The Value of Diversity & Inclusion in Research

Written by Sarah Guerra, Director of Diversity & Inclusion

At a research-intensive organisation such as King’s, it is important that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ do not remain in the hallways of HR. Research staff, although distinct in their roles, face many of the same diversity challenges on an operational level as other types of university staff, most perceptibly in the low levels of female or BME representation at more senior levels. This also extends to other challenges such as the persistence of low levels of disclosures around key protected characteristics such as disability and sexual orientation (and a further silence around why this might occur), the difficulties facing working parents as well as other structural issues such as unclear and informal reporting procedures around bullying and harassment.

In recent years there have been marked efforts to create a more inclusive working environment for all staff, including research staff. Mentoring schemes, such as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme at King’s have sought to provide female, trans and non-binary, BME mentees from often marginalised backgrounds an exceptional and unique opportunity to meet with a more experienced and trained mentor to identify, define and progress towards professional goals that will enhance their career progression, regardless of whether they want to stay in academia or pursue a career path beyond academia. Many mentees have spoken about how the experience has boosted their confidence and helped them identify and reach their professional goals.

King’s prides itself on being a leader and innovator in Higher Education diversity and inclusion by championing such schemes as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme, but there is always more that can be done. I feel that our challenge will be transforming good intentions and goodwill into positive, meaningful personal action in sufficient volume to create sustainable organisational change. On a practical level, this means looking over our behaviours, language, processes and systems with an analytical lens to confront some home truths, as discomforting as it might be. For example, understanding research staff demographics and recognising who is participating and succeeding, and more importantly, who is not, and then acting to change those dynamics in our research environments.

Our Diversity & Inclusion team is a hub of experience and expertise and is able to advise and support the King’s community to understand what it means to be equitable and inclusive as an employer and educator and how research staff can get involved in the various diversity networks and events at King’s. Six weeks into their roles, the team is busy tinkering away on our various programs such as the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter Marks, disability access at King’s, the Parental Leave Fund, the Carers’ Career Development Fund as well as our Diversity Mentoring Scheme, just to name a few!

To truly promote diversity and inclusion across research environments at King’s, we need to listen, learn, be honest, brave and bold, and I hope that I can provide the confidence and leadership we need to catalyse the change we are looking for.

Getting Your Voice Heard. Our Challenge to You!

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development 

Is there anyone out there who does not want to be heard?  As an academic finding a way to engage others with your work is vital.  When we sit in a research seminar listening to an eloquent and illuminating speaker we typically enjoy the experience so much more than we do with those who haven’t quite mastered the art.  When we read a beautifully crafted description of research, be it a paper, monograph or book, we derive almost as much pleasure from the writing as we do from the content.  My experience of such papers, and yes, even as a scientist I have read some like this, is that I have instantly wanted to meet the author. How many of us wish that we could be that speaker or writer!

The Research Staff Event 2017 is all about finding the secret to effective communication, with fellow academics about your research, with others within the university setting about how we work together and with the wider world about the work we do and the benefits of that work to society.  There will be workshops at the event addressing a wide variety of areas and modes of communication.  There will be something to suit all, and also to explore new methods that could be your key to unlocking the door to more effective communication and new audiences.

To add an extra challenge and enhance your opportunity to put your learning into practice we are including a competition for the best communication produced on the day.  The challenge is to produce an example of communication that gets the message across succinctly and effectively.  In the afternoon workshops we invite you to work towards producing this example.  It could be a series of tweets, a blog, a film, a written text, a busk, a public address, a film or anything else that can be submitted and viewed in two minutes or less.

The criteria for judging your competition entries are that your communication piece be engaging, informative and compulsive.  Judging will happen at the event by our panel of experts and prizes awarded to the winning team.  After the event we will upload all competition entries onto the event website so you can all view them.  We may even run a people’s choice version!

Workshop places are limited.  To ensure that you are able to submit an entry in your preferred medium, register for the Research Staff Event and your choice of workshop now!  Deadline for registration is 10am on Wednesday 23rd August.

After the event we will be offering up to £2,000 through our King’s Community Fund for projects aimed at getting your voice as research staff heard within King’s.  This could be, for example but not limited to, research into how we communicate, events or policy making.  More information about the fund and a workshop on internal communication that will be held before the application deadline will be posted after the Research Staff Event on our website and in our newsletter.

The King’s Collaborator Locator (KoLo) – Summer Roundup

Written by Dr K. Faith Lawrence, Departments of Digital Humanities & Liberal Arts, Dr Arna van Engelen, Department of Biomedical Engineering & Dr Alan Brailsford, Department of Pharmacy and Forensic Science

The KoLo project envisioned the creation of a lightweight site which King’s staff could use to find others with similar research or professional interests, supporting knowledge exchange and collaboration. This was an ambitious aim, especially given the commercial development costs of these types of applications.

For all of us involved in this project it has been a learning experience, one that we have relished and which is not over yet. When we submitted our application after the first Research Staff event, we were just three people from three different departments who had just happened to be in the same event session and had ended up gathered around the same post-it note. While all of us had experience working collaboratively on projects, none of us had experience leading a project of this type. We learned to things very quickly – you need to be inventive (and lucky) with the budgeting and your timetable will get thrown off by events that you can’t control.

We were able to put in a successful bid because of the support that we received from outside our immediate team: the King’s Digital Lab, who we planned to work with on the hosting and backend development, were interested enough in our project that they were willing to put some of their own resources into the development, covering the difference between their normal quote and the amount that we had available, and the Department of Digital Humanities and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities who both offered funding for the project, which allowed us to lower the amount that we were applying for from the King’s Community Fund.

One of the principles of the Community Fund was that you needed to minimise the effect on your normal daily work. The King’s Digital Lab was able to take on the back-end development and hosting but we couldn’t afford for them to also take on the front-end development. This meant trying to work out ways to get more people involved without increasing our budget. Our answer came in the form of some really great student interns, to whom we are very grateful for all their hard work: MA students from the Department of Digital Humanities: Silvia Corbara, who lead on front-end design and workflow, Meizhi Wei and Jiachen Cui, who were involved with design and headed the front-end development, and our KURF research Fellow Phillip Sakellarios, a BA Geography student, who is working on HTML development and data analytics.

Where are we now? We have the basic data model and webpage designs that we will use for the prototype, we received our ethics approval (Ref: LRS-16/17-4992) which means that we can use real data, we have a back-end system based on the datamodel waiting for the front-end to be ready, we ran a small workshop for our developers going over how to use JavaScript so they create the connection between the front and back ends and we have started creating the pages based on the designs. We have also had expressions of interest from our project from people across the university who have expressed interest in the project, some of whom have been collecting data with similar idea in mind.

The project, or at least this stage, will be over soon and, for some of us in the project team, the end of our time at King’s as well. We hope, before we go, to leave the seed to something bigger which will be of use to research staff, academics, professional services staff and all the people at the university who might find something great when chance meetings happen to throw them together around a (digital) post-it.

 

People in this Country have had enough of Experts

Written by Dr Amy Birch, Research Staff Development Consultant 

Whatever you think of this quote, it’s undeniable that public scorn of ‘facts’ has had a major influence in policy and voting over the last few years. And yet, more academics are engaging with policymakers and MPs than ever before. We’re part of the initial discussion but never make it to the final argument and decision-making process. This, in part, has to do with the significant differences in communication in the academic field and political sphere – often we perceive that ‘selling something’ is a way of lying or manipulating facts whereas policy-makers are frustrated by academics relying on facts and data rather than giving their opinion. But persuasive arguments and good oratory need to appeal to both our rational and emotional side.

Learning how to debate can teach you skills that you may not be able to learn anywhere else – not just how to construct an argument, but how to think on your feet (and change your argument on the hoof), respect your audience, gauge emotion, and how to be persuasive and amiable (but not patronising). It will improve your public speaking skills and your ability to answer questions under pressure – something all academics have experience of! Not only that, but it encourages you to see the both sides of each argument as you can often be debating for a position that you personally oppose.

In the Research Staff Event on 5th September, you will get a unique opportunity to learn and practise your debating skills on a topic that can have a valid and significant impact on your life at King’s. We have chosen the topic ‘This house believes that King’s listens to its research staff’ to give you the opportunity to voice a reasoned argument about what you believe King’s are doing well to support research staff and also present arguments about what King’s can do to improve their support of research staff. This will be a debate amongst your peers – but we encourage you to use this opportunity to be open about your experiences and give constructive, reasoned opinions about what we can do better. Over the last year, the Centre for Research Staff Development have worked hard to support you with your professional development at King’s – by taking part in this debate you can let us know how we’re doing and what more we can do.

Participating in this debate will help you see the power of using rational, reasoned arguments and compelling evidence. It can instil a sense of poise and confidence and learn the skills of researching, organising, and presenting information in a compelling fashion. It will help you develop effective speech composition and delivery, and is an excellent skill to gain as a future leader.

For more information, please check out our Research Staff Event website and register to take part!