Bristol Clear – we’re here if you need to talk

With all that is going on at the moment, we realise that many of you may be finding the situation challenging. Working in unfamiliar ways, and in unfamiliar environments, you may be struggling to know how to do your job, how to structure your time, and how to access the support that would normally be in place from colleagues and the university. More importantly, you might be dealing with new worries – about loved ones and how they are coping, or about your own health and work both now, and in the future.

There is no clear end to the current situation. And so, to support you, we’ve made some changes to our existing provision to make it more accessible to you. We’ve also added some additional provision that is specifically there to support you through the next few months.

Please read on to find out how our support will change, and what more we’re offering.

Training

Our face to face training and workshops will be moving online where possible. We’re currently talking with our training-providers about how we’re going to do this, when, and what form their training will take.

If you are booked onto a workshop or retreat, we will be in touch with you directly when we know more.

Writers’ retreats

All physical writers’ retreats will be moved online. We’re exploring technology that will not only allow us to preserve the peer support of being ‘in the room’ but will also open participation up to a wider audience (including those on the waiting list!). We’ll be able to use this experience to enhance the retreats when we are able to return to normal.

If you’re booked onto a writers’ retreat, we’ll be in touch with a ‘how to’ guide shortly.

1:1s

We can no longer offer face to face career-focused 1:1s. However, anyone who has one booked or who is on the waiting list will be contacted to be told how we will run all of these remotely.

In addition, we are setting up regular, weekly, virtual 1:1 chats for you to talk with someone about how you are finding the current situation. So, if you are struggling with working from home, managing or structuring your day or maintaining your motivation for example, you can talk to us. These can be used for any topic: professional or personal, and are bookable through: https://calendly.com/bristol-clear-1-1-chats/1-1-chats.

Please note, if you are fortunate to have a strong support network, please allow others to take priority so that we can reach those most in need, most quickly.

Mentoring

The Bristol Clear Mentoring scheme continues, but moves online.

All of those who signed up for the current cycle will be hearing shortly who their mentor/mentee will be, and will also receive information about how to set up a virtual meeting.

The Bristol Clear blog

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be using this space to support you to make the most of remote working by looking at how you can structure your time, write effectively at home, protect your well-being (particularly in this period of ‘waiting’), and use social media to stay connected with others and make your work more visible.

We’ll also use this blog to point to other sources of online training.

Bristol Clear emails

We’ll be mainly using email to send out updates, and signpost additional sources of information and support, so – if you are filtering – please keep emails from bristol-clear@bristol.ac.uk out of SPAM. We will temporarily pause sending out the Bristol Clear Bulletin and instead will send individual timely emails with key information about new initiatives, support and opportunities.

Twitter

You can also follow us on Twitter, @UoB_Researchers.

 

Creating the best culture for researchers to thrive

…is the aim of the recently updated “Concordat to support the Career Development of Researchers”. In an earlier blogpost we offered some of our reflections and thoughts on what the 2019 version of the Concordat might look like. Now that the updated Concordat is published, and we as the University of Bristol have signed up to it, what does it actually mean?

We are all responsible for creating a positive environment to thrive in

The Concordat sets out that the responsibility for implementing the Concordat, and therefore the responsibility for creating a positive culture in which researchers can thrive, is a joint responsibility. We are all responsible for creating this change. We, that is institutions (the University), funders, managers of researchers (PIs, Heads of Schools), and last but not least researchers (you!).

This means that the University of Bristol will be working to create the work environment, policies and practices which will allow researchers to thrive. The University is developing an action plan for the implementation of the Concordat, which it will be held accountable for.

We will be working with managers of researchers to offer support and information to help them support you effectively.

And we will be supporting you as researchers directly, by continuing to offer you development opportunities, career support and clarity, and by working closely with you to identify what support you need the most.

But no support, no policy, no action plan will make any difference if individuals don’t play their part in the story. Only if we all work together towards this goal of creating a positive and supportive culture is there a chance for it to become reality.

 

What can you do?

As a first step, familiarise yourself with the Concordat and reflect on its expectations of you. Start having conversations with your PI/manager about the Concordat, and explore together how you can use this as a framework to create this positive environment, and to develop your career.

You may want to map your skills against the Researcher Development Framework and use this as a starting point for your continuing development. Check for staff development opportunities, 1:1 appointments, find mentors if you haven’t got any already (you may want to use the Bristol Clear Mentoring Scheme which has 2 cohort intakes per year), and talk to your Rep if you have any suggestions or would like to highlight any issues.

We believe that together we can make a difference, so we are looking forward to continuing to talk to, and work with, you over the coming weeks and months.

 

Core Values

Core Values

When thinking about career development, core values really are something to take into consideration. If you’re not sure what yours are, or you’ve never heard of core values before – read on to understand a key tool in thinking about your next career steps.

What are core values?

Core values are a set of values or beliefs that are fundamentally important to you as a person. We all have them, and they will be different for each of us.

They could be things such as autonomy, security, creativity, wealth, expertise, equality, kindness… the list goes on. But what it comes down to is the fact that there will be a few on that list that you will want to uphold and live by above all others… They are at the very core of who you are and what you believe.

Why are core values important?

Your values will affect the way you behave and your decision making. In short, they affect how you live your life. They are still there working in the background, even if you don’t consciously know what they are.

You’ll know that they exist because when you are living a life that is consistent with your values you will feel content, satisfied and all will feel right with the world. However, when you are going against your values, making decisions or behaving in a way that does not uphold your values you are likely to feel discomfort, unease and like something is just wrong… that sinking feeling in your stomach – a kind of gut instinct.

Becoming aware of what those values are can help you to make decisions to live a life more aligned with what is important to you. For example, if you value security, how comfortable will you be knowing that to be in a research career you are likely to be on fixed-term contracts or constantly bidding for last-minute funding? On the flip side if you value freedom, it is worth considering if a core-funded position like a lectureship will give you the freedom you crave?

How to identify my values?

So how do you find out what your values are? One way is to look at a list of values and see what resonates with you. There are many online or you can use the one linked below.

You’re looking for just a few… the really important ones.

If you struggle, then see if you can create categories of ‘I really don’t care about this’, ‘I care about this, but I can compromise’, and ‘I absolutely will never compromise on this’.

That refusal to compromise gives you another way to explore your values. When was the last time you got really angry with a situation? What was it exactly that made you angry? Why did you care?

It’s likely that, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find that someone ‘stepped on’ one of your values (or worse, forced you into a position where you had to ‘betray’ your own values).

The hard bit – making changes

Many things can stop us from making the changes we need to make, to live in a way that is more aligned with our values; Habits, lifestyle, peer pressure, fear… all these things can keep us where we are even if we don’t feel great about where that is.

So how far might you want, or need, to redress the balance?

Be aware that there are no hard and fast rules about this. Each of us is different, and has different tolerances for misalignment, for different reasons, at different times.

And so there is no judgement either.

For that researcher who needs security, they might decide that they will embrace instability, for a period of time, in order to work towards a more permanent academic position.

Or… they might begin to look for a role that gives them more security.

And, for that researcher who revels in the autonomy of a research position, they might decide that they can build that freedom into a permanent academic post… or that the compromise of lost freedom is justified by having a stronger platform of influence for their work.

Or… they might decide that they value the freedom more, and – even though it’s potentially precarious – remain as a researcher.

The difference for both will, though, likely be that having identified their core values, and negotiated with themselves a solution that acknowledges and respects those core values, they will be at peace with the solution that they adopt.

 

Resources

Values sheet

What Are Your Values? From mindTools

Academic Journeys – Personal Career Story: Richard Pancost

Dr Richard Pancost – Professor of Biogeochemistry, Head of School for the School of Earth Sciences and a speaker from a former Academic Journeys event talks on the Bristol Clear blog about his personal career story. Richard talks on what sparked his passion for his subject, the thrills vs the sacrifice of academic life and the decisions that have led him to where he is now.

What I do:

I study how the Earth works as a system, how all of the biological, climatic, geological and chemical components interact today and how they interacted in the past.  I was also Director of the Cabot Institute, which was a chance to not only work across disciplines and research environmental problems but to support a wide range of academics and partners studying solutions to those problems.  Currently, as Head of School, I have all sorts of new obligations but am particularly enjoying connecting to a new group of amazing students.

Why Academia?:

How I ended up in academia and even higher education is a complicated question.  Part of it was because I was good at it: I was smart, good at exams and course work and got good grades.  Part of it was because I loved it; I followed every Shuttle launch and was glued to the television as Voyager 1 and 2 whipped past Jupiter and Saturn. And part of it was because it could get me out of poverty.  I try not to overly mythologise growing up on a small dairy farm in Ohio, but I did love it.  I loved working outside and working with my family.  But I also hated the machinery, the brutality of it; the ceaselessness of farm life, no matter if you are sick or if there is a heat wave or a blizzard; the uncertainty, the worry, the continuous worry about the weather and the bills. It seemed like we were always talking about bills – for the farm equipment, the mortgage, the water and electricity, the dentist and the doctor…. 

 So university always seemed inevitable.  I could go. I wanted to go.  I needed to go.

College was fantastic.  I loved the intellectual freedom and the variety.  My god, especially the variety.  Then and now, that has to be one of the most amazing things about academia.  Every day is different.  Every hour is different.  I had come to college to study astrophysics.  Or political science. Or literature.  In the end, I studied geology. I loved it all.  [During the summer after my Freshman Year, with discussions of environmental crises beginning to trouble the news, with my family’s farm seen in a new light after being away for a year, and with my interest in both science and politics growing, I decided I would merge my interests.  I would study geology and then go on to Law School and become an environmental lawyer.

However, it also took a long and awkward time for me to fit in, this farm boy at a big university, first generation, working class, a bit of a country hick. I had support, but I wish that support had been more aware.  I wish that they could have seen past my good grades and enthusiasm for scholarship and seen the kid who was suffering from anger and anxiety. I wish they could have seen that my bravado was a lie and that my cuts and bruises were a sign of someone using sports and contests to inflict self-harm. I wish that I had been more self-aware.  I wish that I had realised that some of my actions were signs of self-doubt, fear of appearing foolish or uncool, and anger at being mocked and poor and unable to afford what others could.

But friends – even those who inadvertently made me feel that way – supported me. Lecturers championed me.  And helped me financially.  They paid me on internships and work study and once, when money was really tight, even to paint their house. And they taught me with passion and love for the subject. They gave me good grades; and when I was complacent, they gave me my first bad grades.  They were patient and then impatient and patient again.  And finally, they gave me advice, support and wisdom.  I graduated top in my class and won a PhD Fellowship to the Department of Geosciences at Penn State. 

There are two stories that explain why I went to graduate school rather than becoming an environmental lawyer, and they are both true in their own way.  In the first, Geology stole me from that path by showing me a stunning and beautiful world: I found my first fossil in the Cleveland Shale in Rocky River Park; I felt my first sense of wonder at geological time in an outcrop teeming with Ordovician brachiopods and trilobites in the Cincinatti Arch; I marvelled at the forces that had shaped the Appalachian Mountains. And then, in the summer of 1991, my field project in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, one of the most beautiful parts of the world, revealed to me 500 million years of Earth history over the course of an exhausting, exhilarating, sweaty, blistering, eye-opening summer.  

And the second story? I would have had to go further into debt to attend Law School, whereas graduate school would pay me a stipend. That’s all. You don’t always get to make your own choices.

My career path / the big decisions:

 I loved graduate school, but the first two years were a battle.  A battle to flip from being a straight-A student who had excelled at learning and tests, who could solve problems and equations to a scientist who could conceive new ideas, new questions and design the experiments to test them.  I had a brilliant supervisor – Kate Freeman – but also a network of mentors and advisers across the department who tolerated my fumbling journey, pushed me at times, and let me make a few astonishingly poor decisions – but not too poor. I was allowed to learn and to fail and learn again.  And it was frustrating and it was amazing and always always always interesting.  

And thrilling.  Nothing is as thrilling as discovering something, whether it be something fundamentally new, like a new biogeochemical pathway or a new compound, or even just being the first person in the world to analyse a particular rock.  And related to that is the thrill of having an idea, nursing it, testing it, patiently, rigorously and then proving it right – bringing a new sense of understanding into the world.

 So clearly I was hooked.  I would finish my PhD.  Get a post-doc. And then get an academic job. And I am still hooked, almost like a drug, addicted to those thrills, those moments of discovery, those moments when you know something – even if it is just a small something – about the universe that no one else does. And then sharing that with the world. 

But addictions require sacrifice.  The post-doc opportunity was in the Netherlands.  I’d only been out of the country once before and no one else in my family even owned passports. You don’t travel when you have no money.  You don’t travel when you own a dairy farm. My parents always wanted the best for me, they wanted me to go to college, they wanted me to excel and to be successful; but at heart, we were still a farm family from Ohio and they never thought I would move that far away.  

But I did.  And then I made that permanent when I moved to Bristol.  I have no regrets about those moves; I love this University, my School, my discipline, this city and my academic career.  But it would be a lie to say that this career does not demand sacrifices from us.  It would be a lie to say that this move was not hard and painful, that it has not had consequences, that family connections are more fragile and that some have been lost.  My parents cannot fly, they still do not have passports; they have never seen my house or my home or my city.

My advice to my younger self:

 I’d tell him that he could ask for help. I’d tell this kid, who was proud of his working class background but who had also buried some anxiety and fear and anger,  that he could ask for help.  That it is not a sign of weakness.  

And I’d tell him that we always have choices. They can come with financial or emotional risk, but we do have them.  You can embrace the addiction of academic life or you can kick the habit if the thrill is not worth the sacrifice. I think he would have made all of the same decisions, but I wish he had known that the world is vast and full of options.  I would tell him that he will have an amazing life no matter what choices he makes as long as he remains true to himself and his values.  

And he’d probably have some advice for me as well.  

 

 

Academic Journeys – Personal Career Story: Alison Gregory.

Dr Alison Gregory, Research Fellow (Traumatised and Vulnerable Populations), a speaker from a former Academic Journeys event talks on the Bristol Clear blog about her personal career story, how she has navigated academia, the big decisions and what she wished she’d know from the start.

What I do:

‘It might be nothing, but it could mean everything’ – you’ve spotted something odd happening in the relationship of someone close to you. They may be a relative, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, or a parent you see in the playground after school. It may be that you’ve never met their partner, or that their partner seems wonderful, but there’s a nagging feeling inside that something’s not quite right. You ask yourself, “Should I do something? Say something?” But your doubts tell you “It’s a private matter. What if I make it worse? Get it wrong? Offend the person?” This is the research area I’ve been studying for the past 8 years. I started with a PhD (On the outside looking in: the shared burden of domestic violence) exploring the impacts for people providing support in an informal capacity to women who had experienced domestic violence. With two subsequent fellowships (NIHR SPCR and EBI funded), I have been developing this work by: supporting related public health campaigns across the UK, conducting further research with informal supporters and specialist helpline staff, developing national and international collaborations, and producing training materials for professionals. Having carried out this crucial groundwork, I’m now at the point (with an AXA Research Fund fellowship) where I can begin developing and piloting an intervention, targeted specifically for informal supporters. My hope is to produce something tangible, which genuinely has dual-benefit; benefiting, supporting and improving safety for both informal supporters and consequently survivors.

Why Academia?:

As a former 9-year-old who aspired to be an air hostess, I regularly ask myself the question, “how on earth did I end up here?”. I took a rather meandering and perhaps less-usual route towards academia. Having completed an undergraduate degree in Maths and Psychology, I never saw myself working in a university. Instead, I spend many years in practitioner and managerial roles in the NHS and for the police. I retrained as a person-centred counsellor and sought additional employment that I could undertake alongside my practitioner role, and that’s when I spotted a part-time role in what is now the Centre for Academic Primary Care. Starting on a project to train GPs and nurses how to inquire, and response to disclosures, about domestic violence felt like a good fit – my first ever counselling client had been a healthcare professional, who was herself experiencing subtle but dangerous partner abuse. Once part of this field, my interest in friends and family members began to grow, not least because I found myself in exactly their position, with several people disclosing their own experiences to me or seeking my advice about how to help someone they knew. So, why have I remained in academia? Well, primarily because I believe that this research is needed and that it will genuinely make a difference in the world. There are days, particularly when I’ve been sat in front of a screen for too long, that this doesn’t feel the case. However, taking opportunities in the course of my work to spend time with people directly affected – whether survivors, informal supporters, front-line specialist staff or service commissioners reignites my sense of purpose and commitment. Now, as a Research Fellow, I feel I get the best of both worlds; I have enough independence to pursue the work I consider important, using the methods I feel most appropriate and respectful to participants, whilst still maintaining a very hands-on role, in which I regularly meet participants face-to-face.

My career path & the big decisions:

Making the decision to remain a pathway 2 researcher has been a mixed-blessing and certainly one I continually grapple with; it provides very little in the way of job security and stability, but it does mean that I remain a researcher first-and-foremost with greater flexibility to steer the direction of my proposals. And having great mentors, with whom I can be completely honest, has been invaluable to me, as I’ve navigated the highs and lows resulting both from that decision and from others regarding the mysterious and sometimes thorny academic world.

My advice to my younger self:

Each time that I’ve managed to secure funding, I’ve wished that I’d worried less about how I was going to keep myself financially afloat. There is certainly a degree of ‘luck’ and timing in this, rather bonkers, academic context, but resilience, persistence and endurance are also key; I wish I’d understood from the outset that this is definitely a marathon, not a sprint!


For a chance to hear from academic staff members, discussing their own personal career stories about their journeys in academic, and who has helped, influenced and inspired them along the way, book onto our next event:

Academic Journeys, Thursday 4th April, 14:00 – 16:00 – Book your place

 

What does success look like to you?

Last year I attended Bristol Clear’s first residential – ‘making the most of your first post doc.’ A topic that was explored was ‘What is success?’ and it’s been something that has been on my mind ever since.

Free Solo

I recently watched a film ‘Free Solo’, about a man, Alex Honnold, a mountain climber. He is no ordinary climber as he sometimes climbs ‘free solo’ or in other words – without any equipment. No ropes, no harnesses. Just him, his hands and the mountain.

The film followed Alex as he prepared to climb El Capitan, a 3,000ft high granite wall in Yosemite National park ‘free solo’. Some of the shots were enough to make my legs turn to jelly while I was just sitting in my cinema seat! He would be the first person in the world to do this and *Spoiler* he succeeds.

But I came out of the cinema asking myself – “Why would anyone do that!?”

What’s the driving force?

What stuck with me after the film was something Alex said “Nobody achieves anything great by being happy and cosy.” Alex was comparing his idea on the ‘point of life’ to his girlfriend’s who couldn’t for the life of her understand why anyone would put themselves in such danger… she wanted to live a long and happy life, spending her time with the people she loves.

It made me think – these are two people with very different definitions of what a successful life looks like, but really what it comes down to is their core values.

Core Values

At the Residential last year, I learnt that we all have core values. These are core beliefs which we each hold and they are fundamental to who we are. They are individual to each of us and they drive our behaviour and what decisions we make.

Values drive how you see success

When we are living in line with our values we are likely to feel a sense of things being ‘right’, however, if you’re behaving in a way that goes against your values, this is likely to cause you inner turmoil and you may feel like you’re swimming against the tide.

Taking Alex Honnald as an example, he dropped out of college and spent years living in a van as a self-proclaimed ‘dirtbag’, while he honed his climbing skills in the mountains. For some people – this could look like a life of failure (no job, no house, no relationship, no income – the traditional things our society expects of us). But for Alex, he was living the dream. He was living a life of success – or his definition of it.

For Alex, it is clear he is not driven by material objects, wealth or status. The values which drive him to climb with no ropes may be something like ‘performance’, ‘achievement’ or ‘challenge’. He probably also has values like ‘adventure’ which is why he feels most alive when climbing and being able to travel around the world in his van to climb ever-more-dangerous rock faces.

His girlfriend Sanni, on the other hand, didn’t need to be ‘the best’ at something. Instead, she only needed to spend time with those she loved, building those relationships, to feel content and happy and successful.

Live in line with your values

So if we want to live more successful lives, perhaps instead of asking ourselves what success “should” look like, we should be asking, what does success look like to ME personally?

  • Are you an Alex or are you a Sanni? Or are you somewhere in the middle?
  • If you’re in the middle, what are the things that you will/won’t compromise?
  • Are your values the same as they always were? Or have they changed?

Then, the interesting question is whether the success that we target really matches our values?

  • If not, then can success and values be brought back into line?
  • What are the consequences of doing that?
  • What are the consequences of not doing that?

I’m not saying that there’s a ‘right’ way to think about this. But there will be a balance that is right for you, to achieve success in the areas that you want to.

So have a think, discover your values, and then think about what changes you may need to make to find your very own version of success.

The importance of mentoring

About a year ago I took on a new role in the Bristol Clear Team. The team has been built around Claire and Mike’s vision for a mentoring scheme for our research staff. This was part of my new role, to help build, manage and grow the scheme. Now, mentoring was a new concept to me and I’ve not had much to do with it before, but a year into my new role, here is what I’ve come to learn about mentoring and why it is so important.

You have the power

What I’ve come to realise is that no one can tell you what to do, what path to take in life, how to achieve a goal or fix a problem. (No matter how much you may want someone to tell you those things! – that would be so much easier, right?) But sadly no one can do that for you. Only you have the answers about what is right for you. However, once you grasp that concept, that can make you powerful. Just think of that… you have the power to do whatever you want and make your life however you want it to be…

Face the fear

But along with this powerful realisation, comes the fear. The realisation that where you are now and where you want to be is totally down to you – that can be a pretty scary thought.

But that is why mentoring can be so vital.

A mentor’s importance

A mentor is someone impartial, a non-judgmental person who you can bounce your ideas off. Ask a question that you may not dare to voice to your colleagues. Perhaps speak out loud your ambition of that dream job that feels totally out of reach at the moment or that crazy idea that you’ve kept to yourself because it’s just too ‘out there’.

A mentor is someone who can act as a sounding board for those ideas.

They can help you to work out the answer to that question.

They could help you think about the steps you need to take to get that dream job and work out goals you may need to put in place to make it achievable.

They can challenge you about how to make that ‘crazy idea’ a reality, which may perhaps lead to a lightbulb moment.

No one does it alone

Mentoring is about taking responsibility for your choices. Being bold enough to face your dreams, ambitions and fear. Working out what you want, what your options are and taking action to bring what you want to fruition. But, most importantly, knowing that you don’t have to do it alone.

So, what I’m saying is – we all need a little help sometimes, whether that be in the form a supporting guide, a push outside our comfort zone, or someone to set you a challenge. A mentor can be all these things and more.

Come to think of it…. I think I need to find myself a mentor!

Get involved

Find out more about The Bristol Clear Mentoring Scheme.

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.

Other mentoring events coming up:

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

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

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