August 12, 2012

Final Entry for Warwick Skills Portfolio Award

Initial thoughts...

I decided to join the Warwick Skills Portfolio to make the most out of the opportunities available to me here at Warwick, as well as refresh my CV and demonstrate skills that employers value. The Introduction to the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award workshop affirmed the majority of my understanding and was exactly what I was expecting. As can be seen from initial action points back in October 2011 it was always my intention to complete the workshops required:

  1. To commit myself to completing the further workshops and applying what I learn to my everyday life.
  2. To apply the skills and techniques highlighted in situations outside of my comfort zone and become more flexible and adaptable
  3. To improve my self reflection by listening to feedback from others and use of structured self assessment.

As can be seen from the comments in my first blog I believe I already approached many of the workshops well rounded and always looking to apply myself in areas I feel the need to develop. Therefore to improve and refresh my academic capabilities I participated in the effective seminar participation, critical thinking and writing at masters level workshops. As well as, leading a group project and working in a team to demonstrate skills employers value. I would have also liked to attend the career planning and emotional awareness workshops however, despite a demanding academic year I believe I still managed to balance my time well and make the most of the workshops available to me as well as the blogging, even though my entries may have been spread very widely throughout the year.

Development achieved

Some workshops I gained a lot more than I expected, in particular the working in a team workshop was really interesting and engaging.

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Taking the personality type indicator tests and learning about the Belbin theory framework was completely new to me and opened up a new area of understanding concerning group dynamics that I could relate to and apply to the large number of group work assignments I had throughout the year. Attending this workshop also led me into the Warwick Leadership scheme, a pilot scheme and something which I was clearly attracted to according to my Belbin preferred roles as a resource investigator and co-ordinator - naturally associated with leadership. I was also particular interested in the Leadership scheme, which although was separate to the Skills Portfolio Award offered a lot of overlap to the workshops I attended and really helped to consolidate what I learned.

Alongside the leadership scheme, working in a team and leading a group project workshops, I was also impressed with the engaging teaching provided in the effective seminar participation and learning exercises in the developing your critical thinking workshops. Although some of the information provided was already familiar to me, the greater detail the effective seminar participation workshop went into concerning maximising the perception of confidence with body language and taking responsibility for being active and engaging with strangers gave me plenty of points to take away and apply. The learning exercise of testing arguments by exploring different points of view in 'The Queen v Dudley and Stephens' case study as part of the critical thinking workshop was also a very good example of how to apply critical thinking and although confirmed the majority of my understanding it was an engaging way to remind me of the necessary skills at Masters level after being away from academics for a year as a ski instructor, during my gap year.

Overall thoughts...

As mentioned, even though some of the aspects covered in the workshops may have been familiar, it was still important to me or portrayed in a new and engaging way that kept my interest. For example, working in a team and leading a group project may have overlapped a lot with the leadership scheme but each was an important part to my overall learning. I even attended the introduction to academic writing at masters level workshop just to refresh my understanding but still came away with new ideas such as adding a wider perspective or purpose for the work in my conclusions, which are valuable contributions to my work.

The blogging experience was also something new to me and although it was tedious at times to bring myself to do after long hours of lectures or group work I now understand and fully appreciate its importance in achieving the necessary self reflection which was one of my initial action points to improve from the very first workshop. Overall, I believe I have achieved or at least remained mindful of all of the action points I set myself for each workshop and could only have done this by blogging to remind myself and apply the learning to my experiences throughout the academic year.

Finally, I would like to thank all of the tutors involved in the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award and Leadership scheme for their time and efforts in preparing these workshops. The academic and careers skills workshops have been particularly valuable to me as such opportunities were not as openly available during my undergraduate studies. Plus, the opportunity to discuss and learn new perspectives from students from such diverse cultural and academic backgrounds has definitely helped to develop my maturity and become as well rounded as possible. I only wish I had the time and more importantly, the energy, to attend more workshops and blog about them.

To finish, I wish the University of Warwick and Skills Portfolio Team all the best for the future and hope it continues to inspire and develop its students.

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Best wishes,

Gwyn Davies

MSc Biotechnology, Bioprocessing & Business Management


August 09, 2012

Final Entry on Developing Your Critical Thinking at Masters Level

Original Action Points

  1. To increase the amount of material I read whilst balancing my time using the filtering techniques described.
  2. To not take data for granted as fact and try to critically engage with it, always asking why?
  3. To remember that there is always more than one side to any argument and this continuum is important to understand and can be applied to strengthen the position of my own arguments in work and life.

Having completed all the remaining written assignments for my other modules I can now focus my attentions on my dissertation. In doing so, the amount of material I read has increased and I always try to follow up articles cited within the articles I read, as long as I can add them to my reference list, highlighting the extended reading. Alongside this I continue to critically engage the points raised in the literature I read and believe I have addressed these initial action points well.

I have still yet to reach the chapter in my dissertation where I can go into greater detail about the different sides of the cost-benefit analysis which have to be considered when pursuing vaccine candidates however, I remain mindful of this action point and try to add such thoughts where appropriate, for example when considering the science behind the success of new vaccine design rationales.

Overall, this workshop was particularly interesting and engaging and I believe I have addressed all of my initial action points, or at least remained mindful of them and will continue to apply them as I finish writing my dissertation.


Final Entry on an Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level

Original Action Points

  1. I will remember to remain passive in my writing style to display an evaluative and critical approach to my arguments in essays.
  2. I will include more precise, articulate language and avoid vague, broad vocabulary such as 'interesting' and 'good' to maintain an accurate and concise academic style.
  3. I will try to critically re-read and revise work if necessary and include a wider perspective or purpose for the work in my conclusions.

Attending this workshop helped to confirm the majority of my understanding concerning academic writing which was useful to me after taking a gap year away from any formal study or writing. In terms of my first original action point I have definitely been successful in remaining passive in my writing style and I'm continuing to work through and apply the learning from the Academic Writing programme webpages mentioned in the comments on the previous blog.

As I continue to write my dissertation, I'm paying careful attention to structure and the use of articulate language. Although I have 15,000 words to play with, introducing the immunology relevant to vaccinations for example, in a so called 'brief' review has already stretched to 2000 words, so I need to remain aware of word counts to balance the writing across all aspects of my dissertation - from introductions to conclusions. Avoiding broad wide sweeping statements is also something I always try to keep in mind when presenting my arguments as this definitely helps me to engage more critically with the work and articulate findings more precisely.

Having completed all of my other written module assignments I can now focus all of my attention onto my dissertation. In the remaining weeks I hope to complete a chapter per week, meaning that over the weekend I can spend time re-reading and revising the work if necessary. Finally, being mindful of the wider, real world perspectives and purpose of my research into vaccines has continued to help me draw effective conclusions in my work and is one of the more valuable points I gained from this workshop. Overall, the workshop and the reflection on my initial action points has been important to me, keeping me aware of what is expected and keeping my writing focused.


August 05, 2012

Final Entry on Working in a Team

Original Action Points:

  1. Try not to avoid my least preferred roles ('implementer' and 'specilaist') and improve on them by working closely with these kinds of team members, in order to learn from them and make these roles more manageable.
  2. Continue to emphasis my strengths in team work by co-ordinating, promoting discussion and exploring multiple opportunities.
  3. Understand that I will not get on with everyone or understand their methods but accept these so called 'allowable weaknesses' in order for the team to be happy and productive.

This workshop alongside the leadership scheme have been extremely valuable to me. After experiencing a difficult second group work assignment at the beginning of my course, with individuals that I clashed with, learning and understanding about the different roles people prefer to adopt when working in a team has helped my understanding of group dynamics and ultimately helped me to ease group tensions. From the belbin profiles it's clear that I have many manageable roles I can 'flex' into to support a team, most notably the monitor evaluator as mentioned in my previous blog. Plus, by working closely with people that adopt my least preferred roles I understand that I do not need to be good at everything and trusting others to complete work to the same standard that I would is an important part of group work.

As a co-ordinator, I feel most comfortable managing the bigger picture or objective of group work and as a resource investigator I like to find time to explore opportunities the group discusses and those open to me such as the Warwick skills portfolio and leadership awards. Understanding this has definitely helped me to continue to emphasise these strengths as well as use the Belbin Theory as a framework to effectively understand others, delegating work more effectively and improving the overall efficiency of the group work I have been involved in as demonstrated in my previous blogs.

Finally, the understanding that I will not get on with everyone or like their preferred working style has helped to prevent me for taking responsibility and trying to finish everything a group produces to a standard or the 'way I like.' I have always tried to avoid this and the further understanding gained from this workshop has definitely helped to solidify this. Overall, I feel I have achieved all of my initial action points and gained a lot from this workshop.


July 22, 2012

Further Follow up on Developing Your Critical Thinking at Masters Level

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. To increase the amount of material I read whilst balancing my time by using the filtering techniques described.

As I am now finished with the formal lectures of my masters course, I have a lot more time to dedicate towards reading and writing for my dissertation. As well as a lot more experience to reflect on since my last blog on this workshop, now a while back, in February. Since then, I have definitely managed to increase the amount of material I read as reflected in my reference lists which are now more extensive. My next concern is to remain motivated to continue doing the same as I finish my last assignment and keep up to date with my dissertation.

2. To not take data for granted as fact and try to critically engage with it, always ask why?

Taking the previous comments on board, as time constraints concern everyone, I continue to seek out peer reviewed articles and engage with material by determining which is most relevant to me. Another idea I also picked up from the reading and note making workshop was to look at the acknowledgement sections of articles to highlight potential bias based on an institutions research preference or source of funding, which could make drawing some conclusions more attractive than others.

3. To remember that there is always more than one side to any argument and this continuum is important to understand and can be applied to strengthen the position of my own arguments in work and life.

In terms of my dissertation on vaccines, the science behind the immunology involved is often already agreed on. And to avoid my dissertation becoming too superficial and "flowery" (according to my supervisor) I will be avoiding the societal arguments for and against the use of vaccines (which could be a dissertation in itself) to focus more on the advances in the science, manufacturing and the regulatory reform needed to improve vaccine commercialisation. This will inevitably involve cost-benefit analysis and consideration of societal needs, highlighting the fact that developing countries invest more in disease such as cancer as apposed to disease present in developing countries. Ultimately, giving me the best opportunity to present both sides of the argument and strengthen the position of my own opinions.


May 28, 2012

Further Follow up on an Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. I will remember to remain passive in my writing style to display an evaluative and critical approach to my arguments in essays.

I continue to make a conscious effort to remain passive in my writing style as previously discussed. Therefore, I'm now moving my attention to remaining active and engaging in my critical thinking as I move into writing my dissertation. As this is the first extended piece of writing I have done at 15,000 words and more than just a critical literature review or practical lab write up, I'm also paying careful attention to the structure of such work. Utilising chapters and case studies to break the work down into manageable sections. I'm also looking to further my understanding by joining workshops on 'reading and note-making at Masters level' and lectures on dissertation writing for Masters.

2. I will include more precise, articulate language and avoid vague, broad vocabulary such as 'interesting' and 'good' to maintain an accurate and concise academic style.

By making the conscious effort to avoid broad wide sweeping statements and vocabulary I hope this will continue to encourage a deeper, critical understanding and appraisal in my work. This has also helped me to open up new and original lines of enquiry which I can pursue as I ask more questions of the data and understand the interrelations which will shape the direction of my dissertation on Vaccines.

3. I will try to critically re-read and revise work if necessary and include a wider perspective or purpose for the work in my conclusions.

By managing my time effectively, I hope to be able to complete initial drafts of sections of my dissertation and take the time to critically re-read and revise where necessary. I also have further written module assessments due in the next couple of months, so maintaining this work effort in parallel will be a priority of mine. The use of wider concluding perspectives, as previously discussed, has also been of benefit to my understanding and learning as relating the context of my work to real world, wider implications, highlights and solidifies the importance of such work in my mind.


Further Follow up on Working in a Team

Here's a summary of how I'm getting on with my action points

1. Try not to avoid my least preferred roles ('implementer' and 'specialist') and improve on them by working closely with these kinds of team members, in order to learn from them and make these roles more manageable.

From my academic group work so far, one of the roles which I have noticed is often most neglected is the monitor evaluator. There are always plenty of co-ordinators or leaders willing to direct team work and a general group drive to get on with the tasks set. However, on one occasion rushing into the tasks set meant an area of the presentation we were to cover was missed. Luckily, after taking a step back and evaluating the work we had done so far with the guidelines set, we realised and corrected the hole in our presentation and avoided the problem noted in other group presentations. Although some of the information we were expected to find, concerning specific drug upstream and downstream manufacturing and clinical trial development was difficult to find due to market sensitivity, we were still expecting to generalise instead of avoid these areas. Therefore by re-evaluating what we had done with the tasks given as part of a monitor evaluator role, we avoided missing details some other groups were penalised for.

2. Continue to emphasise my strengths in team work by co-ordinating, promoting discussion and exploring multiple opportunities.

As a co-ordinator, naturally associated with leadership, I enjoy stepping into this role and as previously discussed joined the Warwick Leadership scheme to further develop this attribute. As there are a lot of large personalities on my course it is often not necessary to single out a leader in particular. However, if I'm part of a group with less dominant or driven personalities I like to encourage discussion and bring out the best contributions from everyone in the group. Understanding the roles which relate to the Belbin's theroy has definitely helped to at least begin to delegate work more efficiently, such as give the 'completer finishers' the job of proof reading the final seminar slides and letting the 'plants' generate our ideas. Whereas 'co-ordinators' like myself and 'monitor evaluators' take a step back to keep the bigger picture in mind. In my most recent group work, we decided to split the slide requirements equally so each person generated 5 slides related to the area of the topic we each volunteered for. This was probably the best example of delegation that worked well and again as co-ordinator I volunteered to integrate and format our final slides. This approach however does require trust in the other group members to complete their contributions on time and to a good standard, but as we picked teams and were already close friends, this is much easier to do than working with a group of new people. This approach also helps to encourage ownership and responsibility for completing the work delegated on time and to a good standard and this was proved as we scored a distinction.

3. Understand that I will not get on with everyone or understand their methods but accept these so called 'allowable weaknesses' in order for the team to be happy and productive.

Fortunately, since my second assignment, I have not had many other experiences of tension within a group. I know as I prefer to be a 'team player' that I clash with 'shapers' who are not afraid to step on people's toes to get things done. Nonetheless, as a discussion raised in Leadership scheme highlighted, is labelling people under such roles discussed in the Belbin theory really beneficial? Of course at first it can seem restrictive to operate under certain labels, however the understanding of these roles has for myself and many on the Leadership scheme, served as a 'framework' to understand the working styles of different people and resulted in better delegation of work and happier more productive working environments. Of course, some people still need 'pushing' or more motivation to complete their work on time due to their preferred last minute working style, but by sticking to agreed deadlines, this has helped to avoid the tension and stress this can cause among more organised individuals in my group work teams.


May 14, 2012

Final Entry on the Leadership Scheme

Final Presentation & Thoughts

The final presentation night was a really valuable opportunity to gain a further and final insight into the thoughts of the other group members about the Leadership scheme and round the experience as a whole. Introducing ourselves, our background and why we wanted to join the course. Followed by what we learned and what action points we will take with us into the future.

Studying for an MSc in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management I wanted to demonstrate application of the skills employers value. This is the reason I decided to take part in the Warwick skills portfolio award and naturally the Leadership scheme as a further opportunity to make the most out of my time here at Warwick University.


My Project

As an elected member of the PGSSLC representing the views of the students on my postgraduate course, it is my responsibility along with two other students to encourage our class mates to bring forward issues about the course that concern them and then forward these to the relevant staff in order to improve the overall student experience. Therefore, from attending the scheme I hoped to understand what type of leadership style suits me, and the best approaches for getting the most out of the people I represent.

What I learned about Leadership

As highlighted in my presentation and many of the others, Leadership works on a continuum. Different circumstances call for different styles of leadership from authoritarian, autocratic leadership, which involves little democratic decision making, important in military roles and positions which hold responsibility for the safety of others, such as my ski instructing experience, where the leader is the most informed to make the best decision. Through to the democratic and delegative, laissez-faire leadership which is often best suited to academic group work and involvement of everyone as a whole. The personality type indicators were also an area of the scheme which attracted a lot of interest. There was discussion of how accurate these tests were and whether labelling ourselves was conducive to leadership and group work or restrictive.

In my opinion, of course answering a set of questions in a way in which you wish to be portrayed will return answers that you expect, but an honest as possible reflection will return an insight or 'framework' that you can base your understanding around and develop the strengths and weaknesses which make up the skill sets within group work. As a co-ordinator and team worker, these are characteristic that naturally reflects the common perception of leadership and as a resource investigator, it justifies my reasons for pursuing courses such as the leadership scheme. Understanding the different types of preferred working styles also helped me to ease the tension between individuals I clash with in groups and improved the efficiency and delegation of work.

As a leader I would like to be:

Understanding and show empathy to others. Take the time to get to know people in order to draw the best out of them. Be inspiring, warm and strong minded and decisive when needed. Basing decisions on principles, system, overall impacts and rational assessment of outcomes. Plus, strive for harmony and a supportive environment where followers know I respect their values.

In order to achieve this, listening, focus and managing expectations are some of the most valuable advice I would pass on from the guest speakers we had and take forward into the future.

Project Development

To encourage the participation of even the most quiet students in the discussion of course concerns, we set up a facebook page and promoted the use of anonymous feedback forms. Plus, by being more proactive and engaging on the facebook page and in class, I helped to promote better discussion and confidence in ourselves as representative to the point where students were happy to have written their own letters of concern to be forwarded through us as representatives. Overall, as a PGSSLC I wanted to make a difference, even if small, to improve the student experience for this year and next. As a result of our discussions and work, we helped to improve the feedback time for essays and seminars (if only a little) and most notably introduced a Pastoral Care Tutor, which will be appointed before the start of the 2012-2013 intake, as a direct result of feedback from our course students and the development of skills learned on this course.


Future Action Points

Looking back at my original action points:

  1. I would like to learn effective techniques to get the most out of even the most quiet people.
  2. I would like to implement the understanding of my preferred leadership style and Belbin roles to my continued academic group projects.
  3. To further my understanding and empathy with others I will try to spend more time with individuals with course concerns.

I believe I have been successful in addressing them and developing a leadership style which reflects how I would like to be portrayed. As one of the guest speakers advised, be happy and strive to become like the people you admire. Therefore, I will continue to be compassionate and empathise with others. Taking the time to listen and get to know people, in order to adapt effectively to the leadership challenges I will face, with the appropriate leadership styles developed and inspire to bring out the best in others.

 


May 05, 2012

Final Entry on Leading a Group Project

Original Action Points:

  1. Remember that leadership styles operate on a continuum and recognise when and where the most appropriate style is applicable and adapt accordingly.
  2. Remember to get to know group members or at least their preferred roles, experience or skill sets.
  3. Familiarise and understand the task before delegating and setting ground rules which must be achievable and realistic.


From the concepts introduced in this workshop and the Leadership scheme, I have developed a further understanding of what it means to be effective in different types of leadership roles. From my experience as a ski/snowboard instructor where leadership had to be very authoritarian to ensure the safety of the children I was teaching, through to the far more democratic and delegative leadership style required for effective academic group work. Leadership works on a continuum and leading a successful team requires the Tuckman's model of group formation, namely the forming, storming and norming needed to perform.

From this particular workshop, future action points I will continue to take forward include remembering to familiarise myself with group members to understand their preferred roles and familiarise myself with the tasks set - often the 'forming' and 'storming' parts of group work which are brushed aside to dive straight into the work. The management of expectations and setting of clear ground rules is also an important aspect raised, which can help to avoid conflict and tension within groups, and the ability to adapt leadership styles to suit the situation needed are some of the important points I have found most useful and will continue to apply with more detailed reflection to follow through my final leadership blog.


Final Entry on Effective Seminar Participation

Original Action Points:

  1. To remember not to allow my body to move too much when delivering presentations i.e. stop myself from swaying as this can communicate insecurity.
  2. To be definite in my presentation of information and questioning. Not be backed down to interruption or question my right to speak.
  3. To end clearly and present alternatives to the cliche 'are there any questions?' For example, 'I'm sure you have plenty you would like to contribute and I would be happy to hear this now.'


After finishing a busy second term, I've now had some time to reflect on the many seminar presentations I have been involved with. My delivery has continued to improve as demonstrated from feedback, which highlights the fluent and clear presentation of my material. Plus, I continue to make more of an effort to actively contribute to discussions, although this can sometimes be hard at the end of a long day.

Another lesson learned was the importance of a clear ending and I will continue to make conscious efforts to demonstrate this in my future seminar presentations. In future, I will also try to maintain a body language that portrays confidence, whilst also not being too static. I will continue to remain diplomatic in my choice of words and avoid falling back on phrases that could appear to question my right to speak, such as “I’m sorry but could you…”

I’m usually quite comfortable projecting my voice, but will remember to use pitch, pace and power (rhythm) to keep listeners engaged and portray my enthusiasm for the subject. I have found it much easier to do this by not scripting myself strictly, to avoid sounding like I am reading something out word for word. Instead, by learning the order of key points I want to get across, it allows my spoken language to remain more natural, aiding a fluent presentation style and also means I do not have to rely on notes.

Overall, this workshop helped to consolidate a lot of theory that was already familiar to me but was presented in an interesting and fresh approach that emphasised the importance of speech and posture. The key points I will take with me into future seminars include, a good posture, clear and definite delivery and remember to take responsibility for being active to engage and communicate confidence.     


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