Find your Why…

We all know that we’re researchers… and that researchers research stuff… But, if I asked you to tell me why you do what you do in one sentence, could you tell me?

If you can’t – then perhaps you need to find your why.

Find your Why’ is a concept created by Simon Sinek who believes that each of us has a ‘why’ at our core. Our ‘why’ affects the decisions we make and is the inner driver for why we do what we do. Our ‘why’ is the reason we get out of bed in the morning, the thing that makes our lives worth living.

Sinek believes that most of us know what we do…. “I’m a Research Associate”

He believes that we know how we do it … “I run tests in a lab / I create new technologies /I look at the worlds history/ I study the earth etc….”

But most of us never stop to think about why we do what we do.

Finding your ‘why’ is all about digging deep to explore who you are as a whole and find that unique ‘why’ that makes you tick.

Why is ‘why’ Important?

Why is important for you on a personal level because you’ll find energy a lot more sustainable if you act in harmony with your why. When you are faced with choices, if you are making a decision that aligns with your why, then that decision is likely to bring you greater fulfilment and contentment than a decision that goes against your ‘why’. Knowing your why can help you to show up as who you want to be in the world.

But why is also very important for us as researchers because the ‘why’ of research is what hooks people’s interest and gets them to back what we do.

Consider these examples:

“I analyse microbes. My research is ground-breaking. It could change the world.”

“I change the world. I do it by carrying out groundbreaking health research. I analyse microbes.”

Who would you rather listen to?

How to discover your why…

Whys are strange things – because they tend to float to the surface in everything that you do.

Simon Sinek’s why is “To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, we can change our world”, and this has come out in all the different areas of work that he’s been involved in.

So, sometimes it’s enough to just look back and see if there’s a common thread.

Mike – for example – has worked in education, in a bank, for a charity, with children, and now with researchers… but in all those situations, he’s found himself challenging people to recognise that the way things are isn’t the way that they have to be… and to see that change is possible.

Katie – for example – has worked in a museum, for a council, as a self-employed artist, and now as a researcher development advisor… but in all those situations, she’s gravitated towards supporting people to make the most of the opportunities that they have.

What if it’s not that simple?

If you can’t see a common thread, then you can start to ask yourself…

What do you do?

… Why?

… And why is that important?

… And why is that important? 

… And… (guess what?)… why?

Or start to ask yourself deep questions (!)

“If you knew you were about to die, what’s the one message you’d like to leave behind for people to think about?”

Or more superficial ones.

“If you went to work in a [insert completely different sector here], what’s the job that you’d really like to do there?”

Try and write a ‘Why statement.’

When you have some ideas, then try and write a ‘why statement’.

Mike: “I believe Higher Education could be radically different… so I try to model new forms of research environment at the UoB… I work in researcher development”.

Katie: “I believe that people are important… so, I set up opportunities for people to develop… I organise the Bristol Clear mentoring scheme”.

You: “I believe that… so I …. I do…  ”

Start living your why

Some people may find their ‘why’s’ quite quickly but for others it may not be so obvious or instant (Katie still struggles to find hers). It may be something you need to explore for weeks, months or years in order to clarify it, and that’s ok.  The closer we get to finding our ‘why’s’ then the more we can live in harmony with it.

Finding your why can potentially be quite alarming. You may find that you have strayed away from your why and that you are doing something that you don’t want to do or behaving in a way you don’t want to behave. It may require you to make a change in some area of your life which can be scary. However, by taking steps towards living our why it will always lead to a more purpose filled life.

So next time you have a big decision to make, an event where you’ll be networking with others or you’re thinking about how to start your grant application… consider starting with why.

Resources:

Simon Sinek webpage

Find your why Book – by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek – Ted Talk

Bristol Clear – Year round up

And…. that’s a wrap! This week saw the last workshops that Bristol Clear will run for this academic year. Here is a round-up of what’s been on offer since our launch last October, and what we’ve learned for next year.

Before that, though, we have to say thank you… to you! If you didn’t attend the training, participate in writing retreats, book onto 1:1’s, sign up for mentoring, complete our surveys, or read any of our emails, we’d be finishing the year empty-handed. But because you get involved, we have masses to show for the last year.

Training

We’ve run 36 training sessions across the year and trained 530 people. (that’s over a third of the entire research staff community at Bristol!).

This year’s training was similar to last year’s, covering a range of topics that draws on the full scope of the Researcher Development Framework. Topics like careers, grants, writing & publishing, engagement, policy, communication & impact, research project management and personal effectiveness.

What we did differently this year was release the training schedule further in advance to allow you to sign up earlier. This has encouraged people to plan their training better… so we’ll be doing that again next year.

What we also need to do next year is let you know more about what’s coming up closer to the date. So that you can book on, and take advantage of any drop-outs, if you missed the original call.

Careers drop-in

Careers drop-ins were a new initiative this year, 19 were run across the latter half of the year. These sessions give you space to do your own careers research, check a CV, ask a question, or work on job or grant applications. We make laptops available so that you can explore online careers tools, a growing bank of our own online guidance, books and other resources aimed specifically at postdoctoral career level and a quiet space for you to focus.

These have been growing in popularity, but we think we can do more to advertise them… after all, you told us in CROS that you don’t have time to develop your career outside of your normal daily work – and these drop-ins provide just that opportunity.

Writers Retreats’

A day where you can step out of your norm and focus solely on writing – what a luxury! We saw how much you valued these sessions and so this year upped the number of writers retreats’ to one a month. We ran 9 in total at nearly full capacity each time!

Just think what you could achieve by taking out just one full day a month to write!

1:1’s

75 of you have taken advantage of a half-hour coaching session with one of our staff development officers. These are often about careers decisions. But we’ve also talked about things like prioritising writing, negotiating the authorship position you want on a paper, and planning a tricky conversation with a PI.

Mentoring

In September 2018 we launched the Bristol Clear Mentoring Scheme. We’ve run two cohorts so far (Sept 2018, and March 2019) and created 37 (you tell us ‘high quality’) mentor/mentee matches. The scheme will open to all faculties come September 2019 and we’d expect it to then grow considerably.

Alongside one to one matches, we’ve run Academic journeys events, where academics talk candidly about their own journeys through mentoring. We’ve also run several peer to peer events when staff could practice mentoring with each other and gain the benefits of being mentored by a peer.

Writefest

In November, we worked with the Bristol Doctoral College to run a month focused on academic writing. Throughout the month there were 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 boot camp days, 3 writer’s retreats and 373,000 (approx) words written! Phew… roll on WriteFest2019!

The Post Doc Residential

In May 2019 we ran a 2-day residential for new postdocs. Those who attended spent two days, away from their everyday work, thinking about questions like: Where have you come from? Where are you heading? What are your values? Why do you do what you do? How can you be as productive as possible, and What do you need to do next?

Feedback was generally very positive, with some good ideas about how to improve the experience. One person found it truly transformative, saying

It was fantastic! I came away completely different, I’ve never had a professional development experience like this, it changed the way I feel about my career. I would like more early career staff to be able to experience this

More Communication:

In addition to these events, we’ve renewed and reshaped some of our communication. We’re now using Twitter (@UoB_Researchers), and have introduced this blog – which has run 35 blog posts through the year. We’ve also introduced the weekly Friday bulletins to keep you all up to date with what’s going on.

And other things:

And then there are lots of other things that we also do that are probably less visible: support the Reps network and the work of the Research Staff Working Party, meet with Heads of School, run the CROS survey, etc.

They are hugely important, though, as they support everything else that we aim to do.

This summer, particularly, we’ll be working on analysing the CROS data, and getting an action plan ready for next year.

And that will also detail our programme for next year, so look out on our webpages and blog for updates on what we’ll be doing for 2019/2020!

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.

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.  

 

 

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…

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

 

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