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

 

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…)

Dealing with writing-related anxiety

Different writers enjoy diverse parts of the writing process but all writers experience writing-related anxiety at some point in their writing lives. Whether you are worried you haven’t found that one bit of evidence that disproves your theory, or you feel like you can’t communicate your ideas well, or that, today, you simply have no ideas to communicate, it is a normal part of the writing process. Some days, writing will be slow. Often, these are the days when you are creating something exciting and complicated – relax and remember that you are doing something difficult and that can take time. Other days, you will simply feel tired and disheartened. Either way, here are a couple of techniques that can help you feel calmer about your writing:

Planning your day

It can be difficult to start your writing day, to dirty that clean white page with your unformed thoughts. This can cause anxiety, making it feel impossible to start. Planning carefully and setting goals for a writing day can help with these feelings. Think about how much writing time you have today (remember to allow long breaks and a good lunch) and then divide your day up between your tasks. Look at the overall plan for the piece you are working on a select a few sections to work on today. Write them separately so you aren’t distracted by the big picture. Be realistic. For example:

9.15-9.30am                Set goals for the day. Do a quick writing warm up.

9.30-10.45 am             Finish overview on chicken’s eating habits

10.45-11.15am            Break

11.15-12.45pm            Write section on beaks

12.45-1.45pm              Lunch

1.45-3.15pm                Write section on grains

3.15-3.45pm                Break

3.45-5.00pm                Re-read today’s writing and do a quick edit then plan for your next writing session

Just having a structure to work to, and a plan for the day, can make the work seem more manageable. The more you plan like this, the more realistic you become, and the less you punish yourself for not achieving unrealistic goals.

Ask yourself some key questions using Who, What, Where, Why, When and What

Sometimes it can be useful to go back to basics. Anxiety can be caused by a fear of missing something important. Doing an exercise like this can help you marshal your thoughts. For example, this is one of mine for an article on drinking in Wuthering Heights:

Who is Hindley?

What is habitual drunkenness?

Where does the action take place?

Why is drinking important to this novel?

When is it set?

What does Emily’s attention to Domestic Medicine reveal about Hindley’s drinking?

It only took 10 minutes to write these questions and reflect on some possible answers but it helped me remember the key things I needed to include and helped me to remind myself why my research was important/useful/different.

If you aren’t sure how to do this, try using Brown’s 8 questions:

  1. Who are intended readers? (3-5 names)
  2. What did you do? (50 words)
  3. Why did you do it? (50 words)
  4. What happened? (50 words)
  5. What do results mean in theory? (50 words)
  6. What do results mean in practice? (50 words)
  7. What is the key benefit for readers (25 words)
  8. What remains unresolved? (no word limit)

Reflect positively on the work you have done so far by creating a reverse outline

This is particularly effective in the editing stages. Without editing your text (sit on your hands if necessary), read through your work so far and write a reverse outline.[1] This means writing a couple of words, or a couple of sentences, beside each paragraph summing up what that paragraph does.

As well as being a reassuring exercise to remind you how much work you have already done, this ‘reverse outline’ can be a useful tool to see whether each paragraph is working and whether your overall argument is scanning properly. For example, this is the introduction to a comparative piece on Dickens and Eliot:

Introduction

  1. Teaser
  2. Overview of Hard Times
  3. Overview of ‘Janet’s Rep’
  4. Divorce and publication dates
  5. Janet as new form of female alcoholic
  6. Add more signposting?
  7. Conclusion

At a glance, I can see which bits are working, whether the reader is getting the information in the right order, and flag up which bits still need significant editing (final signposting in this case).

Rest properly

Make sure you rest regularly through the writing day and find things that help you to relax after a day of writing. It doesn’t matter whether that is a walk in the park, some sweating at the gym, a long bath, or something cheesy on Netflix, take the time you need to re-boot and get ready for tomorrow. But remember to reflect after a rest – did your ‘go to’ relaxation actually help you to relax? If not, try something new. I recommend yoga with Adriene (its free, you can do it anywhere, and its great for body and mind).

Happy writing!

[1] My thanks to Louise Benson James for introducing me to this valuable technique.

 

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

A complete change of perception…… Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded – by Joshua Schimel

(by Dr Emma L TurnerSenior Research Associate, Bristol Medical School – PHS)

I started reading this book as someone who dislikes the writing process, and to be honest I can be quite avoidant when undertaking writing.  It was therefore with some trepidation that I volunteered to do this review.  I fully committed, and decided I would carry out the practical exercises along the way in the hope of kick starting new habits and embracing this part of my academic career.

Joshua Schimel has a very clear conversational style of writing, and I found the book a pleasure to read.  It did however take me longer to read then I anticipated as I kept stopping to note down ideas and thoughts.  The change in perception I mention in the title of this review comes from the statement that “As a scientist you are a professional writer” – this concept is introduced in the first chapter of the book and certainly did give me pause.  Schimel also advocates that we study and develop writing as thoroughly as we develop our other research tools.  I decided it was time to stop my avoidant behaviour, I needed to develop and practice my writing.

The exercises spread throughout the book ask you to analyse published papers to consolidate the principles being described.  He also encourages getting together a writing group to allow you to review each other’s writing, as the second part of the exercises require you to write short articles.  I didn’t form a writing group but can see the benefits.

Throughout, the book focuses on the structure of writing: opening framing an interesting question; challenge presenting the research and results; action the discussion of what it means; and resolution the take home message.  Schimel wants us to embrace the story telling in scientific writing.  The best stories stick, and become papers that get cited or proposals that get funded.  We could even think of data as supporting actors in the story, with questions and the larger issues being addressed as the lead actors.

I suppose the highest praise I can give this book would be that I have decided to buy my own copy so I can refer to it again and again.  The final message from Schimel is to “learn to embrace the pain and enjoy the process” – I can’t say I am there yet, but it is still early days….and I do believe I am now on the road to becoming a scientist-writer.