Promote yourself

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Pavel Iosad and Warren Maguire at http://www.twitter.com

A crucial part of research involves promoting yourself. Self-promotion in academia can allow you to gain recognition for your work, increase your research impact, secure funding and create networks in your field. Self-promotion can be difficult for postdocs because of the power difference between them and their PI, they may be relatively new to the field, have few connections and working on a relatively isolated project.

The ways to promote yourself varies depending on discipline and country, so you need to understand what is acceptable and won’t come across as obnoxious. The best way to do this is to talk to people in your department – ask them how they got on a review panel and how they were invited to give a talk. In this post, I suggest some steps you can take to promote yourself.

In your department

The first step you should take is to make sure everyone in your department knows what you are researching. If your department does weekly lunchtime seminars, this is a great way to get your name out there and tell people what you are doing. You are also likely to get asked questions and be given feedback, which may be very useful.

Also, if you do a task for someone else, own up to it. Put your name on it if you can. This will ensure you are recognised for your work in your department.

Staff Quote:

Recognise your achievements…The perfect postdoc would have the fawning admiration of all her peers, but the real world doesn’t work like that. In academia, you can’t expect your colleagues to magically divine the amount of effort you’ve put in to something. If you receive a compliment, say thank you, but never be afraid to take ownership of your work.” (Postdoc Researcher at the University of Edinburgh’s Veterinary School).

Outside of your department

Conferences are a great way to raise your profile and make sure people know about your research. Networking at these events may provide you with new contacts with people who are interested in your work.

Giving talks at different institutions is also a great way to get your name out there. Ideally, you’ll be invited to give a talk, but this is uncommon unless you have had a few major papers. It might be appropriate to mention that you are interested in giving talks to your PI, as they may recommend you for talks they have been invited to but can’t attend.

Use you connections. If you are spending a few days in a city for a conference, ask someone in a local university whether they’d like you to talk. It’s unlikely that they will say no (departments are always looking for cheap speakers and they may even pay for your accommodation).

I’m aware that these methods all involve you ‘putting yourself out there’, which may be a nightmare for some people. Social media is also a great way to increase your online visibility inside and beyond your department. It can be useful to:

  • Make new networks and communicate with someone instantly
  • Collaborate internationally
  • Feel less isolated
  • Get your next job
  • Maintain networks and connections

An increasing number of researchers have their own websites including their current projects, research interests, CV and description. If someone googles your name, this would be the site that comes up first. It’s also important to ensure that your details on LinkedIn profile and your institution’s website are up to date.

If you use social media, make sure you make it very clear which sites are professional and personal. On your professional account, tell people about your current research and share new ideas. For example, the photo above shows how two linguistics researchers at the University of Edinburgh are using twitter to allow the public/students/other researchers to engage with their research. Social media is being used to promote research, so you should too. Some social media platforms will also allow you to receive comments, which people can use to give feedback and mention further ideas.

Blog by Andy Miah at LSE Top 5 social media platforms for research development

I hope this post made you think about what you have done so far to promote yourself and what you can do now to broaden your networks and increase your impact. Next week is the last week of my internship, so I’ll give you an overview of the exciting things I’ve been doing over the past 10 weeks!

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Postdoc transitions

 

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Photo by Abby Shovlin at http://www.ed.ac.uk

This week, I have been developing a new resource for new postdoc staff to guide their transition. This includes links to practical information along with a ‘transition guide’ to encourage a smooth and reflective transition to Edinburgh. Here I will go through some of the background literature that helped me structure and design the resource.

Transitioning into postdoc positions are particularly interesting due to the variety of different paths getting here (e.g. traditional academic path or coming from industrial/clinical/teaching positions) and the varied nature of the postdoc positions themselves (independent research vs. PI’s project and different levels of teaching/supervision). These differences mean that postdoc transitions are a personal and unique journey.

This need for individualised transition support has also been highlighted in research investigating student transitions from school/college to an undergraduate degree. For example, as part of the Scottish Higher Education enhancement themes, Abby Shovlin (Academic Transitions Advisor at IAD) developed a 5 element model for student transitions. This workshop was very successful as 96% of the students found it helpful or very helpful.

On top of this individual support, postdoc transitions should focus on ways to allow researchers to grow and succeed in their position. According to Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2002), there are three requirements to achieve this:

  1. Competence: feeling able to successfully complete tasks and fulfil goals. This is crucial for people to overcome insecurity, make risks and develop in their career.
  2. Relatedness: feeling connected to others
  3. Autonomy: ‘being the perceived origin or source of one’s own behaviour’

New postdocs in Edinburgh may not feel competent straight away. To increase competence, postdocs need to:

  • Have easy access to practical information (e.g. where things are who can support them)
  • Be aware of workshops, training and support to develop skills
  • Clearly understand the expectations and goals of their PI and the planned timeline/outcomes of their project

To facilitate relatedness, postdocs need to be learn about the people around them and get involved in activities in Edinburgh (e.g. peer support, sport, social events and department seminars). This also involves combatting issues such as overworking and insecurity, as they may prevent staff from engaging in activities.

Gaining autonomy requires researchers to feel as if they are following their own research interests and values (e.g., they are researching something because they want to). This is more difficult for the transition guide to address because postdocs will have already applied for their research position, which usually states the research project. However, taking control of their career will help gain autonomy (e.g. by thinking about what they aim to get out of their postdoc and how they will achieve this)

From this research and feedback from postdoc staff, I have begun to develop a three-step model for postdoc transitions. This aims to be relevant for all new postdocs/ early research staff at the university, but is likely to be particularly useful for people beginning their first postdoc. The steps are:

  1. Learning

This section aims to increase competence and relatedness. By learning about the working environment, project and institution, they will gain awareness of what is expected of them. Also, by reflecting on discrepancies between their prior-expectations and their experiences in the position, they can identify issues that they should find support to resolve and skills they can improve by attending training/workshops.

Learning about their principal investigator and networks in Edinburgh will increase a sense of relatedness.

2. Working

This is based on an element of the undergraduate model: reflecting on your own assumptions and own academic orientation. Reflecting on previous working habits, identifying whether any of these are unhealthy and learning some strategies that could help will allow staff to work sustainability.

Learning about the importance of work-life balance will also increase competence and productivity at work.

3. Developing

The focus of this section is autonomy. Thinking about how they can get the most out of their postdoc and work towards their next position will allow them to gain direction and focus.

By including these three requirements, I hope that this guide will be a succinct and user-friendly way for postdocs to reflect on their experiences and give them the tools to succeed in their postdoc!

Technicians

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 Photo by Emma Mitchell (Bradley Stoke Community School, a winner of the Technicians Make it Happen photo competition) at http://technicians.org.uk/

Today, I want to bring the focus back to technical staff. A few months ago, we had a guest blog post from Marianne Keith who discussed their story. Since then, I have met a few technicians around the university to ask about what support they need and what is draining their resilience. What surprised me is that a lot of the same issues are affecting both technicical and postdoc staff.

Similarly to postdoc staff, technicians need to have incredible time-management skills to keep on top of their work. We all know the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it in, but this shouldn’t always be the case. By stepping back and implementing some strategies, it is possible to gain control and be more productive. Sara has already written an excellent time-management post with a range of tips from academics – so give this a read.

Technical staff also have incredibly varied positions (similarly to postdocs who may be allocated time for their PI’s project, independent research and/or teaching). Some technicians are also involved in the teaching side of university, helping students learn to use equipment and answering questions. Others may be involved mainly in animal care or preparing equipment for researchers.

This was also highlighted by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 60% of the technicians surveyed had supervised students and 80% had contributed to papers (19% were lead authors). Therefore, these technical roles appear to be very similar to academic roles in some respects. The variation of technical staff responsibilities, as well as the crossover with academic staff appears to blur the technician identity and may increase the difficulty in establishing technical staff communities.

Sheffield’s ‘TechNet’ is a great example of what can happen at a university. TechNet aims to increase visibility of technicians, to improve the profile of technical community and connect individuals with common interests. The great thing is that TechNet, while based at Sheffield, is open to all technicians from other Higher Education Institutions! You can receive newsletters, get involved in online forums of technicians and attend quarterly events.

One of the main differences between technicians and research postdocs emerges when talking about career development. Most postdocs aim for a permanent position at the university, so their postdoc job acts as a stepping stone to the next stage. However, technical staff career progression seems to be less clear.

Some technicians may feel stuck in a role, without knowing how to progress to the next grade/level. However, technical staff can apply to certain funding for research or development if that’s the direction they want to pursue (e.g. only 12% of technical staff surveyed new that they could apply to BBSRC funding). Look for opportunities in your department and talk to your line-manager about career progression opportunities!

The IAD also offers a range of workshops which technicians are welcome to attend. Don’t think that you cannot attend because you are based at a different campus, take advantage of the opportunity! These will allow you to make new networks with staff across the university, as well as developing skills that are key to your current position and development.

HEaTED also provides a range of opportunities for development and networking, aimed directly at technical staff. Online support is also available at technicians.org.uk, including case studies so you can see what other technicians have done.

Some preliminary plans are underway to try to establish technician communities at the university. If you see something at another university, you would like to implement in Edinburgh, talk to your line-manager/PI and head of department to explore whether it’s possible. Don’t forget that the IAD is also here to support technical staff, please get in touch if you have any ideas!

Wellbeing and resilience ‘map’

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Many post-docs have said that they maintain their wellbeing and resilience mainly by using networks and talking to people. Others have highlighted that finding the right support network can be difficult. Sometimes, colleagues may be the best support because they have probably faced similar situations but in other situations, it may be useful to seek support around the university.

The University of Edinburgh has a range of campuses and services spread across the city. Therefore, it’s important that all researchers are aware of the wellbeing and resilience support systems in place. In this post, I’ll demonstrate some of these support systems around the university and how they have helped early career researchers.

Chaplaincy

  • The chaplaincy is there for people of all faiths and none, so everyone is welcome. There are a number of chaplaincy locations spread across different campuses.
  • Do you want to learn about mindfulness and ‘slow down’ your university experience?
  • The chaplaincy holds a range of mindfulness events, including mindfulness courses , Tai Chi and yoga.
  • Do you need someone to talk to for support?
  • The Chaplaincy also runs pastoral support for staff. These sessions offer confidential and non-judgmental listening and support that can help to identify your talents and find methods to help you to focus on your work.

Gyms

  • Are you stressed? Being active can help you clear your thoughts and allow you to approach your problems more calmly. Some post-docs have also said that doing sport when they wouldn’t be productive (e.g. mid-afternoon) helps them to be more productive when they go back to the office/lab.
  • There are gyms at Pleasance  and King’s Buildings along with a range of centres across the city.
  • The gyms offer a range of fitness courses and workshops, including Yoga and Pilates, to help combat stress.
  • Since 2013, a Healthy University Project has been aiming to promote and deliver health and wellbeing benefits for the University community through the promotion of physical activity. A range of activities for staff have been ongoing as part of this.

Staff counselling service

  • A range of self-help materials is available online, including websites and books.
  • Eligible staff are offered short-term counselling to discuss problems or situations, which are causing concern or distress at work or home.
  • From September 2017, all staff will gain access to The Big White Wall, a safe and anonymous online forum where staff can discuss their challenges and pressures and receive support from peers and trained professionals.

Research support office

  • Have you received some rejections from funding applications? Not sure which funder would suit your project?
  • Contact the research support office to help you with your application. They can ensure you are meeting all of the criteria for the funder and show you a range of successful applications so you know what the funder is expecting.

The Institute for Academic Development

  • Want to improve your skills? Having trouble with writing?
  • The IAD runs a range of workshops and courses allowing staff to develop skills in writing and management.
  • Worried about becoming a supervisor or a Principal Investigator?
  • The IAD offers a range of support for researchers who are managing teams and supervising researcher.

Careers Service

  • Are you not sure about the next step of your career? Attending workshops or consultations at the Careers Service could help ease your worries and allow you to actively think about and strategically plan your career.
  • Early Career Researchers are also encouraged to attend the PhD Horizons Career Conference. A range of people with PhDs (many of which have completed postdocs too) return to Edinburgh to discuss what they have done since and how.

Communities

  • Do you want to get more involved in the community?
  • Getting involved in staff societies will help you make networks with people in your discipline
  • There are also a range of groups and communities in Edinburgh that you can get involved with.

Staff mentoring scheme

  • Feeling alone at the university? Maybe you’re in a small department and your colleagues are always too busy to support you?
  • Sign up to the staff mentoring scheme to receive support from a senior staff member over an extended period of time in relation to career progress and aspirations
  • If you feel like you would benefit from helping others, become a mentor! The scheme is currently looking for mentors of Grade 9 and above to sign up to the program

Have I missed anything? Post-doc staff have highlighted that they have used the above services to gain support and improve their wellbeing. If you found that another service has been useful for you, please get in touch, as it could be useful for other postdocs that may not have heard of it!

Internship update

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Photo by The Upturned Microscope at theupturnedmicroscope.com

The past 5 weeks have flown by! At the midpoint of my internship, I will use this blog post as an opportunity to step back and think about what I have achieved so far and what I need to focus on next.

There has been a lot of interest in my project so far. A range of early career staff have met with me to talk about issues that they have faced in the university, what support they need(ed) and what advice they would give others. Each meeting has revealed another slightly different situation, but some issues are repeatedly coming up. Speaking to senior staff members has also been useful to learn about what our university already offers postdoc staff. The university offers a huge amount of opportunities for early career researchers, including workshops, face-to-face support and mentorship schemes.

Some postdocs have highlighted that they were not aware about this support that the university offers. Some are unsure as to whether ‘staff events’ actually includes them. The role of postdoc appears to fall between the cracks; they are no longer a PhD student but some do not feel like a staff member yet. This is especially the case when a new staff member did their PhD in the same department. An online resource aimed specifically at postdocs or early career researchers will go a long way to ensure that postdoc staff can access support and feel valued in the university.

It follows on that postdocs have a lack of community in the university, as they are a separate group with different pressures to PhD students and senior staff. The role of postdoc even varies between staff members, depending on the type of funder and the project. Some postdocs have various projects simultaneously, along with teaching requirements. This can pose an array of different challenges, including managing time effectively, dealing with expectations from a range of different PIs and finding time to plan their next career stage. It is clear that postdocs face a range of challenges and need support to be resilient and succeed in their position.

As the University of Edinburgh has a huge number of staff and is divided into different campuses, it would be extremely difficult to establish a university wide network for our postdocs. A range of postdoc societies have been established consisting of early career staff in specific disciplines. This is a perfect way for staff to network with peers who have similar interests and for building a sense of community in the school. But, how would a postdoc gain a sense of community in subject areas where there aren’t established societies?

I am interested as to whether a campus or school based network system may be feasible. Since postdocs often have short-term contracts, we need to bear in mind the issue of organisational sustainability – the network needs to be organised in a way such that when one postdoc staff member leaves the university, the network doesn’t become inactive. Possible ways to do this would be to have two postdocs in charge (a president and vice-president system) or giving some responsibility to a permanent senior staff member. This responsibility may be to recruit a new postdoc to become the new president and ensuring that the society is offering frequent events/support.

At this point in the internship, I am beginning to draft together a resource addressing some of the key issues postdocs face. This includes signposting to resources and events around the university, to make them more accessible and providing new resources where necessary. I hope that this resource encourages postdocs to reflect on their experiences and make small changes to ensure they are working in a positive and sustainable way.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to develop this resource using feedback from postdocs. I will also continue meeting staff around the university to share their perspectives on my work – if you would like to contribute, please get in touch!

Imposter syndrome

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By Courtney Seiter at open.buffer.com

The diagram above is commonplace when beginning a new job. Before you’ve settled in and learned the ropes, everyone around you seems to know more than you and it’s incredibly daunting to catch up. Over the past few weeks, I have discovered that some amazing postdocs at Edinburgh university still feel like this, even after they have been in their job for years!

One staff member I spoke to said that each stage you go through feels more unusual, more like you don’t fit in – suggesting that imposter syndrome is not constrained to the first few months of a researcher’s job, but can pose a challenge throughout their whole career. Imposter syndrome is prevalent in academia, due to peer review, rejections and the hierarchical structure of our universities. As postdocs are the newest research staff at the university, it’s likely that imposter syndrome is going to have a large effect on them. For these reasons, imposter syndrome needs to be confronted and discussed.

Have you had imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a “psychological phenomenon that arises from an incorrect assessment of ones’ abilities compared to peers” (Liu, 2014). This means that someone may have imposter syndrome without realising it.

A common thought when suffering from imposter syndrome is that you’re a “fraud” and worried that you’re going to be “caught out”. These thoughts are often amplified when doing something challenging, such as collaborating with a distinguished researcher on a new topic.

Imposter syndrome can have large effect on your resilience and your research. To feel more prepared, you might feel like you need to spend more and more time working and reading. This will affect your work-home life balance and might leave you feeling drained and less able to cope with challenges in your job. Furthermore, since imposter syndrome can feel more acute when undertaking challenging or risky project, you may be less likely to take risks and pursue great ideas, which could have a negative effect on your research.

My advice to researchers (mainly from other researchers):

  1. You are not alone: the vast majority of researchers have imposter syndrome at some point. If you don’t believe me, ask somebody in your department!
  2. Talk to other researchers about their experiences: social media has made it more acceptable to talk about problems and online networks aimed specifically at researchers facilitate this. Hearing how other people deal with imposter syndrome may help you too.
  3. Confidence is not competence: some people in your department may act confidently, but this does not mean they are any more competent than you.
  4. Don’t take criticism personally: everyone in research receives criticism. Criticism is not aimed at you, but it’s important that you use any feedback you get to improve your research.
  5. Make small goals and evaluate them regularly: Once you see that you are achieving your goals, you’ll build a sense of satisfaction and confidence in your capability.
  6. Take time to look after yourself: the people who I’ve spoken to have a wide variety of mechanisms to look after themselves – whether it’s going for long cycle rides or classes on mindfulness – find something that works for you and fit it in to your routine.

Sara’s lovely blog post about how imposter syndrome is a badge of honour includes further insights and advice: http://www.shintonconsulting.com/a-badge-of-honour/

Thank you to everyone around the university who has talked to me this week about their experiences! I hope to meet lots more researchers at the university in the next 6 weeks. If you would like to get involved by sharing your thoughts or experiences about resilience in your research position please get in touch.

Social policy and wellbeing

While applying for the position of Wellbeing Researcher Intern at the IAD, I developed an interest in how the idea of ‘wellbeing’ has changed over time. Historically, discussions about wellbeing were restricted largely to philosophy. More recently however, wellbeing has become a central focus for many fields, including psychology, politics and economics.

What has caused the recent surge of popularity in the concept of wellbeing and how is this new interest being used to improve societal wellbeing?

Where has this attention come from?

The first major of interest in wellbeing in society emerged in the 1950s when income began to increase and a range of social issues failed to be addressed. However, wellbeing did not begin to dictate policy until much later; before anyone could try to improve societal wellbeing, they needed to find a way to reliably measure it.

How can wellbeing be measured?

Originally, GDP was the main measure used to indicate societal progress, but it became clear that there is not a direct link between happiness and income beyond a certain threshold – the Easterlin Paradox. Furthermore, an individual that scores highly on quantitative measures relating to quality of life does not necessarily feel like they have increased wellbeing or happiness.

Consequently, emphasis was placed on subjective measures, including surveys and reports. Some studies have shown that subjective wellbeing scores relate to other measures, including rates of sociability and happiness ratings given by family members, providing evidence that subjective wellbeing results are valid (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006). One major problem in measuring and improving societal wellbeing is that it is influenced by a huge number of factors, and the exact impact that many of these factors have on societal wellbeing (as well as each other) is not well understood yet. Some of these factors were investigated by the OECD Better Life Initiative, demonstrated in the diagram below.

 

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Diagram by OECD 2013 at oecd.org

Policy change

Another surge of interest in wellbeing developed in the 90s, where the emphasis for research focussed primarily on how environmental factors, such as sustainability, influence wellbeing. As more valid and reliable methods for measuring wellbeing became available, these statistics were able to make a difference in guiding policy.

Some policies were established pre-2000, but David Cameron made wellbeing a high-profile issue in politics by supporting the ONS Measuring Wellbeing Program in 2010. ONS wellbeing data was used across departments and, by 2015, self-reported wellbeing statistics were used for evaluating policies.

How does this affect researchers?

Researchers have high stress and, often, low security positions, which obviously has extremely negative repercussions for their wellbeing. But all researchers should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and achieve a sense of purpose in society due to their role (e.g. through public engagement as I discussed in last week’s post). For this reason, wellbeing is, and must remain, a priority for the government and all universities. This is further demonstrated by the following quote written by the Government Office for Science, London.

“The world of work is changing, with far-reaching consequences: globalisation and the growing intensification of work will combine to increase workers’ levels of stress and anxiety, and affect their health and efficiency. Changes in the nature of work will also interact with changes at home, such as growing numbers of two-earner households and increased need for care for older relatives, thereby creating pressures on families. Maintaining and improving wellbeing in the face of these trends will be a major challenge.” (Final Project Report, Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008, page 25)

 

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, I recommend these resources:

Bache, I. and Reardon, L. (2016). The Politics and Policy of Wellbeing: Understanding the Rise and Significance of a New Agenda. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Kahneman, D. and Krueger, A. B. (2006). Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20, (1), 3-24.