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

 

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