Public Engagement – But Why?

Written by Dr Nigel Eady 

“So what is it you actually do?” It’s a question that many researchers get asked by friends and family, at parties, over a meal, or almost anywhere. How do you respond? Which version do you give them – the big picture, sounds interesting but is far from the day to day reality, or the fine detail, might send them to sleep version? Is this public engagement? Well, it certainly could be, but most people would define public engagement much more broadly.

I would describe it as ‘any process through which people interact with research’. Personally, I think, the more interesting types of public engagement involve as much ‘listening’ by researchers as they do ‘telling’. Giving people information is important, but having a dialogue, a two-way conversation, can be even more useful, for both parties. You might even think of engagement as being a broad spectrum of approaches.

In recent years, public engagement has moved from being under the radar, to being required explicitly by funders, see the 2010 Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research and RCUK webpages. Whilst some would definitely debate whether it is really a part of normal research practice, it is only going to become more important. The requirement for impact case studies as part of the Research Excellence Framework is another important factor.

One important reason to do public engagement is that much research is conducted with public money, and people therefore have a right to understand how that money is being spent and what it’s achieving. But if that’s not sufficient for you to consider engaging people, here are my 5 top reasons for engaging publics.

1. Enhance your communication skills

For five years I ran various projects to help researchers engage people. It showed me, time and again, that the discipline of having to explain your research to someone else is invaluable for teaching you to communicate more clearly, simply and engagingly.

2. Ask better research questions

As well as communicating better, it’s remarkable the number of times that the questions people ask about your research lead to fresh insights, even new avenues of research.

3. Attract funding

There are many small funding schemes for public engagement. In fact we have one ourselves! By successfully winning funding for activities, not only will you learn how to write a persuasive funding bid, you will also demonstrate to potential, future funders your commitment to your research.

4. Increase your enjoyment

Any form of engagement can be a welcome relief from the rigours of defending your research to your peers! It can also be a helpful reminder as to why you do what you do.

5 .Strengthen democracy

Engaging people with research has a key role to play in opening up decision-making. You can involve people who feel disconnected from society and build trust in public institutions. It’s also an easy way for universities to respond to social need, in particular, at the local level.

Don’t just take my word for it! There are many more reasons to do public engagement. Who knows, you might just feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re asked, “So what is it you do?”

What is the Meaning of Work/Life Balance

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett

I was heartened to see from your contributions to the recent Careers in Research Online Survey in response to the statement “I am satisfied with my work-life balance” that more than half of those of you who responded (66%) agreed or agreed strongly.  I hope that the articles in this blog series on work-life balance helped the remaining 34% of you move in the satisfied direction.

At an early stage in my professional training as a Careers Consultant I was introduced to the theories of Donal Super1.  Super’s theory, summarised by his rainbow (Figure 1), struck several chords with me.  One of these was about work-life balance.  We tend to think about work-life balance as simply between work and life, rather than a complex mix of roles that we take on in our lives.  Super reminds me that work is a part of living and we are free to define for ourselves how big a part it is.

Rainbow 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super’s theory says that we take on several different roles during our lifetime.  These are child, student, leisurite, citizen, parent, spouse, homemaker and of course worker.  The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will be defined by our life stage and our priorities.  For example we will be a child for most of our lives, firstly as a dependent child and later potentially as a caring child of an elderly parent.  Most of us will also take on the role of worker, but only intensely from the end of our education to retirement, after which we generally stop working.  The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will also vary, for example it is unusual to be parents before the age of 20 and our children need us less and less as they get older.

The rainbow also reminds me is that there is so much more to life than being a worker.  When considering how to balance our lives towards fulfilment rather than frustration we should take into account all of these roles, their relative importance to us as individuals and the amount of pleasure they each bring.  Of course we also need to consider reality, such as the need to earn enough to keep ourselves and our dependents alive, but would this really mean we need to spend all our waking hours working?

I have seen people gain great insight into how they can make improvements by increasing or decreasing the time spent on one or two of these roles.  Try creating a pie chart of the proportion of your time you actually spend on each of them and a second one of the time proportions you would like to spend, identifying the reasons why you make these distributions.  You may find that it already helps you to improve your perspective on the importance you place on each role and lead to setting a more fulfilling balance.

1. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/089484537500200204

Managing your Workload

By Dr Sarah Robins-Hobden

It’s the nature of the research environment (especially at a research-intensive HEI or institute) that there is much pressure to perform, to publish, to win funding, to build your reputation, to further your career, to collaborate, to contribute, etc. There is potentially more work to do, than hours available in which to do it. Just trying to attempt to keep up could be causing a sense of overwhelm and fatigue. And you might be putting your health and wellbeing second in line behind all that work.

If you are a researcher, you probably don’t need time-management skills – I bet you already have those skills and use them to survive and thrive in the research environment. There may be scope for improvement and refinement, but you might make a bigger impact on your wellbeing and productivity by focusing your efforts on managing your workload, rather than letting it manage you. Here’s why.

Plan for a whole life, not just a work-life

Six reasons why managing your workload is important and will improve your wellbeing:

  1. Reduce stress – function better
  2. Gain clarity on your goals and motivations – increase motivation, enjoy what you do
  3. Decrease time spent on tasks that are less important – reduce frustration and boredom
  4. Release time to spend on other areas of your life outside work – e.g. relationships, family, social, emotional, health
  5. Make progress on the things that really matter to you, rather than just the things that matter to others

Here’s three tips towards taking control of your workload. Do join us for the workshop on the 26th May to discover more, and develop your own personal action plan for taking control of your workload.

Triage new opportunities ruthlessly

Every time you say ‘yes’ to doing something, you are saying ‘no’ to lots of other things. The hours in a day, week, year, and decade are finite. We often say yes to work that we’d really rather not, e.g. If we’re feeling under pressure to give an immediate answer, or if we fear saying no (even though we’re already overloaded) might mean we miss out on an opportunity. If you allocate time to doing things that you don’t enjoy, aren’t rewarding, or don’t move you towards your goals, your workload is not your slave, it is your master. Use the remaining five tips to help you triage your work.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. Ask yourself what you will not be doing if you accept the task, and whether it is more important to you than the task you are about to accept.
  2. Ask yourself: if this were tomorrow, would I still say yes? We are rubbish at anticipating how we’ll feel in the future, but better at working out how we feel right now. By bringing a future task into our imminent future, we’re better able to decide if we’re doing it because we want to (or it serves our need) or because we feel we ‘ought’ to.

Know what you want and why you want it

Not everyone has a five-year plan, and some of us (e.g. me) don’t have much more than a three-month plan at any given time (I struggle with strategic thinking). No matter the extent of your future vision, working out what you want and why you want it will clarify your goals and motivations. Use this knowledge to guide your workload decisions, and you’ll feel more focused, energised, and purposeful in your work.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. What are your three most important goals, right now? What would be the next step to move your progress towards them?
  2. Rate your commitment to each of your goals. If it’s less than 8 out of 10, you are unlikely to prioritise working towards that goal. Perhaps you could review your goals (e.g. The desired outcome, timespan, measures, plans, milestones) until you feel more committed.

Pick the sweetest fruit

Look for the added value in the work you take on, and be creative in looking for alternative ways to get that value. For example, if you are tempted to accept a place sitting on a committee or working group, define why you want this opportunity. Pin down which of your goals this would contribute to. Then look around for other opportunities to achieve the same thing, that might be less time-consuming, or more enjoyable to engage with. For example, if your motivation for sitting on the committee is to increase your visibility in your department (rather than because you like committee meetings), then you might achieve the same thing by organising a symposium, exploring the possibility for collaborating with your colleagues, or choosing to engage with more teaching – whatever you feel is more rewarding to you.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. Analyse what you want to achieve from engaging with a piece of work. Be creative, and list as many possible ways you can think of that would achieve the same result for you.
  2. Then rate all the options for your preference, and actively seek out those opportunities.

Not every tool will work for you – experiment with as many as you like, test them out and discover what’s going to be most useful for you. Ultimately, wrestling your workload under your control, and cultivating self-awareness to better define your direction and motivations will serve you well in freeing up time and headspace to invest in the other areas of your life that contribute to your wellbeing.

Stay on Top of your Wellbeing

By Nudrat Siddiqui 

Most careers, no matter how enjoyable or stimulating, present periods that are stressful. Coupled with the complexities of our personal lives, this can often lead us down a tunnel of self-doubt and low mood. The world of academia is no exception to this phenomenon. The issues you face might not have an immediate, overnight fix, but there are small, basic steps that you can take to shift into a more positive frame of mind and gain perspective on how to tackle these challenges.

Reach Out to Others

As run-of-the-mill as it sounds, repeated research has shown that positive and fulfilling interactions and relationships can boost our sense of worth and wellbeing. Conducting research can be a lonely business with the long hours spent working in solitude in libraries or alongside the same team of people in labs. The number of experiments or book pages that require your attention might seem interminable, but structure in time in your diary to engage in a social activity on a weekly basis. Treat it like an immovable meeting, as it’s easy for plans in our personal lives to get shelved as we give precedence to work commitments.

Is there a hobby or activity that you’ve been considering pursuing? Take a class or join a group that engages in it and forge new contacts along the way. The Modern Language Centre offers lunchtime, evening, and weekend classes on 23 different languages that are discounted for staff. Put your vocal cords and writing abilities to the test by joining King’s Staff Choir and King’s Staff Writing Group, VIP Wordsmiths.

For the occasions when you don’t feel up to venturing outside to connect with others, join an online community such as EleFriends, which is run by mental health charity, Mind, to share experiences and gain support virtually.

Learn Resilience Techniques

Invest time in learning skills and techniques from professionals to buffer challenges. To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, the Centre for Research Staff Development is running courses throughout the month of May to equip you with practical skills to beat various hurdles, from Imposter Phenomenon to excessive workloads. Don’t forget that you are entitled to take ten days of professional and personal development training per year.

Volunteering

Transiently distancing ourselves from our problems and contributing some of our time and talents into a cause that helps others can be enormously motivating and fulfilling, while also offering a space in which to meet others and reassess how we perceive our own issues. Explore volunteering opportunities around London here.

Be Active

Sometimes the spike in adrenaline that comes with sports and fitness activities can go a long way in helping us feel more positive about certain situations. Slot in regular time to play a sport or work out. If you’re not sure about what the best fitness activity for you is, sample some of the free fitness classes that King’s Sport is running this month on a range of sports from jujitsu to Pilates.

If you’ve tried all these things and your low mood still persists, don’t hesitate to seek professional help by engaging with the Employee Assistance ProgrammeKing’s Counselling or speaking to your GP.  A healthy and happy mind will put you in good stead to face whatever comes your way.

 

Mental Health and Stress

Written by Dr Tracy Bussoli

Everyone is talking about it these days! Celebrities such as Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry have been discussing it for a while and now Prince Harry and the Duke of Duchess of Cambridge have jumped on the band waggon. We are, of course, talking about mental health.

Statistics from the Mental Health Charity, Mind, state that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue every year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety, each week.  Despite all the publicity, Mind suggests that the incidence of mental health problems has not increased significantly over the last few years but worries around issues such as money and jobs are making it more difficult for people to cope.

The Guardian’s  Academics Anonymous covers the topic of mental health in academia on a regular basis. One recent contributor highlighted how difficult it is to look at negative student feedback as their depression makes it impossible to look at the comments objectively to improve their teaching. A 2014 study by the University and College Union (UCU) also stated that 64% of the 2250 UCU members surveyed said their stress levels were either high or very high.

So why is it so important to keep our stress levels ‘in check’ and maintain good mental health? Put simply, when we are free of anxiety, depression, excessive stress and worry, addictions and other mental health issues, we work productively and live our life to the fullest. This means that we are more able to handle the natural ups and downs of life and the challenges that it throws at us, which is essential in the tough world of academia today.

So how much stress is too much? The stress response curve created by Nixon in 1979 (below) shows that a certain amount of stress or arousal serves as a motivator and encourages us to stay engaged and focussed on our work. However, too much stress can tip us into an area where our performance is impaired and our mental health suffers.

Nixon Stress Response Updated

Nixon’s Stress Response Curve

The blogs in this series will provide some tips and advice on how to keep our mental health in check and ensure that we are working either within our comfort zone, if that is where we want to be, or at the peak of our performance, just beyond our comfort zone!

Inclusive Education

Written by Chris Ross, Inclusive Learning and Teaching Officer 

Inclusive Education is not a new concept. Indeed, extensive literature is evident discussing the merits and virtues of teaching in an inclusive manner. The concept of Inclusive Practices is a wheel, which does not require to be re-invented or re-constructed. An impetus has gathered some momentum in recent times. Some of the salient reasons for the drive for Inclusive Education are:

  • Increased targets for international student recruitment
  • BME student attainment gap
  • ’Why is my curriculum white’
  • student liberation campaign
  • Student union representatives’ platforms e.g. on LGBTQ+ issues
  • Widening participation initiatives
  • Reduction in Disabled Students’ Allowance

All of which, contribute to the necessity for re-shaping our teaching delivery and interaction with our students, to ensure that their learning experience is as positive as we can make it. However, there are some key barriers that hinder implementation of Inclusive Education:

  • Leadership from the top
  • A focus on this area of development in the face of competing priorities
  • A realisation that culture change is at the root of this methodology.
  • Engagement with the concept across the University, for example in Professional Services as well as in the classroom
  • The initial resourcing and project planning to engage in change across the institute.
  • The time to enact change and the embedding of ways to measure success
  • An appreciation that beyond the ‘quick fix’, there is a long process of sustained engagement with this concept.
  • Support to engage staff across the university.

In January 2017, the Department For Education produced some guidelines, which are intended to support HEI’s in the quest for Inclusive Practices.

Here at King’s, we have taken a number of actions to advance the Inclusive Practices drive. These include:

  • Resources on KCL internal website
  • Alignment with KLI’s College-wide Changing Classrooms initiatives (education enhancement)
  • Alignment with KCL’s engagement with TEF and the 2029 Vision
  • Central Inclusive Education CPD packages plus bespoke training for departments
  • Supporting Faculty Inclusion strategies
  • Support with strategy and policy composition

A lot of guidance and resources can be found on the Inclusive Teaching portal, one of which is the Inclusive Teaching tool-kit which can be accessed via KEATS here. This device can be used to measure a practitioner’s inclusivity.

It is important to remember, that we cannot become Inclusive Practitioners overnight. A lot of time, thought and development is required with this process and its ongoing nature can inspire creativity and opportunities for new experiences.

Here are some quick tips to help with this development:

1. Housing all teaching materials on the virtual learning environment.
2. Improve the accessibility of all materials (For example MS Office accessibility checker).
3. Ensure reading lists are focussed, representative and up to date.
4. Facilitate the recording of teaching sessions.
5. The pre-selection of diverse learning groups.
6. Diversify the range of learning opportunities, approaches and assessment methods.
7. Regarding students as learning partners.
8. Seeking support and training on CPD opportunities.

 

Engaging with Teaching Support at King’s

Written by Dr Amy Birch 

As a member of research staff at King’s, it’s likely that you are engaged in supporting student learning. You might be doing this via the more traditional routes of tutorials, lectures, and laboratory demonstrations; however, you are also likely to be supporting students in your research environment – supervising undergraduate or postgraduate research projects or co-supervising PhD students.

Some of you may love engaging with students, while for some of you the thought of teaching may leave you in a cold sweat. Regardless of your level of enjoyment or experience, King’s offers a number of different options to support you.

King’s Learning Institute (KLI) support learning and teaching practises across the university. They offer courses for researchers very new to teaching, as well as postgraduate certificates for staff who wish to gain a formal qualification for teaching in higher education. If you are actively teaching at King’s, we recommend that you enrol for Preparing to Teach. Even if you have taught at other universities – this interactive course gives a huge amount of useful information specific to teaching at King’s. KLI have also produced Quick Guides to help staff who are new to teaching.

The Inclusive Education Portal is a fantastic collection of online guidance and resources that are accessible and easy to use. Together with the Inclusive Education Network, they support staff and students to implement and share best inclusive practises to enhance learning.

Have you considered e-learning? Digital education can help you engage more with your students. The Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning offer courses to help you get to grips with KEATS, designing e-learning modules, or create your own digital content. Ever had aspirations to start a podcast or vlog? They can help with that too!

Are you teaching in a health school faculty? You should be logging your teaching hours in the Education Database – not only does this provide information for the faculties about the contribution of staff to undergraduate & postgraduate programmes, it also provides a record of your teaching experience and competencies which can be used in your Professional Development Review. Want to teach but don’t know where to start? If you register your interest in teaching on this database, you can search for teaching availability across all health school faculties. Nb. The database is currently closed but will be opening again in July for staff to record their teaching hours – however you can still register your interest in future opportunities now.

Done all of these things? Great! Now you should consider applying for Higher Education Academy (HEA) professional recognition. Through the Teaching Recognition at King’s programme, you can apply for HEA professional recognition for free. Not only will this provide you with an internationally recognised badge of professional success, it also gives you the opportunity to share good practice with other HEA Fellows and get mentoring support.

Start engaging with these resources to heighten your teaching practices and create a supportive learning environment that fosters your students to fulfil their potential.