Blogs

It’s Not Just About the Writing: The Professional Development of Creative Writing Doctoral Researchers

A report for the HEA I worked on while at Bath Spa University (alongside Michele Whiting, Tim Middleton, and Tracy Brain) has now been published by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). This report draws on the findings of a small HEA funded project that examined the ambitions and professional development needs of creative writing doctoral researchers at Bath Spa University through a series of online surveys and video dialogues with both doctoral researchers and their supervisors. The aim of the research was to identify challenges to personal and professional development and to provide a series of recommendations for this distinctive practice-led field.

Although only a small project (and as such small data set), the outcomes of the project suggest that the drive for skills to be at the heart of the doctoral process, as bodies such as the European League for Research Universities have recommended, in a way misses the mark (LERU 2010). On the one hand, it fails to address the personal motivations of those undertaking a PhD, particularly in the arts and humanities, many of whom remain self-funded. On the other hand, it fails to value the knowledge and expertise generated during the PhD process and the importance of introducing research to sectors in which research is not undertaken or not yet understood.

To engage doctoral researchers with professional development, doctoral programmes need to locate skills-based training within research cultures, areas of research expertise, and in these new and emerging ecologies and economies of knowledge. By providing a doctoral programme that offers a range of opportunities for applied, collaborative, interdisciplinary, immersive and reflective learning, doctoral researchers will have the opportunity to explore both their research interests and their professional skills through a range of different lenses and with a range of sectors. This has the effect of increasing not only their employability, but of employers gaining understanding of the value and nature of higher education research.

The report is available here: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resource/its-not-just-about-writing

The video dialogues

Blogs, Vlogs

Vlog #2 – Start with the Why

Last week I delivered a session on conferences and networking that explored our approaches and strategies to engaging and connecting with other researchers. The session focused on two tasks. The first, discussed in the video, concerned delivering an elevator pitch. The second, which is an onging task, involves the development of a research event that is inclusive, creative, and interdisciplinary. I look forward to the task developing – more details over the coming months.

Comments on the vlog are welcome, slides are below, and I look forward to hearing your own elevator pitches!

Slides: research-communication-conferences-and-networking

Blogs, Vlogs

Vlogging, Experimentally: Developing Your Research Profile

So, I’ve had a go at doing a vlog following the developmental session I gave in December on Developing Your Research Profile. Interesting experiment and something I think I’ll continue to do over the next year, while reflecting on how I’m doing it and how to do it more performatively. Hope you find it interesting/useful/mildly entertaining.

Slides from the session can be found here: research-communication-developing-your-academic-profile-2016

Blogs

From 2016 to 2017: Thoughts on Research Practice, Embedding Creativity, Punk Academia, and Work-Life Balance

In all my development programmes, I stress the importance of critical reflection and embedding reflection into your research practice. Nothing is learnt, if we don’t think about how to apply it and whether it worked. But like many, I can also find it difficult to dedicate the time to actually doing this. Reflective practice needs to become habit, much in the same manner as academic writing or blogging (see Pat Thomson’s post) – a part of your working life.[1] And so, I am beginning the New Year by reflecting on last year so as to better plan and act this year.

New Job, New Practice

Excepting politics, 2016 was actually a good year for me. Last January I started a new job, focusing on Early and Middle Career Researcher Development. While the post isn’t significantly different from my previous roles, it is my first academic contract, the first contract to recognise my research activities. This change in contract has led to a significant change in my professional identity and academic/research practice. Critically, I now undertake research on research capability development with the intent to move the field on from tips and tricks to research-informed approaches to development, enhancing my practice as someone responsible for designing development opportunities and initiatives for Early Career Researchers.

However, what became clear last year is that I need to more carefully construct my time. Moving from a reactive to a proactive job role has changed priorities and the way I work. Whereas research and academic writing was an additional activity, it is now an activity that requires dedicated time and space in my diary. I need to be better at making sure it doesn’t fall to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list. This means saying ‘no’ and focusing on specific projects, something which I am getting much better at. When offered an opportunity, I ask myself a number of questions: 1) is it something that interests me; 2) how will this bolster my CV; 3) how will this support my career development; and 4) how will this help me get the next job? Perhaps blunt questions, and perhaps questions that somewhat deny curiosity-driven research, but time is limited and if I am to avoid working every evening and weekend, then I need to select the tasks and activities that are the most important and relevant.

The Importance of Variety and of Creativity

As well as changing my work priorities, the new job also gave me a greater degree of flexibility in how I plan my work. In my previous roles, a “just in time” approach was needed as I was predominantly supporting the deadlines of other members of staff. In this role, most of my job can be structured as I see best. What I have learnt is that I’m not at my best if I work on large projects over long periods of time. In fact, I’m much better if I work in short blocks on a variety of different things. This doesn’t necessarily come naturally, as you can enter a state of flow and become completely absorbed by the work being undertaken. Being in a state of absorption, though, doesn’t mean I am working well or effectively. In fact, it can mean the opposite. Taking time to plan a variety of tasks across the working day and week has, therefore, been incredibly valuable, particularly in terms of motivation and drive. To achieve this, I spend the end of every week planning for the next and the end of every month reviewing tasks that have been achieved and tasks to be achieved next month.

As well as embedding variety into my daily and weekly routines, I also believe it is important to embed creativity. I’m a musician and performer and enjoy reading (particularly poetry). It is sometimes all too easy to forget how these activities not only provide me with a space in which to think, but directly inform my thinking. I feel this type of creativity got lost last year, so in 2017 I want to reinvigorate my artistic side and undertake more performance papers and articles that may challenge traditional types of academic publication. Which leads me on to my next section.

Punk and Queer Academia

Most of us aware of the blogpost and subsequent discussion on serious academia that occurred last year. I like to see myself as both a serious and fun academic and feel you can be both serious and fun at the same time. For me, serious speaks of institutionalised practices, of management, of the ivory tower, and of traditional notions of academia. At its worst, it can lead to exclusion, the idea used to marginalise or devalue people who are, or whose work, is different and/or unique. Over 2016, inclusivity and equity in research has become an important area of work for me. It began with a blog I wrote in March last year on sexuality and academia and led to me attending a training session by Stonewall on being an LGBTQ role models. Looking back at the blog I wrote following the training, I have a much keener sense of my identity within the academy and where my sexuality can impact on my career. Prompted by Stonewall, I have taken steps to increase my visibility to support others and am feeling much more confident as a result.

Promoted by these experiences, I am now working with Ross English at KCL on a project that explores the experiences of LGBTQ doctoral researchers so that we can more deeply consider the support offered and spaces and culture in which doctoral research takes place. If your University would like to take part in this project, please get in touch.

This I hope is the start of a much larger project (and, perhaps, a life work – jeez!) that seeks to reconceptualise and re-enact the academy. Drawing on the history of punk and queer theory (as well as my work in performance studies), I want to explore how to create developmental environments and experiences that support, enable and encourage academic agency and that allow an inclusive, equitable, complex, and disruptive research culture to emerge. It’s work in progress, but if you are interested in this or have aligned research do let me know!

Work-Life Balance

I know the year ahead is going to be busy as I have a number of personal commitments and so this year more than ever I’ll need to ensure I have a healthy work-life balance. Academia is not a 9-5 job, but there are peaks and troughs and what last year taught me is that I need to exploit the troughs as much as possible. Last year also taught me that there are certain things on which I shouldn’t compromise, such as going to the gym, ensuring a healthy diet, and allowing myself within the working week regular time to take a break, to rest, and to step outside. I’m writing this today, with enthusiasm for the year ahead, as a result of taking time off to relax and refresh.

But, as professional and private lives begin to mingle, especially as a result of social media, I need to develop a way of managing this, as it is all too easy for a night in front of the television to become a night of talking about work on social media. It’s not quite work, but neither is it rest. This is something I have perhaps felt more keenly since researching equity and inclusion and actively talking and being open about my sexuality in development sessions and online. This kind of work, while important and interesting, can be emotionally exhausting as the subject matter is often personal and so rest, relaxation, and repair is an absolute must.

Four Resolutions

So, bearing all that in mind, what are my commitments for 2017? The below are my overly ambitious resolutions, written – as they should be – as SMART objectives:

  • To continue to reflect on my work – both achievements and failures – on a weekly and monthly basis through blogs and project management tools.
  • To embed creativity into my research practice with the aim of writing a couple of cabaret songs about my research.
  • To actively question and queer the academy. To look at alternatives ways of processing, thinking, and managing research and to present my findings as a paper.
  • To maintain a healthy work-life balance. To go to the gym no matter how tired, to avoid takeaways, and to make sure I rest and give myself time out throughout the week, every week.

[1] On reflective writing and practice see: Barbara Bassot. 2016. The Reflective Journal. 2nd Edn. London: Palgrave; Gillie E J Bolton. 2014. Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development. London: Sage. Jennifer A. Moon. 2004. ‘Using Reflective Learning to Improve the Impact of Short Courses and Workshops’. The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions. 24: 4-11; Jennifer A. Moon. 2006. A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. Abingdon: Routledge. *69-130*.

Blogs

Call for Abstracts: Research Impact and the Early Career Researcher

The incorporation of impact into the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) has led to a step change in the way in which much research is now approached in the UK. With a focus on demonstrating the cultural, economic, and social benefits of research, academics face the challenge of not only delivering high quality research but connecting this with lay beneficiaries and demonstrating non-academic effects. Research impact is characterised by unique paths and varied outcomes, highlighting how impact may not be easily defined, described, or evidenced. This complex impact landscape can be intimidating for new and early-career researchers, who may question how they can meaningfully contribute to the impact agenda, how they develop realistic yet ambitious pathways to impact, how they can build capacity and skills in research impact and how this can be aligned with academic career progression.

Post-REF 2014, there is an opportunity to rethink our approach to research impact and, in particular, to question what impact means for the new or early-career researcher and how to support the development of research capability in this area. For this edited collection, we are hoping to bring together two types of content. The first is a series of reflective narratives and think-pieces on research impact written by new and early career researchers to capture the diverse experiences, concerns, challenges, and opportunities research impact presents. The second is a series of critical and research-informed essays from all those working in the area that interrogate, question, and discuss research impact in connection to new and/or early career researchers. Chapters may focus on, but are not limited to, the below list of topics:

  1. Career development and capability development for early career researchers
  2. Promotion and developmental frameworks
  3. International and transnational perspectives on research impact
  4. Interdisciplinarity and liminal spaces for impact
  5. Critical mass and the weight and depth of evidence
  6. Cross-institutional impact
  7. Conceptual impact and the impact of ideas
  8. Negative impact and detrimental impact
  9. Team and collaborative impact
  10. Doctoral research and impact
  11. Impact, policy, and politics
  12. Ownership and management of impact
  13. The ethics of impact
  14. Impact and infrastructures
  15. Discipline specific issues pertaining to research impact on early-career researchers.

If you are interested in submitting an essay or a new/early-career researcher narrative or reflection, please send an abstract of 200-300 words to researchimpact2016@gmail.com by Monday 28th November.

It is estimated that narratives will be no more than 3000 words and essays no more than 6000 words. Once we have all the abstracts after 28th, the editorial team will review submissions to determine the strongest content for the book. We expect this to be a period of feedback and discussion with potential authors to finalise the types of pieces for inclusion. We anticipate then a period of 6 months to complete contributions.

The book will be edited by:

Julie Bayley – Health Psychologist and Researcher in Knowledge Mobilisation.

Kieran Fenby-Hulse– Researcher in Early and Middle Career Research Development (Coventry University)

Emma Heywood – Lecturer in French (Coventry University) and Researcher in Media and Conflict-affected Areas

Kate Walker – Research Associate in Psychology at the Centre for Psychology, Behaviour, and Achievement (Coventry University)

Blogs

On Being an LGBTQ Role Model: Reflecting on Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme

Prompted by a post I wrote back in March on sexuality in academia (and it being subsequently being republished by Times Higher Education), I asked at work if I could attend Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models programme as I felt I needed guidance about what it means to be out at work and online, something which I hadn’t actually considered before writing the post.

Coventry supported my attendance and its now been 2 weeks since I attended. As such, it seems a good time to take a moment to reflect on what I had learned. (Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that I am only blogging about the event now as I try to avoid reflecting almost immediately after an event. I tend to find that when I walk out of a training room, I leave with superhero ambitions that aren’t that realistic. I prefer to let the learning sink in and to first go back to my daily routines, revisiting the slides a week to two later to reflect more thoughtfully on how to apply the learning to my daily working life).

I want to begin by saying that I found the programme incredibly useful. It helped me to articulate the challenges I face within the workplace and, working with others from a range of different sectors, to identify possible solutions to these challenges.

The morning focused on our LGBT working lives. We spoke about the importance of authentic leadership and discussed research that shows how being yourself in the workplace can improve happiness and boost productivity. This was accompanied by a discussion about the extent to which LGBT people feel they can be themselves at work. What became almost immediately clear was that it is was rare for an LGBT member of staff to be completely themselves at work. We often found ourselves hiding parts of our identity or lives at particular moments or events. One participant introduced a particularly interesting activity of getting teams to talk about their weekends without using gendered pronouns to highlight the live and quick-fire internal conversations LGBT frequently experience. It is a skill I have finessed over many years and have become quite good at – but not necessarily one that I want to, or feel I should have to, employ on a regular basis).

Concealing our LGBT identities can be a result of working in or with particular communities, countries, or spaces, especially when we do not safe space or are in spaces, situations and environments that are new or changed. We also spoke about experiences of where we are sometimes made to feel “other”, or outside, not part of the daily work culture or conversation. These conversations led to what I felt was incredibly important moment of self-discovery. Being bullied as child about being perceived as gay (I didn’t “come out until 21), I have lacked confidence and it has only been in the last five or so years that I have been completely comfortable with being more open about who I am, particularly in the professional sphere. Our private life needn’t impinge on our professional life, right? These conversations, though, made me consider (and realise) the number of times I do conceal my identity when at work and the moments of panic when, in a split second, I have to decide whether to disclose my sexuality or correct someone’s assumption. This is something I find more pressing now as an independent researcher working internationally. We then spoke about the effect this has had upon us and about the “exhausting fiction of heterosexuality” that LGBT staff can experience – as well as the emotionally difficult conversations that may result from revealing our identity, conversations which sometimes can feel as if they take up too much of our energy and of our time.

The afternoon focused on what it means to be a role model and how we could act as role models within our own contexts, reflecting on our own role models as well as the career stories of LGBT people from a range of different sectors – which are really interesting reads and can be accessed here:

We came to define a role model as someone who is “aware of their potential to influence others and intentionally exercises that influence for the purpose of helping to create a more inclusive workplace”. This definition is challenging, as it explicitly brings together my private, professional, and political lives and asks me to consider how they interrelate. This is something I need to think much more deeply about. Indeed, what kind of role model do I want to be and how can I achieve this?

At the end of the programme, we were asked to make a pledge about what we would do as a result of the course. In session, I decided confidence was key to my development as a role model and that I need to be as open as I can be (taking ethical pragmatism and safety into account) to ensure that I am a visible role model for other LGBT staff at Coventry, but also LGBT researchers internationally.

This is something I will need to work on continually and so I’ll set myself the challenge now to blog again in 6-12 months and reflect on where I am, what I’ve done, and what’s changed since writing this.

Although there is work to do, I feel as a result of this course I’m in a much stronger place now than I was before the course.

Details on the Stonewall LGBT Role Models Course

Details on the Stonewall LGBT Allies Role Models Course

And if feels entirely appropriate to leave you with one of my LGBT role models that got me through those troublesome teen years:

Blogs

“I Am What I Am”: Thinking About Careers Post-PhD and Post-PostDoc

It is my last week at Bath Spa University and it feels like a good time to reflect on my career path so far and some of the decisions I have made since completeing my PhD. This has not proven to be a simple task, as the way in which a career unfolds is often the result of a combination of chance, ambition, and passion, as well as gut instinct, informed decision making, and personal and professional development.

I went through my PhD without ever thinking too hard about my career expectations or career path. I – like many undertaking a PhD in the arts and humanities – assumed that a lectureship was the end goal. However, the scarce number of postdoc positions combined with the fact that I needed a full-time job meant that on completing my PhD practical decisions had to be made – hourly paid lectureships (often thought to be essential to obtaining a lectureship) were a luxury I couldn’t afford. So, on finishing my PhD, and after a stint working at Glyndebourne Opera House and as a postgraduate recruitment assistant, I took a fixed-term Research and Knowledge Transfer Support Officer role at the University of Bradford.

To be honest, I had relatively little of knowledge of what this role would involve at the time of application, but was intrigued by the post and thought it would provide me with good experience for an academic role in the future – an alternative to a postdoc in effect. Within a couple of weeks, I had become fascinated by the role. I was working with people from a huge range of disciplines (including engineering, health studies, and cancer research), opening my eyes to research well outside of my humanities discipline. As well as a broad sense of research in the UK, the role also provided me a deep understanding of the inner workings of Higher Education Institutions and of research funders and policymakers. If began to feel as though this might be a possible long-term career. Since then I have held a fixed-term (academic) position at the University of Brighton (working on their Art and Design REF submission) and a permanent academic-related position at Bath Spa University (training researchers at all different levels of their career).

Despite my keen interest in this area of work, I continued to apply for lectureships – and got closer and closer to that goal with each application. A few months ago, though, I had a revelation, prompted by the advertisement of a position at Coventry University. On looking at the job specification, I soon realised that this was the job for me, the role building on my burgeoning interest in research training, funding, policy, and development. Whilst on paper the role may not signal a significant break in my career trajectory thus far, it did ask me to think critically and carefully about what I wanted from my career. Unlike previous positions, this career move was not the result of a contract coming to an end, but the result of a conscious process of thinking about priorities, interests, ambitions, work-life balance, and personal and professional development.

What become clear was that my career path up until this point had been dictated partly by the nature of the short-term contracts I had held and partly by the unquestioned long-term goal I had set myself of becoming a lecturer. It was only at this point of deep reflection, I realised that I had been applying for lectureships because that’s what I thought I wanted and, perhaps also, because that’s what my peers thought I should be doing. While the intentions were always honourable and the advice welcomed, the continued suggestion that I would make a good researcher/lecturer implied – albeit indirectly – that the various roles I occupied were not valued or credible professional pathways for someone with a PhD. The pressure, whether real or imagined, of our peers can severely limit the way in which we think about careers and can often affect the choices we make. Supervisors are often a great resource during a PhD, but everyone is limited by their own experiences. While it can seem difficult to know who to speak to regarding careers, I would highly recommend speaking to as many people as possible and reading career stories from others within your discipline or area. It is only then that you can appreciate the diversity of post-PhD and post-postdoc careers taken up.

It is perhaps fair to say that I stumbled into my career – but let’s face it, nobody when asked at school what they wanted to be when they grew up excitedly answered “I want to work in Research Development”. The fact is that careers are dependent upon the opportunities available to you and there are so many roles out there that you don’t necessarily know exist. My career path, I hope, is example of where seizing a chance opportunity has resulted in what I feel is a fulfilling and exciting career path. It perhaps also provides an example of letting go. Indeed, it is hard to put into words the excitement (and relief) I felt when I got the Coventry position. I now feel I have a clear sense of my professional identity and pathway. The relief came from finally letting go – letting go to musicology. While this is something I have immensely enjoyed (and will no doubt continue to enjoy), I realised that the knowledge and experience I have acquired in my research-related roles to date is now more important to me. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the understanding I gained about my PhD experience and how the skills I acquired during my PhD have underpinned and been enhanced by my work to date.

Letting go of my preconceived ideas of academic career pathways, I have found liberating. When thinking about careers it is important that you are honest with yourself, that you are critical and reflective about the opportunities available to you and your ambitions, and that you are open and responsive to all sorts of opportunities. While there has been occasions in the past where I felt as if on the outside looking in, I have to come to realise that this was never actually the case. Taking a different career from the norm does not mean failure or that your PhD wasn’t worthwhile. (In this case, a knowledge of research was essential and is is becoming increasingly valued in a range of professional service roles). Nor does it mean that you are then committed to solely exploring that path for the rest of your career – career paths are likely to fork and/or merge again and again.

Careers are both complex and multivarious. They are intangible, changing and in flux. Ambitions, needs, and wants change as you change and as your priorities change. As such, finding out who you are and what you want to be is an ongoing process (and sometimes letting go).

***UPDATE***

Interestingly, since writing this post, I took a sideways move at Coventry University, taking up the position of Early and Middle Career Researcher Development Programme Manager. And what is perhaps relevant in relation to the above is that this post is an academic post. While musicology is still in my past, research isn’t. The research I now undertake builds on the knowledge I have acquired over the last 5-6 years in research management and research development blended with the humanities methodologies I learnt during my PhD and the social science learning I have acquired when reviewing bids and supporting researchers.

I honestly could’t be happier. Career paths are winding and may surprise you, but that doesn’t mean your on the wrong path. In fact, although I was unsure of my path, I have actually ended up at the right destination for me.