Social Media – What value for me, and my career?

What value for me?

If you are itching to Tweet and Post and B/Vlog and Snap and Tik and… you might want to go straight on to the next section.

However, we think that, before you do, it’s a good idea to pause and consider how Social Media can benefit you and your career. That’s because, although Social Media can support you at all stages of the research cycle, it requires an investment of time (although not as much as you may fear). So, it’s important to minimise confusion and wasted time by working out why you might engage with it, so that you can engage most effectively.

A useful analogy for many of the sites we’ll consider is to view them as an empty room into which you will invite people or a room full of people with a shared interest. You have control over who to invite into your empty room and control over which rooms you enter, but little control over what people say in them – just as in physical environments.

What do you need?

With this in mind let’s start by thinking about what you need to hear and see in those rooms to help you.

  • Do you need to find out how to be a researcher, meet others who will support you to move to research independence, or address an audience of people eager to hear from you as a leader in the field?
  • Are you looking to discover and join academic and other professional networks? Share knowledge with them? Or recruit people to help set up new networks from scratch?
  • Are you trying to explain your ideas to a new audience? Challenge existing ideas?
  • Do you need to be recognised for what you share? Or are you just ‘giving things away’?

Where you’re up to in your career, and where you want to go next will shape what you do… for example:

Doctoral researchers need to manage the demands of their PhD, keep on top of literature and developments in their field, disseminate their work, maintain their momentum, develop their employability, write a thesis, prepare to defend their work in the viva and prepare for the transition into whatever will follow.

  • Who could help you find ways to tackle these demands?
  • What information would help you understand academia and research?

Postdoctoral and contract based research staff need to develop a research profile, develop their independence, disseminate their work and ensure it has maximum impact, understand the funding landscape, develop links to future collaborators, be aware of opportunities and again, be ready for the end of their contracts and what will follow.

  • Who needs to be aware of you and your work?
  • What information or opportunities would help you be more successful?

Established researchers need to develop new research ideas, publish work which is important and influences their field, attract new students and staff, build relationships with partners to enhance impact, manage their time and prioritise effectively, add value to their institution and research community, find partners for projects and proposals and demonstrate their esteem in their field and community.

  • What individuals or communities do you want to connect with? 
  • What kind of influence and impact would you like to have?

Deepening your knowledge of academic careers

Given that you will be building your profile and contributing material potentially for many years, you also need to look ahead in your career and think about future challenges and demands.

Many online resources are available to help you think about these demands and broaden your thinking about your current situation. Note that these aren’t solely focused on social media although we discovered them through social media – either through the individuals or organisations that produced them or seeing them recommended and discussed by others.

The University of Manchester’s “An Academic Career” site includes advice and insights into the demands and opportunities ahead.

Jobs.ac.uk includes a substantial careers advice section with many different articles and a series of e-books on different aspects of academic careers

Oxford University’s Apprise site brings together resources from a range of projects aimed at those in the early stages of an academic pathway and includes prompts for personal reflection.

The Wellcome Trust offers a guide detailing the kinds of things to think about for those returning to academic careers after a break, or other time away.

Vitae, a national organization for researcher development, has published a series of reports on the destinations and subsequent career paths of doctoral graduates.

There are also offline sources, like Liz Elvidge, Emma Williams and Carol Spencely’s “What every postdoc needs to know” (summary here) – a book that breaks down the whole postdoctoral career journey, and asks challenging questions that you might want to consider.

What are the challenges that you’re facing now? At the next stage? In 5 years? In 10 years?

With these challenges in mind, if you now feel ready to explore the role of social media in your career, the next section will provide an overview of social media and the platforms available.

If you aren’t ready to move on yet, you can work through the more detailed questions in the worksheet and arrange to discuss your thoughts about your career challenges with a colleague or mentor.

Social Media – A series for researchers

Social Media offers researchers huge potential to communicate with a range of audiences. Researchers who have developed an effective social media presence will talk about the ease with which they can engage people, strengthen their networks and receive key information. Reaping the benefits requires an investment of time, but just as with established networking, there are strategies to hit the ground running, to benefit more quickly and have a greater impact.

Current limitations on social interaction, and focus on working from home means that not only is Social Media particularly useful now to maintain visibility for present and future posts, but that researchers may have more time than before to engage in developing a Social Media presence.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts to help researchers to better understand the potential of social media to enhance their research activities and develop a strong, credible profile. We’ll look at the key sites and tools, and guide you through a process to evaluate any new networks you encounter.

If you’re familiar with social media, the posts will help you reflect on your communication style and career objectives, investigate unfamiliar platforms and learn from the experiences and advice of other researchers.

The posts are structured into five sections. Each will include an overview, links to resources which explore the topic in more detail and a worksheet designed to help you reflect on your approach and set clear objectives. The sections are written to help you:

  1. Reflect on your career and how social media might add value
  2. Navigate both generic and research-based social media options
  3. Relate the potential of social media to your career and research goals
  4. Communicate effectively, efficiently and appropriately online
  5. Evaluate and develop your online impact and ambitions

This resource is designed be a relatively concise starting point to the world of social media, so it covers the headlines for each topic and where necessary points to the detail available in a range of articles, books and guides on the web. These will all vary in depth, perspective and age, so you can choose how much to dig into the detail.

Watch this space for the next post… !

Online Writers’ Retreats… what you do when you can’t meet up!

If you search the Internet for writing retreats, you’ll find all kind of images that involve groups of people sat, with laptops, around a table… like this:

group of writers around a table, each with their own laptop

There’s a very good reason for this. When Rowena Murray did her initial work on structured retreats back in 2009, she found that key to success was the ‘doing together’ that comes from all being in the same place at the same time.

Writers on our retreats have told us the same.

“It helps me push through, when I get stuck and I might get distracted and give up, being with others who are also writing means I don’t stop… I keep trying, and eventually I work out how to get past the problem and I can move on.”

What do you do, then, when – like now – you can’t be in the same room? (more…)

The publication pipeline

hat someHow did that submission go? Did you get it accepted?

Yes, all in – reviews done. Now I’m at the foot of Everest again.

The foot of Everest?

Yes… I’ve not really got any writing in progress, so I’m starting again from scratch.

The first time I published, it felt like that. The process was very one-directional. I wrote, I submitted it, I dealt with the reviews, I resubmitted, it was published.

Because it was so single-minded, it was relatively easy. I just did what I needed to do, and then waited for instructions from the editor. But it also took a long time. From initial idea to print, the process was on and off, and lasted a full 2.5 years.

Both of those things – the ease, and the time – aren’t a problem if you’re starting out as an academic. But they become more problematic if you need to be publishing more often. A more recent journal article took me and a co-author nearly 5 years from conception to print.

Adding the time for the first and second publications together, that’s two publications in 7.5 years. That’s waaaay too slow for any kind of academic CV.  (more…)

Writing and publishing: strategies from/for non-native speakers

By lucky coincidence, most of the Bristol Clear writers’ retreats this year are being run in a large, well-lit room in Bristol’s ‘Centre for Academic Language and Development’. The CALD is a unit dedicated to supporting (particularly overseas) students with their English. As you walk through the main doors of the Centre, you can’t help but notice the banners, celebrating a quote by Pierre Bourdieu, which says

Academic language… is nobody’s mother tongue.

Bourdieu is right, academic language isn’t anyone’s mother tongue.

And for many of those who come on writing retreats, neither is English. And yet they are expected to not only write and publish in academic language, but in the academic form of English.

A non-native form, of a non-native tongue.

How are they doing this?

This is something that I’ve been asking those who attend retreats. I’ve also been looking in the literature to find out what others do. There appear to be four main approaches.

Write with a native

Probably the most common way that those who aren’t native speakers of English produce publication-ready material is by co-writing with native speakers (who lend their eye to all of the writing at all stages).

As a strategy, this is hugely effective, particularly at early career stage when there are potentially, naturally, multiple authors involved in a publication. But it can also carry risk, particularly if any kind of tension over the ‘authoring’ breaks out – e.g. where author ‘order’ becomes less an issue of who contributed most to the thinking, and more about who wrote more ‘words’. This can get worse when, in the mind of the authors, they begin to associate words with expertise. One writer describes the problems that arose when native English speakers in a mixed language group started to act as if they were more ‘expert’ in the research topic, simply because their English was ‘better’.

“at one point [it] caused me to go off and publish some academic articles in [my own language] just to prove that I’m better than them at something” (Sword 2017: 96).

That doesn’t mean you should avoid writing with native English speakers – It can work brilliantly, and even the difficult moments make it a perfect opportunity to practise negotiation and collaborative working (both of which are key professional skills). But it does mean being aware of the potential for tension early on, and taking steps to resolve it through a planned and professional approach, rather than assuming that ‘things will just work out OK’.

Ask a native to proof (or better still, mentor) your work

After writing with a native speaker, the next most frequent approach is to find a colleague who is prepared to proofread and/or correct a draft that you have written.

This can be very effective. Although it does rely on a (sometimes fragile) quid pro quo. Even though many fields have strong non-English literatures, in most the need to write in English massively outstrips the need to go in the other direction. Rather than a balance, then, the ‘proofing’ approach can end up relying on the generosity of a colleague, who may not receive the same degree of support back from you if they don’t need to publish in your language.

There are ways around this. Helen Sword suggests, in her book ‘Air & Light & Time & Space’ that you can establish a balance in the relationship by ‘giving back’ something: conversational language support in your native tongue, or cooking lessons. If you can’t do that, then you can at least offer constructive critical feedback on their work if they need it.

Alternatively, you might try to move away from the ‘ad hoc’, and establish a more stable relationship with a ‘language mentor’ – someone who will regularly work with you, reading what you write, to identify consistent language issues that you can then correct.

Language mentoring has the advantage that, because it systematically works on reoccurring weak points in your language, over time your English improves.

Professional proofing

An alternative approach, and one that doesn’t rely on colleagues, is to get proofing done by a professional. This can be useful, particularly if you are writing for an unfamiliar audience and need to ensure that not only the language, but the content lands as you want.

However, the expertise of editors can, on occasion, collide with the aims of the writer. I work in a field (Deaf Studies) where a capital letter can mean the difference between affirming someone’s identity as the member of a cultural and linguistic group (Deaf), or defining them as disabled (deaf). I have had editors assume that my capitalisation was in error, and remove it all – a mistake that then required hours of careful re-editing to put it all back in.

Besides which, professional proofing is expensive, and although it’s now required by some journals for articles from non-native speakers, I’m not aware of any publishers (or indeed any universities) who will pay for it.

Take a chance

The final approach is where you don’t get any native speaker support, but simply write and submit, and see what happens.

This is a gamble that can pay off… Researchers I spoke to have seen this work – but only where their English has been almost perfect, and where they happen to have landed a reviewer who has had time (and a generous spirit) enough to offer corrections, or on an editor who has seen the individuality of the writer’s style as something to be valued, rather than smoothed out.

The general rule of thumb, though, when presenting a manuscript for publication is to make it as perfect as possible. Editors and reviewers are just as tired and overworked as everyone else, and the last thing they want to do is wrestle with a script that is peppered with problems, or is unclear.

In that case, the gamble can fail – spectacularly.

I’ve known some very good articles be rejected and then really struggle to find a home, simply because in their first submitted form, they looked like the writer ‘hadn’t bothered’.

And finally… to all those native speakers out there.

All of the academics that I spoke to, and much of the literature, suggests that the better your English gets, the less you have to rely on any of these strategies, and the more you can simply write and submit under the ‘take a chance’ approach with a good expectation of success.

But as (again) Helen Sword suggests, that takes time.

Learning to write sophisticated academic English… Like any other artisanal skill, the art of communicating fluently and elegantly… requires, at the top end of achievement, thousands of hours of practice – and there are no shortcuts.

No shortcuts means that, in addition to their academic skills, non-native users of English spend thousands of hours honing a skill that most English-world academics have picked up, probably without ever being aware of it.

So here’s a thought for all those academics out there who are native speakers… consider how lucky you are, and be generous with it.

Whether as a co-author, an ad-hoc proofer, a mentor, a willing reviewer or editor, or simply as a colleague, ask what you can do to support your colleagues to succeed.

 

Structured writers’ retreats – things we learned during WriteFest

Across UK Higher Education, the month of November was ‘WriteFest’, a month for writing.

As part of our WriteFest provision, we ran four writing retreats, one a week. They’re structured days, set up specifically to allow academics to write, without the distractions of their daily work.

The retreat structure has always encouraged productive writing. But – with a whole month to play with – I was keen to examine the retreats themselves, and to identify and adapt anything that would make them even ‘better’ – to make the environment as conducive as possible to writing.

Now, at the end of the month, here are some things that we’ve learned, and changed.

(more…)

The case for structured writing retreats

If you’ve ever been to a writing retreat at the UoB, you’ll have heard us explain why we structure it as we do.

If you’ve not, then you might wonder why we run them in such a structured way.

The structure might even have put you off.

This post will explain some of why we shape our retreats like that – and what the potential benefits are.

*spoiler alert* – they’re not just about how many words you write!

(more…)

The CROS – and questions of time…

Preamble

And so begins the analysis of CROS… which will take some time. Especially since, this year, we’re not just trying to report numbers, but rather trying to draw the data together with what we know from the staff survey, with themes and evidence from a range of other engagements that we have with research staff, and then work with research staff Reps and with units like HR and RED to work out what the data means, and then what doing better actually looks like.

Over the summer, I’ll be pulling together some ‘thought pieces’ on aspects of the data.

These have two aims:

The first is for you to see where our thinking is going as we analyse what you’ve said. Please read, and respond… Note, I’m not sure how we’re going to do that yet, so bear with us as we try out comments, or something more anonymous. 

The second is so that we can start to share thoughts with the rest of the sector. Something that is very clear from CROS is how (despite there being comparatively little researcher traffic between them) the Russell Group data profiles are very similar. So these are sector issues, and not just ours.

So, this is the first of those thought pieces, and concerns some of your responses about..

 

.

Your working time, and your career development

First, your time…

It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that nearly 80% of you are working more hours than you’re contracted to. The average is about 6 or 7 hours extra a week, with just under half of those worked at the weekend.

The main reasons given are that you’re not as productive as you’d like to be. You’re beset by things that eat into your time – mainly distractions: “need quiet” (lots of those), “less admin”, “doing other people’s jobs for them”, “inefficiencies elsewhere”, “surveys” (yes… sorry!), “interruptions”, “other people’s emergencies”

Because of these distractions, it’s taking you longer to complete your contracted research. You’re also trying to fit in a multitude of legitimate tasks… but in fragmented ways.

“with the science, and then the peer reviewing, grant writing, supporting students, teaching, outreach… my time is fragmented.”

And then, of course, a postdoc isn’t always just about doing the ‘work’. For many of you, it’s a stepping stone in a growing, increasingly autonomous, academic career… so you’re also trying to add in tasks that will promote your own career progression and finding that very hard to achieve. Three-quarters of you say that you don’t have enough time to write applications for funding or fellowships, to plan your career, or to write additional publications. And nearly 80% of you say that you don’t have time to develop opportunities for secondments or placements.

Tackling that fragmentation of time is key for many of you. Many of you asked for support in managing time both in terms of training and techniques. Some of you have discovered things like writing retreats, or are able to block out “chunks” of time to focus on “priority tasks” like writing.

“I recently attended the writer’s retreat day and found it invaluable. I would really benefit from more opportunities like this”

These are things that we’ll keep offering, along with more training and guidance.

But also, your career development…

But some of you identify that, even if you can find that time, it’s not easy to decide what the priorities are.

“We are valued primarily on grants and papers… However, if we don’t teach or perform [other] citizenship activities, we cannot be promoted.”

And sometimes guidance in that area is really polarised. While I’ve heard one senior academic say

“Find out what you need to do to be promoted, and focus only on those things – say ‘no’ to everything else”,

I’ve heard another say

“do EVERYTHING – grants, and papers, and articles, and peer reviewing, and teaching, and public engagement, and supervision, and mentoring, and sit on committees, and … and… and…”

And, of course, any extra work that you do on your core research is always gratefully received. Over half of you appear to be voluntarily doing ‘more’ on your core work than you strictly need to. And 13% are accepting additional work set by your PIs.

If that contributes to you achieving ‘success’ in whatever shape that comes, or building a CV for future success, then that’s great.

But what if it doesn’t?

And what if we’re not doing enough to support you in making choices about what does and doesn’t?

And what if you’re (then) not able to make choices, and take ownership of your time, and – therefore, also – your own future careers?

Postdoc-ing is not, in most long-term cases, a career (Elvidge et al. 2017). And so The Concordat for the Career Development of Research Staff says that we (the UoB) should provide a clear structure to help you understand and plan your career development.

It also says that you (research staff) have a responsibility to engage in pro-actively planning your careers. But it’s unreasonable to expect you to do that without good guidance and support.

It would appear from CROS that many of you are struggling in this, and we will be looking at how we can support you better.

CROS – How?

OK, so how do I fill in CROS? Filling in CROS requires your university email and some kind of online device. It’s very easy… because if you are eligible (which you are, if you are Research Staff at Bristol) then on or around the 1st May you’ll be sent an email directly from the Online Survey system. The email will contain a link which is individualised for you (1). All you have to do is click on it, and you’ll be taken directly to the online survey, which you then complete.

How long does it take? The survey is a bit of a beast, but shouldn’t take more than about 25 mins.  If it’s any incentive to finish it, remember that we only ask you to do it every two years, and that the questions put in there by Research Staff at Bristol are towards the end (!).

So I’ve filled it in… Once you’ve filled it in, you shouldn’t hear from the survey tool again. Although you might want to subscribe to the blog, or follow us on Twitter, or check the regularly Friday Bristol Clear Bulletin, as we’ll be releasing data that we get throughout the month.

And if I don’t fill it in… If you don’t fill in the survey from that first email, then you’ll get regular reminders throughout the month. You might also be encouraged in a more global sense by your Head of School or your School Research Staff Rep. We’re giving them completion rates for each School (although, anonymous, obviously).

I’m not sure I’ll have the time… We know time is tight, so we’re asking all Heads of School to make sure that PIs are aware of the need to complete the survey, and to allow their staff time to do so. We’re also hoping that some Schools will organise a ‘CROS hour’ at the same time where all researchers can stop and complete it. We’ll also be feeding (anonymous) response rates back to Heads of School throughout the month so that they can see how much harder they need to work to give you the chance to share your views.

Oh, and if bribery works for you, then we’re also giving away a new iPad 5 mini, and some Swoon Gelato giftcards to randomly selected completers of the survey, after it closes.  

(1) – We individualise the links so that we can use the online survey system to send out reminder emails to those who haven’t completed the survey. To be able to do this, we have to store some information about you, like your name and your email address. We *never* release this information out of the survey system, *never* allow anyone else to have access to the system, and *only ever* work with data that has been fully anonymised, so you can complete the survey safe in the knowledge that your answers will never be linked to you.

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