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..

 

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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.

CROS – Why would I fill it in?

CROS is your chance, available every two years, to tell us your experience of what being a researcher at Bristol is like, and what more we can do to support you.

It’s not the only chance – you also get to fill in things like the Staff Survey – but it’s the only survey that is aimed specifically at research staff, and research staff alone. And it’s the only survey that delivers its data directly into Bristol Clear and hasn’t been digested by another part of the organisation.

Consequently, it’s a survey that we listen to carefully, and draw data from constantly to shape what we do.

The survey runs in May, for one month, and is then…

  • … analysed over the summer, compared with CROS data from across the UK, local data from the Staff Survey and other evidence we have from consultations with research staff.
  • Turned into a report which will be made available to everyone, researchers, managers, HoS, Deans, FRDs, PVCs, the VC… everyone. (see the 2015 here)
  • Turned into an Action Plan, which forms the backbone of what we (Bristol Clear, the Research Staff Working Party) then prioritise over the next two years. (see the 2015 here)
  • Combined with data from other research staff at other universities to generate a national report. (2015, 2017)

CROS is recognised as an ‘official’ survey for university data-gathering purposes… it’s supported by HR, the Research Staff Working Party, and the university’s management more generally. That means that what you tell us carries weight, and is reported. That’s why, this year in particular, we’ve worked closely with research staff to ask the questions that they want to answer, so that you can tell us what you want to tell us. This year, research staff have added questions on well-being, work-life balance, and Progression and Promotion.

CROS will launch on the 1st May. Please support us to support you, by filling it in as honestly as possible, and encouraging others to do the same.

If you have any questions about the CROS survey, then please let us know by emailing us at bristol-clear@bristol.ac.uk

CROS – Bristol’s Own!

This is the story of CROS, and its origins, in the University of Bristol (1).

Once upon a time… researching in universities was a bit of a gig economy.

Hmm… *pauses and glances cynically at the audience*

Anyway, back to the story.

Back in the post-war period, universities would employ (often graduate) contract researchers to carry out specific research tasks. Some of them did one contract. Some did more. Some became lecturers. Some didn’t. There weren’t many research jobs – but that was OK because universities weren’t so reliant upon research income and lecturing posts were easier to get, and there weren’t many PhDs, and so the whole situation ‘gigged along’ reasonably happily.

But then, in the 70s, more people started getting PhDs (2). And then industrial sponsorship and the gradual commercialisation of universities meant more postdoctoral positions… that were then taken by those with the PhDs, who then wanted more research positions… and at some point in the 1990s, the situation evolved into one very much like the present one, in which a community of research staff (highly skilled in research, and in their own specialist area) were employed on temporary contracts by universities… until the research was done. Then they were largely left to fend for themselves.

In 1996, most of those involved in Higher Education and research funding (the research councils, the British Academy, and bodies like the wonderfully entitled “Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals”) agreed that “something must be done” to support the rising number of staff in the universities who were on temporary research contracts, to make sure that they weren’t being taken advantage of, and to explore how to equip them to find jobs outside of H.E. when they were done. Together, they drafted a ‘Concordat’ (basically, a contract) to “provide a framework for the career management of contract research staff in universities and colleges”. A copy of it is available at https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/concordat-for-the-career-management-of-contract-research-staff-1996-vitae.pdf.

The Concordat went down well. But it was only a piece of paper and wasn’t ‘enforceable’ in any sense.

What was needed was evidence – that would show which universities were failing and where, which were succeeding and where, and who could learn from whom how to do better.

And so in 2002, a group that included a resourceful and imaginative HR manager from the University of Bristol, along with a manager from Bristol’s Institute for Learning and Research Technology came up with a proposal… they would get funding from HEFCE, to set up a new online survey tool to run a new survey every other year or so, which would tell them how well universities were doing in holding to the Concordat. (3)

The online survey tool was Bristol Online Surveys – upon which the survey still runs. And the survey was the ‘Contract Researchers Online Survey’, which quickly became the ‘Careers in Research Online Survey’ = CROS (4)

(1) For those interested in the history of the CROS (!… I mean… I am… which others might find a little embarrassing, but I’m not ashamed) there’s a brief timeline on the Vitae website. What the timeline doesn’t mention is Bristol’s role. I mean, why would they? But *I* know this stuff because somewhere between completing my PhD in 2009 and now, in amongst the postdoc work and other bits, I worked for Bristol Online Surveys and was the person mainly responsible for delivering the CROS survey and training, which contained a brief ‘historical’ bit. I never thought it would be useful until now!

(2) David Bogle has written a History of the PhD which is interesting reading for those who, like me, are interested in this stuff.

(3) Projects like this were the order of the day when I worked in IT. A policy concept (the Robert’s report – also 2002), an online-based IT innovation and bob’s your designated relative.

(4) Commonly pronounced ‘CROSS’ – because ‘CROZ’ just sounds really naff.

May… is CROS month

Logo for CROS survey

Next month, all month, the University of Bristol will be running the CROS survey.

CROS is the Careers in Research Online Survey. It’s the (only) national online survey specifically aimed at capturing the experience of research staff in UK universities.

It’s national – in 2013 it was run by 68 universities, in 2015 by 72, and in 2017 by 67 universities. In 2017, over 7500 research staff filled it in.

It’s also local – At Bristol, in 2017, we got about 600 responses… that represents nearly 40% of our Research Staff community.

Having that many responses is hugely important, because it gives us a reliable picture of how we’re doing, and allows us to argue from evidence for more and better provision.

… and the local aspect matters, because in addition to a set of national questions, we can add questions of our own.

This year, we’ve been working with your Research Staff Reps to include questions that address the concerns of research staff at Bristol. So, in addition to the core question set, there will be sections on:

  • Research staff well-being and work-life balance.
  • Progression and Promotion.
  • … and how useful and accessible the wider (particularly career development) support that the UoB provides actually is.

We’ll be working with your Reps to communicate CROS, and building up to the month with some more blog posts that describe how it works and how we’re going to communicate and use the findings.

In the meantime, is it enough to whet your appetite if I tell you that there’s also a prize for at least one lucky completer…

BBSRC Funding to support collaboration with, or moves into industry (Call 2)

Are you coming to the end of your PhD or are you an Early Career Researcher who is interested in extending your experience of working with Industry?

BBSRC funding can help you develop a collaborative project, scale up an existing relationship or develop new projects with industry partners through a secondment. The fund also encourages industry partners to second into the University to boost the development of your project and exchange expertise.

For the focus of each award below, please see the RED pages at https://www.bristol.ac.uk/red/industry/bbsrcftma/ 

Call 2 is now open. The Application deadline is 4th June for Funding Panel decisions w/c 25th June 2019. 

Contact Lisa.Kehoe@bristol.ac.uk, RED Knowledge Exchange Associate to discuss your ideas for secondments, prospective engagement and/or training. (more…)

Mentoring – a personal story

A mentee from the Peers Project, now a mentor on the Bristol Clear Mentoring Scheme. Aaron Lim offers his inside perspective on what it was like to be mentored and what he gained from the experience.

“I joined the Peers’ Project pilot mentoring programme (which has now become the Bristol Clear Mentoring Scheme) and signed up as both a mentor and a mentee. The mentor I was matched with was initially concerned about how helpful she would be considering that she was not that far ahead of me in terms of career stage. However, sometimes just being able to talk with a mentor one step ahead is useful. We got along very well and she proved to be an amazing mentor who would listen attentively and offer her advice or perspectives based on her personal experiences about a range of work-life topics. We continued to stay in contact, even after the mentoring pilot programme officially ended and even after she left Bristol for a new position. Overall, I thought the mentoring match was highly successful and we learned a lot from each other during the process, so I would highly recommend any potential mentors who are hesitant to sign up, because they can certainly make a huge difference to a mentee, no matter what stage he/she is career-wise. My positive experience as a mentee has helped me in my own role as a mentor.”

Get involved

If you are Research Staff, and in Science, Engineering, Arts or Social Sciences and Law (Life and Health… coming soon), you can sign up for the March-Sept mentoring cycle now.

If you’d like to become mentor either for this cycle, or for the future, then please also sign up.

Other events coming up:

Peer to Peer Mentoring – Tuesday 29 January, 14:30 – 16:30

Academic Journeys Event – Friday 22 February, 14:00 – 16:00

NEW Early Career and Post PhD funding for Industry engagement and skills training from the BBSRC

Forwarded from RED:

BBSRC have awarded the University of Bristol £251K to run a Flexible Talent Mobility Account (FTMA 2) until 31st December 2021.

The FTMA is targeted at talented early career researchers (ECRs), postdoctoral researchers, PhD students who have submitted their thesis and those early in their career who are equivalent to BBSRC David Phillips Fellows or equivalent from industry (PGRs) who have the potential to be the next generation of leaders within UK academic and industrial research.

(Translation: This means that the UoB has been given funds to support researchers to spend time training and preparing to move (or to be ready to move) outside of academia and into industry (usually) – see below for what can be applied for – usually secondments, placements, or other specific ‘mobility’ training).

The deadline is the 11th February.

The focus areas are:

1) Innovation Fellowships. Through awards of up to £20,000 we will support the mobility of talented ECRs and industrialists to realise the potential of their research and innovation. Secondments will take place in areas which align to Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) themes of: ‘early diagnosis and precision medicine, leading-edge healthcare, transforming food production, and manufacturing and materials’. The duration and nature of each secondment will be determined case-by-case. Secondments may be up to 6 months, carried out as a block of time or a series of shorter visits, to maximise exposure to different research environments and technologies and to facilitate new interactions or support established collaborations. Inward secondments to the University will be designed to align with company needs. International mobility: 25% of the funding available is ring-fenced as part of the Rutherford Fund, to recruit researchers from outside of the United Kingdom (including UK Nationals) to live and work in the UK for the duration of their award. See Guidance and Innovation Fellowship Application form.
Funded Awards need to be spent by 31/12/2021.

2) Innovation Placements. These awards are up to £15,000 to support Submitted Postgraduate Students (S-PGs) to second into Industry for up to 3 months. Projects should align to the ISCF themes given above. We are looking for novel ideas that develop new collaborations with Industrial partners and have a transformative impact on the careers of our talented students. See Guidance and Innovation Placement Application form.
Funded Awards need to be spent by 31/11/2020.

3) Prospective Engagement Awards of up to £1,000 to support ECRs on short visits to companies of interest in the UK and abroad to explore secondment and collaboration opportunities. We want this fund to help develop ECR’s/PGR’s own relationships with Industry and develop their own network and understanding of industry prioritises, aiming to create the next generation of Research Industrialists. Eligible costs are travel and subsistence. See Guidance and Prospective Engagement Application form.
Funded Awards need to be spent by 31/12/2021.

4) Skills Development and Training awards enabling ECRs to take training opportunities tailored to their development needs: these may be internal or external courses and seminars. The ambition of the fund is to create a step change in the translational culture of our ECRs by enabling them to acquire new translational skills, recognise innovative starting points for translation. Eligible costs are course, travel and subsistence costs. See Guidance and Training Application form.
Funded Awards need to be spent by 31/12/2021.

If you are interested, then please contact lisa.kehoe@bristol.ac.uk, RED, Knowledge Exchange Associate (KEA) for Life Sciences to discuss your ideas for secondments, prospective engagement and/or training.

And… that’s a WriteFest wrap!

It’s the 30th November. Which means that tomorrow it’ll be the 1st December. Which means that Academic Writing Month, aka WriteFest 2018, is done!

So what have we achieved

Well, this month, as a university, we’ve produced

  • 3 video shorts containing 9 writing tips
  • 9 book reviews on how to write books
  • 5 weeks of activities
  • 4 drop-in writing days
  • 4 writing workshops
  • 3 thesis bootcamp days
  • 3 writer’s retreats
  • Several other blog posts
  • 1 limerick (a bad one)
  • … and written 373,000 (approx) words.

(All sung to the tune of ‘On the first day of Christmas’)

It’s not just about the words, or the events though. Because what comes from writing is theses, and articles, and books, and grant proposals, and job applications, and these lead to PhDs, and grants, and publications on CVs, and jobs.

So, we have reason to be proud. And next year, we’ll try and do more.

Thanks for spending the month with us!

 

 

 

 

 

Writers on writing, and their blogs

This month, we’ve published reviews on books on writing by a number of authors. We thought it would be useful to collect their blogs together into a handy reference list. So… here it is:

Margaret Atwood – OK, so she’s not really a writer on writing… more just a writer, but she did write “On writers and writing“, which Bradon reviewed for us, so she’s in the list. Her blog is interesting actually, as it gives an insight into the many and varied things that a writer does – and the way that she organises all of those around, and in addition to, her actually writing!

Paul Silvia‘s blog is… um, nothing to do with writing. He tells us on the ‘about’ page that he’s a college professor, and writer, but that in his spare time, he adjusts watches. And that’s what his blog is about: adjusting vintage watches. I actually kind of like the surprise of this, I think because it challenges our vision of a typical academic who lives, breathes and eats their work. Paul is just a normal person who… adjusts vintage watches.

Joli Jensen is an academic who writes about writing. And country music.

I can’t find a blog for Rowena Murray (perhaps she spends so much time writing for publication that she doesn’t blog… worth a thought!?), but her writing retreat pages are at http://www.anchorage-education.co.uk and she points people to the Research Whisperer’s blog for material on postdoctoral writing.

Pat Thomson‘s blog contains information on her academic work as well as guidance on writing. For an angle into writing content, use the ‘academic writing’ category link, or click here (where I’ve done it for you).

Helen Sword doesn’t really have a blog, but she does have a site. I did also find this blog by her, but it seems to have not been updated for a couple of years.

Finally… Joshua Shimel‘s blog is, in his own words, a “space to follow up on thoughts and topics that didn’t make it into Writing Science.” It’s a heady mix of writing guidance, and general opinions on the state of Science writing, and the state of US Higher Education in his field.