Networking for Collaborations

Written by Kate Murray, Careers Consultant

Finding the right person or people to collaborate with, whether in academia or industry, can be a challenging task. Networking with people you don’t know well or who have different backgrounds and strengths from yourself can often be an invaluable method of coming across potential collaborators who you might not have otherwise considered. Being able to network effectively is consequently a vital skill to have to identify potential collaborators, and to succeed in various other areas of your professional and personal life.

Daniel Glaser, Director of Science Gallery London at King’s College London, recently gave a sparkling talk helping researchers confront their fears about networking whether for academic or other purposes:

  • You have to talk to people in terms that they will understand and make sense of! Can you get them to be thinking about what you want them to say, before you even meet them?
  • Be proud of your specialism! By the time you’ve got to the end of your PhD or other research, perhaps only 100 people in the world will understand the real niche that you have created for yourself.  In effect, you are ‘being trained to be incomprehensible’, and that is something to be proud of!  Own your narrowness.  You have to learn the language of your research, to be a good researcher.
  • Try this exercise: work with another researcher, and get them to explain their research to you. Now, find someone else to explain your colleague’s research to.  Examine the language that you used in that description.  It is probably a whole lot simpler than your colleague would use themselves to describe their work.  Apply the same technique to yourself when you are trying to describe your research.
  • When you start networking, imagine the positive outcome that you are trying to get to. Then break down the process it will take to get there.  If you need help understanding this point, read Getting Things Done by David Allen which provides solutions for people to manage their time more effectively.
  • One way to start networking is to share your work online. Use publicly available images (eg slides) that are professionally produced, to help you look good; crucially, what you’re trying to do is to seek feedback from people.  If you’ve got something interesting to say, pop it onto YouTube!  Creating content is in effect sharing.
  • Find a talk in a domain you’re interested in (use KCL CareerConnect, or the Londonist, EventBrite or Meetup): go, and then talk to the people there. They must have something in common with you or they wouldn’t also be going to the talk.
  • Come up with an opening line (‘What brings you here?’; ‘What are you working on at the moment?’) and use it for everyone at the event that you can talk to. An achievable goal might be just talking to three people you didn’t know before you arrived.  Tag team with a friend and leave the event when you’ve achieved your goal.
  • Networking could, in fact, make your boss look good. If you go and talk sensibly with another academic, they will automatically be impressed that your research group (and by extension, your group leader) produces such good researchers.  Hence, PIs or supervisors should be pleased that you are finding opportunities to go and talk about your work.
  • Daniel will have coffee with anyone: including you! The Science Gallery will open summer 2018 and will be looking for ‘mediators’ to collaborate and engage with.  Get in touch.

Crowdhelix: Your Gateway to Industry Collaborations

Written by Dr Riam Kanso; co-Founder of Crowdhelix, a cross-border collaboration platform

As an early career researcher at Oxford and UCL, I had very little knowledge of the different ways in which academia and industry work together. The ‘publish or perish’ mentality put a considerable amount of pressure on academics like myself to focus on their specific projects for career advancement. Some of my colleagues eventually ended up taking positions with pharmaceutical or consultancy firms, but the impression was that they abandoned academia altogether, with diminishing chances of returning the longer they stayed without publishing. Many of my peers and I mistakenly assumed that you either had to be in one camp or the other.

Over the years it became clear that the landscape of cutting-edge collaborative research was complex, involving multiple players, and changing every day. Researchers from both academia and industry are joining forces to deliver pioneering research programmes, paving the way for innovative services and products. This is evidenced by the updated requirements of funding programmes such as the €80 billion European Union “Horizon 2020” programme; which actively encourages collaborative consortia that include universities, SMEs, and corporates.

To add to this, universities and academics are increasingly encouraged by government to collaborate with industry partners; which is reflected in research excellence and impact ratings, and subsequent funding decisions.

Similarly, companies are actively reaching out to universities in the spirit of open innovation; relying on the nuanced skillsets of academics to help develop their products and services. They are reaping the benefits of departing from a ‘closed innovation’ mindset, where the ‘secrets of the trade’ are kept confidential. One such company is HP, which leverages the expertise of leading academic labs to improve its technology. These cross-border collaborations can take the shape of consultancies, short projects, placements, and long collaborations; to name a few.

Given that there is a pressing need from both academics and industry to share skills, it is sometimes difficult to resolve the problem of “information asymmetry”.  For example, academics do not always know what projects are going on within companies, while companies do not have a clear picture of the skillsets available in a certain university research department. This is why my colleagues and I created Crowdhelix, a cross-border platform that connects industry and academia for collaborations on grant proposals and other projects.

So far, our members have been successful in obtaining 7% of the €80 billion Horizon 2020 budget, a number that continues to increase every day. One such example is Professor Rajiv Jalan and his team from University College London.  He now leads a €7.8 million project called ALIVER,  funded by the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The ALIVER consortium has developed a novel and innovative liver dialysis machine that will help the liver to naturally regenerate or, where that does not prove possible, to keep patients alive and healthy until a donated liver becomes available. Two universities, four hospitals, two foundations, and four industrial partners will work together to deliver this project. One of the industry partners is IBM; who were matched to this consortium via Crowdhelix.

In projects such is Professor Jalan’s above; relationships between researchers from academia and industry deepen and strengthen, paving the way for further collaborations. In some cases, academics can end up taking employment opportunities with industry, or engage on other collaborative projects with an R&D component.

As the chasm between academia and industry begins to close, an increasing number of opportunities will arise for researchers everywhere. It will be exciting to see what the future holds.

For researchers in King’s College London, please feel free to sign up to our platform for free, and potentially meet a future collaborator! Sign up for CrowdHelix here

Writing a Strong Application for the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

Written by Dr Elizabeth Morrow, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Department of Political Economy

Like any written assignment, it is essential to start work early on your Leverhulme ECF application to put your best foot forward.  Applying for the ECF is a multi-stage process.  At first instance, you need to identify a mentor within the department who can support your application.  I was lucky enough for my mentor – John Meadowcroft – to be someone who I had co-authored with and who was therefore familiar with my work.  My mentor and I met over a month before the KCL internal sort deadline to discuss ideas for my research proposal which helped to refine my thinking, and he provided me with invaluable advice throughout the application process.

Once I had crafted a preliminary proposal I met with Camilla Darling and David Newsome from the Arts and Science Research Office and cannot speak highly enough about the support I received from them: Camilla and David provided me with examples of previous successful ECF applications, suggested other people within the university who I should meet with to discuss my application and shared insights into how my research proposal would fit within the department and university.

Because your proposal will not necessarily be read by experts within your field, it is important that it be interesting and accessible to a lay audience.  After running some of my ideas past my friends and family (both within and outside of academia) I was concerned that the way I had framed my initial proposal was too narrow and academic.  For me, getting the balance right between academic rigor and accessibility was the most difficult part of the application and required multiple iterations.

Once I found out that my proposal had been put forward after the KCL internal sort I had further meetings with the Arts and Science Research Office and my mentor to discuss the preparation of my ECF budget.  Like many early career academics, I had limited experience in designing budgets so the advice I received was very helpful.  I also identified and contacted the referees who would comment on my proposal as part of the application process.  Because academics tend to receive a lot of these requests and are busy, it is important to make the request well in advance of deadline.

I have made a previous unsuccessful application for the Leverhulme ECF and when reflecting about what I did differently this time around I began my application earlier and made greater use of the wonderful resources that we have at KCL.  I was also lucky enough to have a mentor who provided me with excellent advice and a supportive Head of Department.  While the application process is time consuming and with an uncertain outcome, being awarded a Leverhulme ECF is a great opportunity that I feel lucky to have.

Finding the Right Fit: How to Write a Strong Journal Paper

Written by Dr Naho Mirumachi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, King’s College London

As an academic, a good portion of my working hours (and then some) is on writing journal articles, books and book chapters on my research.  At the same time, I also deal with a lot of papers in my role as an associate editor of Water International, an interdisciplinary journal in the subfield of water resources management.  In this blog, I’ll share some of my tips on writing a strong journal article gleaned from experiences on both sides of the academic publishing process, as an author of journal articles as well as editor.

In our journal, the average acceptance rate of the last three years is about 11%.  This might seem like a very low number but it’s because a good number of papers were rejected outright due to fit.  Many of the submissions were considered to be outside of the scope of the journal even before it got sent out for review.  So, as obvious as it may seem, make sure you target the right journal for your paper.  Don’t despair if you get a rejection straight way.  It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the paper is not up to scratch.  However, it may mean that you have not done your homework well enough in figuring out (or even simply, reading on the website) the scope and fit of journal.

When writing a strong paper, it’s important to think about the audience or readership.  Your paper should show how it speaks to the aims and themes of the journal.  In particular, when writing the paper think about how your arguments build on or contradict debates that have gone on in the particular journal.  You might consider speaking to a colleague who may have already published in that journal you are targeting.  Try and get some initial feedback before your submit.

Finding the right home for your paper also means to read widely.  Read different journals, current and past issues to get a sense of the field. Ultimately, a strong publication engages with and importantly, advances scholarship.  There isn’t much magic or short cuts for this: it’s hard graft with the basics of reading, thinking, writing and revising.