or simply self-deselected. We moved on.


We knew that we had a matter of hours to turn the previous day’s musings into a concrete research proposal. Given how long one normally takes to do so, we might be forgiven for seeing it as an impossible task. In a way it was liberating, almost euphoric. There was so little time that the only route was a direct and forceful one.

Each group was required to state: our goals; our sound methodology; the potential for future research; our outcomes, impact, and added value of the project. We presented, answered questions, did the same for others, and went back to our drawing boards. We were a mix of historians, social scientists, engineers, digital and computer specialists. I frequently had to stop the others for clarification, trying to learn their alien vocabulary. Together we renegotiated the meaning of popular words: network, mapping, model.

Finally, we made our last presentations. We had agreed on a peer review system of giving marks on a scale of 5-1 on the above criteria. We buzzed and flitted around the flipchart, notching up our votes for each other. The review was collaborative. It felt safe, although the tension was still there. It had been a short journey to caring so personally for something yet to be born.

We sat back, letting the pace slow a little as we waited for the verdict. We had made it.

Now, as I reflect some weeks later, it does seem a blur. But I can’t imagine many other ways in which I could have got to know so many others so quickly and sat back so soon looking, with satisfaction, at a brand new 3-page research outline about to become a reality. Perhaps more satisfying is the newness of our own research network, bridging disciplines in a way I had not previously imagined.

Hannah is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Study. Her research includes investigating the arts as a tool in educational and community settings.

January 08, 2013

Process and collaboration: reflections on the pre–vacation academic writing day by Sherah Wells

The previous Advanced Workshop for Early Career Researchers was a pre-vacation Academic Writing Day, held on 7th December 2012. Experts from The Writing Centre led sessions that addressed different challenges of academic writing for early career researchers. Here, Sherah Wells reflects on the session.

I’ve struggled to write this blog entry for many reasons. But it needs to be done, and I want to do it so it should be simple, right? Sadly, no, and I remember that balancing the pleasures and frustrations of writing amidst end of term fatigue, research, teaching, and working with colleagues was a big part of my takeaway from the last Academic Writing Day.

So, carrot or stick? Currently I can’t decide whether to reward myself with pieces of chocolate or tie myself to the chair until I finish the entire piece. Lunchtime is getting close. Chocolate it is.

I was able to attend the afternoon sessions of the Pre-Vacation Academic Writing Day on Process and Collaboration. Rochelle Sibley led the sessions; the Process session contained a lot of information I’ve used myself as part of the Academic Writing Programme for students, but the Collaboration session was completely new to me.

For both sessions, I kept thinking about the need to discipline my writing (which I’m coming to think of as different to self-discipline). In the first session Rochelle asked questions like, what kind of writer are you? Where/when do you like to write? How do you write? Which steps of the research process do you focus on and which are you likely to skim over?

All of us, from PhDs to ECRs to more experienced researchers, each found we had our strengths and weaknesses when it came to writing, but we often didn’t actively consider them when we sat down to write. Rochelle’s point, though, was that writing is difficult. You should try to set yourself up with the best possible chance of success. And that means understanding yourself and how you work.

I thought this led nicely into the idea of collaboration. After a brief discussion about our experiences, Rochelle asked us, in groups, to produce an advertisement for an Academic Writing Day like the one we were attending. Even for that short writing task, understanding myself and having a language to discuss that reflective process with other members of the group was extremely useful. I can see how it would be vital for producing an article or editing a collection of essays with a colleague.

All of this led me to think about my need to discipline my writing. After the Shut Up and Write! day in November, I made a conscious decision to work on my self-discipline as a writer. Half and whole days aren’t always available, and I’m trying to maximize even an hour’s worth of writing in a day. This is really important and worthwhile, and overall I’m pleased with the results.

Some days are more difficult than others, though, and failure in any task usually sits just behind success. For me, disciplining my writing is about maximizing the success rate and helping to be sure that each 30 (or 20 or 10) minutes of writing is as enjoyable as possible whether I’m working alone or with colleagues.

To do that, I need to pay attention to where I am in the research process, how I relate to that stage, and be able to discuss my engagement with writing with colleagues to facilitate production and develop a network of support. This allows me to establish boundaries and a framework for how I work and hopefully I’ll be able to understand other researchers better as well. And for today, the chocolate worked a treat!

Sherah Wells completed her PhD in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. She researches the engagement between literature, mental health, and space and teaches in the English and Sociology Depts. Please visit her webpage for more details.

January 04, 2013

Events for ECRs in Term 2

We have a number of exciting events for early career researchers at Warwick lined up for term 2.

On Tuesday 8th January there is a welcome social event for all early career researchers at Warwick. If you recently joined Warwick as a postdoctoral researcher, lecturer or tutor, or have finished your PhD studies, then come along to this event to find out more about opportunities for ECRs at Warwick. You can drop in to the Research Exchange seminar rooms from 4-6pm, where we'll have wine and other refreshments.

The Academic Careers and Employability Programme starts again on Thursday 10th January. This term’s programme includes sessions on teaching, collaboration and co-authorship, impact, and the REF 2014; all sessions are led by university experts, with advice specifically tailored to those in early career stages. All events are 2-4pm in the Research Exchange or Library Seminar room on floor 2 - send us an email at lib.network@warwick.ac.uk if you'd like to attend.

The next Advanced Workshop day for ECRs will be on Career Planning and Progression, on Friday 1st February 2013. Guest speaker Dr Kate Sang (acting chair, Feminist and Women’s Studies Association UK) will talk about gender and academic careers, along with Professor Pam Thomas and Professor Alison Rodger on Warwick's initiatives for women in science. Other sessions include a work-life balance workshop with Kate Mahoney from Vitae, advice on developing your career from Sandy Sparks (Learning and Development Centre) and an HR session on career breaks.

All Early Career Researchers are welcome to attend - whether you're a postdoctoral research fellow, research assistant, teaching fellow, part-time tutor, early career lecturer, or you have recently finished your PhD. Get in touch with us at lib.network@warwick.ac.ukto be added to our mailing list for full details of events and other information about ECR opportunities at Warwick.

January 03, 2013

Best of the blog 2012

It's now one year since Researcher Life started to run in its current form as a blog written for and by early career researchers, and to celebrate I've drawn together the best-of-the-blog from 2012.

The Top 5

The most-read posts of the year were:

  1. Live Q&A: REF 2014 and ECRs - in July we held a live chat on the topic of the REF 2014 and its implications for early career researchers, with advice from experts at Warwick. Also popular was this post which includes links to all of our REF guides.
  2. On positivity - this post on staying chipper as an ECR remains a popular burst of positive thinking, good for a new year boost!
  3. It's Oh So Quiet - do you prefer quiet study or a bit of a buzz to work to? Hannah Andrews wrote about the value of quiet space vs the benefits of background noise.
  4. AcWriMo 1: the warm-up - we ran a short series of posts on Academic Writing Month, and this first post generated lots of useful feedback about making the most of your writing time.
  5. Getting out there- I gave some tips and advice on how to get your research out of the academy and into the wider world - this post has since reappeared on the RS Project blog resources for ECRs.

Guest bloggers

We've had some great guest bloggers this year both from Warwick and other Universities, and the top 5 guest posts are:

    Thanks to all those who have blogged for us over the last year! We're looking for more guest contributors in 2013, so if you'd like to write for us then please get in touch (Warwick and external ECRs welcome)

    A happy new year to all our readers and we look forward to more blogging in 2013!

    December 19, 2012

    Open Access and The Future of Academic Impact @ LSE 4th December 2012 (2/2)

    On Tuesday 4th December I attended The Future of Academic Impact, organised by the LSE Public Policy Group as the finale of the 3-year Impact of Social Sciences Project. I blogged about the first 3 panels in this previous post, and here I write about the final panel of the day on Impact as a Driver for Open Access.

    Open Access has been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks as the implications of the Finch report and the announcement of the RCUK policy on open access have started to unfold. In this panel it was useful to see open access framed in the context of impact, in which the benefits were strongly put forward. The panel began with Stephen Curry from Imperial College London whose central message was that the relationship between impact and open access is a two-way dialogue that benefits both: if you're serious about your research having impact, why wouldn't you make it open access? Open access gives research the "Heineken effect" - reaching places that other research can't - driving new areas of engagement, and facilitating communication and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. Researchers need to take responsibility for understanding publishing costs and value for money in publishing, and open access is a way of making this happen.

    Mark Thorley from RCUK followed this by talking about RCUK's policy on open access, again making the essential point that the value lies in removing barriers, opening up opportunities for innovation and driving the value of research. If the government is committed to an agenda of openness and transparency (a rather questionable statement taken to task in the discussion that followed), then government-funded research should aim to meet this agenda, working towards openness and transparency throughout all levels of practice. Thorley also sought to emphasise that this is a gradual journey not an instant transition, although figures of a 5-year move towards 75% gold OA don't seem that slow a rate of change when we consider the speed at which publishing has traditionally moved.

    The panel made a convincing case for many of the benefits of open access but this was clouded by the troubling sense that emerged in the discussion that followed that there is little willingness to engage with questions about the potential pitfalls and problems that the OA model signals: attempts to question the government rhetoric were met with a blanket dismissal that these concerns don't warrant consideration. Issues were raised around the global spread of OA: will the USA, until now showing no moves of a shift to OA, catch the UK up? And what happens if they don't adopt this model? Questions were also raised about the implications for arts and humanities researchers: the OA model has a clear STEM bias, and there are key differences in the academic landscape that raise new concerns when that model is transplanted straight over to the humanities - for example, learned societies that play a valuable role in academia are at risk, and there are concerns around how funding will be made available and distributed to researchers, especially early career or independent researchers.

    The response to these questions, particularly by RCUK's Thorley, was strikingly dismissive and refused to engage in any debate from the floor. As I tweeted at the time, it seems that any real consideration of these issues will be retrospective, the key message now being "we're going to transfer what works for STEM subjects, see if it works, and if it doesn't then maybe we'll start to take these issues seriously". While I'm not unwilling to accept that many of the concerns raised might turn out to be easily addressed during transition period, it seems wholly irresponsible to be entirely unwilling to engage in debate. If vast numbers of arts and humanities researchers are raising concerns about OA, then surely dialogue and discussion around these issues is more productive than shutting the door on these questions.

    This was a disappointing end to the panel because the papers had made clear that there is a valuable message behind the drive to OA and academics would do well to understand more about how OA can help and facilitate their research. The one thing we need to do right now is not to shut off concerns but to engage in productive discussion about OA - in my own field, it's been encouraging to see the Journal of Victorian Culture's editorial board make a clear statement on OA, and using blogs to raise discussion among its readers. But for those who aren't engaged in social media it seems that confusion is even more prevalent, and early career researchers in particular have a lot of questions about how the changing landscape of publication is going to affect them. Open Access is now an inevitablity for the future of academic publishing and signals a real potential for the future of academic impact, but as we go through the unsteady process of transition the debates and questions need to keep being raised.

    December 13, 2012

    Plenty of ‘impact’ talk – but now it’s time for action

    A guest post by Katy Wilkinson, Research Impact Officer (Social Sciences)

    As the Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission date draws ever closer, and the reality of having to prepare impact case studies begins to bite, more and more events are occurring that take impact as their theme. Even six months ago it was difficult to find any kind of training events on this topic – rather alarmingly for a newly-appointed impact officer like me – but, like the proverbial buses, last week three came along at once. The first was a workshop at the British Library titled “Taking a long view: the social sciences and impact”, closely followed by a one-day conference run by the London School of Economics on “The future of academic impact”, and finally the annual conference of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), “Engage 2012”.

    Discussions around the impact of academic research typically fall into two categories. The first is a tendency to look inwards, to ask what the purpose of academic research is (or should be), and to contemplate what researchers in higher education – particularly the arts and social sciences – can offer to a sceptical non-academic community. The second response is to react with aggressive pragmatism: debating the most effective ways to track research outputs, evaluate public engagement activities, and write the best REF case studies possible under the circumstances. Perhaps as a result of being charged with getting our faculty case studies finished, I favour the latter approach, and welcome any opportunities to learn new skills for achieving, measuring, and documenting impact. Nevertheless, robust debate about why we need to demonstrate the value of higher education can also make an important contribution to impact debates, and so I was looking forward to these three rather different conferences.

    The British Library event ‘took the long view’ by returning to the origins of the social sciences in order to rediscover what social research has to offer to policy-makers. Looking back over the development of the UK census and the work of the Office for National Statistics, contributors discussed the early zeal for public participation in research, with almost 100% completion rates of questionnaires and governments eager for ever more data about the habits and preferences of the population. In contrast, they portrayed contemporary society as indifferent to social statistics, and bemoaned the way in which ‘quick and dirty’ market research has taken the place of rigorous academic study as policy-makers’ evidence of choice. Participants wanted to see academics taking roles as advocates and activists, reclaiming their rightful place as the foremost experts on social issues, but feared compromising their integrity and losing support for long term research projects that are slower to produce results. Although the conference aimed to draw insights from the history of social science to understand its future, the event did have a somewhat beleaguered feel: a yearning for the halcyon days when government commissioned ever-increasing numbers of surveys, rather than a frank consideration of the reasons why social science has lost its relevance to policy-makers.

    The LSE conference took a more practical approach, choosing to focus on the digital tools at our disposal to prove the worth of social science to outside audiences. The event was the culmination of a three year HEFCE-funded project that aimed to “develop precise methods for measuring and evaluating the impact of research in the public sphere”. Consequently, we heard about new technologies such as Mendeley and altmetrics, and delegates had the option of attending workshops on using social media, podcasting and blogging to communicate their research. However, many participants remained sceptical of these software developers’ argument that evidence of activity (being re-tweeted, ‘liked’ on facebook, or cited in papers) is also evidence of impact. Elsewhere, a lively debate developed between David Sweeney (Director of HEFCE) and the other speakers after he suggested that academics would be able to write impact case studies for the REF without difficulty as effective communication is a key skill they should possess. Despite being funded by HEFCE, the LSE researchers have maintained a critical distance from the REF and continue to question the purpose of measuring impact in this way. My only real criticism of this event was the status afforded to technology as the saviour of academic researchers; in these desperate times, when no one really knows how successful their attempts to write case studies will be, there is a tendency to leap uncritically towards any software that promises to put numbers on your impact. In reality, these are often meaningless figures that, at best, measure a very particular type of online engagement with research, and at worst, are open to manipulation along the lines of self-citation and fiddling the impact factors of journals.

    The NCCPE event was not explicitly themed around impact, although, as with most academic gatherings at the moment, the topic came up regularly in debate. Instead, the event looked at all aspects of public engagement, from innovative methods of communicating research to the wider world, through to more robust evaluation techniques to better understand audience responses. In an atmosphere of enthusiasm and positivity, we listened to the provocative argument from David Hughes (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) that universities have a moral imperative to engage with the public to address the divisions in adult education based on social class: in short, those with neither parent ever attending university were far less likely to take part in adult education themselves. In other sessions, I learned about innovative evaluation techniques and heard about the experiences of Karen Reed, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, who has used an ice cream van to explain cancer genetics to children in her local community. The message from all the speakers was that by doing thoughtful, well-planned public engagement that genuinely seeks to involve others and take research into the wider world, we can achieve impact, and personal satisfaction, as a natural part of our academic work. In focusing on the positives of engagement, rather than the narrow requirements of the REF, this conference inspired us and trained us to go out and share our knowledge with others.

    These three events reflected some of the different responses to the ‘impact agenda’ in higher education, from concern and suspicion through to enthusiasm and a desire to rise to the REF challenge. While it is important to reflect on the state of higher education, and the contribution our own disciplines can make, ultimately what we urgently need now is a greater number of people trained in doing high quality engagement and evaluation work that will create genuine, lasting benefits for both university and society. A lack of opportunities to develop communication skills, and a lack of time to step back and reflect on attempts to work with external audiences, leave many academics with no choice but a trial-and-error approach to refining the activities they undertake. So although I enjoyed these impact talks – it’s now time for action.

    Thanks to Katy for this guest post; you can follow Katy @soc_sci_impactand find out more on the Social Sciences Impact pages.

    If you want to find out more about how you can achieve impact and public engagement with your research, come to our Academic Careers and Employability event on Impact for Early Career Researchers on 31st January 2013, where impact officers Katy Wilkinson and Nadine Lewycky will be joined by academics who have run successful impact projects.