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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.     


May 03, 2012

Final Entry on An introduction to skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio

Original Action Points:

  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 my comfort zone and become more flexible and adaptable.
  3. To improve my self reflection by listening to feeback from others and use of structured self assessment.


On reflection, after an extremely busy second term, I still managed to commit myself to further workshops such as 'an Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level', 'Leading a Group Project' and most recently the Warwick Leadership scheme. The majority of workshops I found consolidated my knowledge and learning so far, such as the structure and presentation of writing highlighted in the 'Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level' workshop. But I also found some interesting and new ideas such as the Belbin theory and Myers-Briggs type indicators from the 'Working in a Team' and 'Leadership' program. These assessments I found accurately portrayed my preferred roles within a team and the leadership style which suits me best and furthered my understanding the most. Understanding of the different roles it is possible to play in group work helped me to identify with different working styles and provide reasons why as a co-ordinator, teamworker and resource investigator I might clash with strong shapers that provide drive and are not afraid to tread on people's toes doing so.

In terms of applying the skills and techniques highlighted in this workshop, I have continued to put my academic learning into context with the bigger picture, always relating the theory, for example recombinant DNA technology, to its purpose on industrial and even global scales. This has helped to prevent me from becoming disengaged from the relevance of learning such detail and something I have also added to help conclude my work as suggested in the 'Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level' workshop. In terms of becoming more flexible and adaptable, the knowledge gained from understanding the different preferred working styles has helped me to become more spontaneous and open to working in more flexible ways to encourage better working environments, especially with group members that prefer less structure (but still get the work done). I have also tried to pursue workshops and activities such as the Leadership scheme in order to demonstrate the application of skills employers value to benefit my future ambitions and relate the purpose of these workshops to my overall self development.

Finally, reflection on my feedback has also continued to improve my academics, especially in presentations where my feedback now comments on the fluent and clear presentation of material. I feel I have addressed the initial action points I set myself and I have been successful, however, if I were to do this again, I would keep up with more regular blogging, as this helps to provide valuable reflection. Nonetheless, I hope to continue to apply the principals learned, as I have done so far. And in my final term at Warwick, with a little bit more time on my hands, I now plan to finish the reflection and blogging required for the remaining workshops and complete the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award.

 


April 13, 2012

Follow up on Leading a Group Project

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

Having joined the leadership scheme I have further developed this understanding, becoming aware of what style best suits me and practised adapting my leadership style in role play situations, for instance, getting the most out of even the most quiet. During my academic group work I have also worked in a large variety of groups with many different skill sets and as a result have had the opportunity to learn which style is most appropriate. When there are strong characters in the group who like to actively contribute to discussion and the direction of work, I find it best to adopt more of a co-ordinator style of leadership. Then, when the group is less willing to contribute openly, a more autocratic, but fair delegation of work helps to keep the whole group engaged and involved.

2. Remember to get to know group members or at least their preferred roles, experience or skill sets.

Having worked with and got to know the majority of the class by now, it becomes easy to overlook the importance of this step. Nonetheless, it is still important to understand each others strengths and weaknesses and often the preferred roles and skill sets are volunteered at the start of such group forming stages, making the delegation of work easier and more efficient. 

3. Familiarise and understand the task before delegating and setting ground rules which must be achievable and realistic.

This is again another important stage of group work, which when subject to time constraints can become neglected. Despite this, throughout my academic group work so far, I have made the conscious effort to set aside an evening or so before the group begins work so everyone has the chance to familiarise themselves with the tasks set. This has helped to improve understanding and work efficiency and is therefore something I will try to maintain. It is also important to note that it is never too late to take a step back and evaluate the progress or relevance of the work generated, as this is where problems can be resolved instead of ignored. In terms of ground rules, the most productive has been that everyone attends each group meeting. Where the work delegated can be completed and then the individual contributions pulled together as a group, to ensure full and visual participation. 


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.

Although at Masters level we are asked to present our own original analysis and interpretation of the information we present it is still important to remain passive. Therefore, through a conscious effort to do so I believe this has helped to improve the quality of my work and writing style as reflected in my feedback, such as 'a mature and comprehensive review.' 

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.

This is particularly important to me as I often have tight word limits in which I have to provide a detailed discussion sometimes on a broad topic, whilst avoiding being too superficial. Through using articulate language and precise vocabulary this has helped to keep my word counts down whilst still effectively presenting my arguments, or critically commenting on scientific findings where the phrase 'good' would be too vague. Therefore, I will continue to make a conscious effort to apply this to my work.

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.

To get around time restraints which may prevent me from fully re-reading and revising my work after I have finished an initial draft, I try to incorporate this into my work as I progress. Re-reading and revising paragraphs as the essay builds helps to keep each paragraph relevant and also means I have read through the entire essay several times to ensure it flows and the reader can follow easily. Including a final wider perspective or purpose to my conclusions was also an important point I found really useful when finishing essays, as it gives me the opportunity to summarise my own opinions, providing further evidence of the originality and understanding needed, as well as reiterate the arguments presented.  

March 12, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Session 3.

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on

This meeting was split into two halves, firstly a couple of role play exercises, followed by two talks from people involved in industry and entrepreneurial leadership. To begin with, we split ourselves according to preference into two groups to perform role plays aimed at getting the most out of everyone in a group (especially the most quiet) and negotiation of deadlines to resolve conflicts. In order to follow up on one of my action points posted in my previous blogs, I joined the role play exercise to get the most out of everyone in a group. At random, we picked positions within the role play - either as group leader, group member or observer - which came with a description of what to act out in the exercise. As group leader, I had to conduct a meeting between a group of Warwick students, new to each other, and tasked with a small fund-raising project. From the description it was clear that although the team is keen and committed, the majority of members will be very quiet, one in particular will be most quiet and another will be outspoken and eager to contribute, sometimes dominating the discussion. As team leader it was my responsibility to try to get more equal involvement from everyone without coming across as too 'authoritarian' in coming to decisions or having undue influence in the final decision.

In just 10 minutes I think the overall role play was a success. To begin with, we introduced ourselves as part of an ice breaker, important in the forming of new groups. In order to encourage full participation from the less vocal members I then suggested that everyone spend a minute writing down every fund raising idea they could come up with on a piece of paper in front of them and then we would go round each member in turn so they could pitch their ideas. This is an important tool which can be used to encourage contribution from those less comfortable speaking, as well as control members who may be more vocal in discussions. Whilst listening to the contributions from each member which I engaged directly in turn, I tried to provide encouraging feedback in order to maintain and comfortable and supportive environment. I then put the ideas raised to a vote in order to democratically decide which to take forward, whilst also being able to gauge the enthusiasm and commitment within the group. Via these methods, the discussions continued, the group warmed to each other and contributions became more open. I then closed the exercise with a summary of what we had discussed and decided on, which happened to be some cake sales and a fancy dress club night in Leamington.

I felt comfortable in my position as team leader and found myself interacting as I would naturally in such an exercise. On the other hand, other members found in particularly hard to play a quiet, introverted person or even an outspoken, very vocal person, as this goes against their nature. For example, I was expecting to have to control a very outspoken person in order to let the other members feel comfortable to speak but this turned out not to be the case. Comments from the observer of the group were also positive, mentioning good use of voting and engaging group members directly in order to encourage the articulation of the ideas they had put to paper in front of them.

The main points I gained from discussion with the other group exercise involving deadlines was the importance of negotiation and balancing opinion to find a middle ground the satisfies the majority. Such negotiations and re-evaluations can occur at any point, even later into the project and it is important that those members meeting deadlines are recognised and those that fail are accountable in order to encourage ownership of tasks and not undermine the efforts of those more organised.

Following from this, we were then given the opportunity to listen to the experience and advice from two speakers involved in leadership. The first was a young multichannel manager from Boots the pharmacist, who described his first experiences of leadership when quite literally being thrown into the deep end and expected to manage a store of more than 30 employees. The main points I took from this talk, were the well structured nature of management and the guidelines provided. The importance of understanding the roles of the people you manage. As well as the importance of:

  • "listening"
  • "managing expectations"

Whilst striving to achieve targets under certain deadlines, it is important to be aware of what is manageable and how this can be achieved inside or outside of company policy and to make those in positions above you aware of this.

The second speaker was a much older, inspiring and successful entrepreneur, who had set up his own multinational fishing magazine publication from the loft conversion of his house. This was his second business, the first of which he sold for 1/10th of its value in order to purse what made him happy.

  • "be happy!"
  • "focus"

These were the two main points for success I took away from this talk, among others. In terms of leadership he explained how he disagreed with "throwing people into the deep end" as this encourages failure and reiterated the fact that in positions of leadership you will have to give people a "bollocking" from time to time. Authority and mutual respect are essential to successfully managing people. Especially if you don't like the other person, because they will no doubt have the skills that compliment your own. To summarise:

  • know yourself
  • become the people that inspire you

These are the main points I took from this session and hope to implement to my future career.

As part of my studies and role as a PGSSLC, being proactive and engaging has proved successful. Students have been comfortable to come forward with issues and even simple tasks like getting the work room printers fixed (especially on deadline days) will hopefully encouraged confidence among the others in our roles as student representatives.


March 04, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Session 2.

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on

In the last session we looked at the intercultural dynamics and possible conflicts involved in leading teams. In today's society, we're often asked to work with individuals from all kinds of working backgrounds, which results in the clashes of working style discussed in the previous blog. But an even more interculturally connected society can lead to clashes in cultural values.

We began the session with an ice breaker, introducing ourselves and the origin of our names and what they mean. Then moved into groups of 3 and 4 to play a simple card game. After we had read and understood the rules we were given, we were asked not to talk and only communicate via gesture and writing. The winner and loser from each table then moved clockwise and anticlockwise around the room respectively from each table until everyone had a chance to play with everyone else. The lack of verbal communication soon became an obvious frustration when it became clear that there was definitely confusion among the different tables about the rules.

After we finished, it was then explained to us that there were deliberate differences in the rules and because of this we could draw out parallels to real life experiences where cultural differences lead to similar confusion and frustration. Examples included moving to a new country where you don't speak the language well, differences in relationships and differences in local traditions - especially concerning meal times and what is accepted as etiquette and being polite. From this, we then discussed how these differences were usually resolved. In terms of the game we played, usually the majority decision was applied, so this involved finding a common understanding through our gestures. Much the same as what would be expected when communicating on a level that gets around any language barrier. This also raises the idea of tolerance and understanding. In a democratic leadership, the majority opinion should be taken forward even if this goes against your initial opinion.

From the workshop exercise and discussions that followed, the main take home points for me were the importance of establishing a common ground between the members in a group you lead. Despite differences in cultural and working style a middle ground can always be negotiated in order to clarify goals and establish what is expected from everyone which is often the reason for most tension in a group.

As part of my studies, role as a PGSSLC and personal experiences I will continue to communicate effectively and be specific and clear in instructions. In particular, I will try to be more proactive, engaging more on the facebook group and in class to promote discussion of problems experienced on the course which I can then forward to tutors. So far, conversations on the facebook page have prompted further discussions, even to the point where students are now confident enough to have written their own letters of concern to be forwarded through us as representatives. My academic group work remains successful, although I would probably benefit from learning techniques that will help push for the most out of the least active members. For example, better delegation of work and encouragement of personal accountability through the establishment of clear ground rules. Nonetheless, I look forward to the next session.


February 20, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

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

  1. I would like to learn effective techniques to get the most out of even the most quiet people.

    Having attended the leading a group project workshop we were introduced to the use of 'post-it notes' as a tool of communicating ideas in order to remove the disadvantage to those less confident in speaking. This was a useful insight into engaging everyone in a group on the same level and something that can be applied to my academic group work. I would like to learn of any further techniques like this in the following leadership meetings, to continue to get the most out of everyone in a group. Plus, the effectiveness of communication in writing was also illustrated in my role as a PGSSLC, as a letter which we submitted detailing the major course concern of assessment feedback resulted in the immediate improvement in student tutor communications relating to this, via email.


  2. I would like to implement the understanding of my preferred leadership style and Belbin roles to my continued academic group projects.

    After first being introduced to the Belbin roles in the working in a team workshop I have continued to keep this in mind when engaging in academic group work. I am very much a co-ordinator and like to keep an eye on the big picture of the task we are completing whilst also trying to provide the characteristics of a monitor evaluator which I have found so far, is usually the most neglected role. After reading week, I'm now moving into my next module and hope to carry this understanding into my next group assignment. I would also like to learn the best way, or techniques to encourage those driven by last minute deadlines to complete work sooner in the following leadership meetings.


  3. To further my understanding and empathy with others I will try to spend more time with individuals with course concerns.

    As well as spending more time talking to students with course concerns I will also try to be more active on the course facebook pages in order to encourage more discussion. To illustrate that we listen and address the students concerns we also post the minutes from our meetings and we have been surprised that students do indeed take the time to read and comment on these. This has been encouraging and to further my understanding of leadership I have been reading through the "explore and develop your leadership potential" booklet we were provided at the end of the last session.



February 16, 2012

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.

As previously discussed, it may not be as important to improve on my least preferred roles, but I have many manageable roles which I could 'flex' into, in order to get the most out of a team environment.

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

To demonstrate my preferred roles and maximise the opportunities here at Warwick I have also joined the Warwick Leadership scheme where I hope to further understand my leadership style and apply this to my group work during studies, future employment and role as a PGSSLC member.

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.

So far, this understanding has been beneficial to my studies as I'm involved in a lot of group work activities. I believe it has also been valuable in diffusing conflict and tension, nonetheless, sometimes members of the group have had to be pushed in order to maximise productivity.


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.

Whilst the structure of my course so far involves two week modules which are particularly lecture intensive, the majority of extended reading is done as research towards the essay assignment. As we move towards the end of core modules, I now have to think more in detail about my final project. This has led to an increase in the material I'm reading, and the filtering techniques described has helped to increase my productivity.

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

Time constraints often make this question hard to ask from every piece of information I engage with and as a result I try to stick to peer reviewed documents which are already cross referenced for validity. This will definitely become more important as I begin research towards my final dissertation project.

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.

This was most relevant to a recent submission where we were asked to argue if "Gene Therapy had come of age?" Throughout I tried to demonstrate that enthusiasm for such research will inevitability come from the scientific community and opposition will come from investors losing money where no apparent commercial returns have been established. I hope to continue to apply this understanding to my future work including my project dissertation.

 


Follow up on Effective Seminar Participation

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

1. To remember not to allow my body to move too much when delivering presentations i.e. to stop myself from swaying as this can communicate insecurity.

The start of this term has been very busy, involving many seminar presentations, the majority of which have been a group effort. Nonetheless, my confidence in conducting myself during presentations has increased and I have found myself making less of a conscious effort to stop myself from swaying. I believe this has been reflected in the feedback I have received which explains I demonstrate a confident presentation of material.

2. To be definite in my presentation of information and questioning. Not be back down to interruption or question my right to speak.

Again the feedback from my presentations have been positive. Sometimes questioning during the presentation is encouraged and I believe I have handled this appropriately and swiftly so as not to distract from the material I'm presenting. On the other hand, I believe I could still improve my contribution to questions and discussions at the end of presentations even if to confirm my understanding as I know this can be of benefit to others as well.

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.'

At the end of my presentations I have continued to make an effort to end clearly, and this point was also recently raised by a tutor in our general feedback. He explained the importance of "standing up, speaking up and then shutting up." Stressing the importance of a clear finish to a presentation to remain professional.


February 05, 2012

First entry on Leadership

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Introduction

Studying for an MSc in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management at Warwick's Life Sciences department, I decided I needed to demonstrate application of the skills employers value. This is the reason I decided to participate in the Warwick skills portfolio award and naturally the Leadership scheme as another opportunity to make the most out of my time here at Warwick University. I decided I wanted to take part to further develop and demonstrate my leadership skills in order to participate more effectively in my role as a PGSSLC and benefit my applications to managerial positions in the healthcare industry.

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 resolve them. As a group of students we take turns to chair the discussion and record minutes from the meetings. Therefore, I hope from attending this scheme I will not only understand what type of leadership style suits me, but approaches to get the most out of the people I represent.

From the first session I further developed my understanding of my preferred roles according to the Belbin self-perception profile and the importance of balancing the types of roles within a team. Furthermore, the results from the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) and dimensions we answered during the session highlighted a slight difference between my (ENFJ) Extraverted Feeling with Introverted Intuition and (ESTJ) Extraverted Thinking with Introverted Sensing.

ENFJ preferences are highly attuned to others, using empathy to quickly understand emotional needs, motivations and concerns. Their focus is supporting others and encouraging their growth. They are considered friendly persuaders who often act as catalysts, including everyone and drawing out the best in other people.

ESTJ preferences like to organise projects, procedures and people, then act to get things done. They live by a set of clear standards and expect the same of others. Therefore enjoying interaction and working with others as long as the others are responsible about meeting deadlines and completing assigned tasks.

Comparing the two, although I would prefer to complete a task step by step, building towards the deadline and maybe finishing with time to spare I understand that others operate differently and believe I have developed to accommodate different approaches to work effort. Considering this, I think ENFJ preferences are my most suited leadership style.

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.


Actions

  1. I would like to learn effective techniques to get the most out of even the most quiet people. For example, to draw out opinions from our class mates concerning the course we have set up facebook pages where people can post issues from the comfort of their own home. However, this is still not entirely anonymous - therefore we could implement a feedback or petition which members of the class could sign if they agree with the issue.

  2. I would like to implement the understanding of my preferred leadership style and Belbin roles to my continued academic group projects. Although often these assignments are too short to consider effective group work in great detail I will try to asses the contribution of others and understand which approaches will get the most out of each other.

  3. In order to further my understanding and empathy with others I will also try to spend more time with individuals with course concerns to improve their confidence in bringing issues forward and illustrate that they will be listened to and addressed.

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills/leadership/blog