Getting to the Next Stage of your Career

Written by Vicki Tipton, Careers Consultant, King’s Careers & Employability 

‘How do I get to the next stage of my career?’: it’s a question every researcher will chew over at various points: In the middle of a technical role or during a post-doc; or perhaps more persistently! The answer, however, will vary hugely for everyone and here’s why:

1. The next stage will differ for each individual researcher – some may be focussed on a permanent academic position, that first lectureship. For others it might be about gaining an in-between step – perhaps another post-doc which moves you closer to the kind of work you’d like to be doing or gives you more research responsibility.  Equally it could be about considering a move into another sector outside of HE or a new type of role.  In any case, moving up is likely to mean moving into a new role. If you’re still unsure which direction to head in, then do come and see one of the Careers Consultants who work with research staff, here at King’s for a confidential, impartial chat.

2. Each person’s roadmap for progression looks different – in order to move into that next step, researchers need to be very clear about the kind of things that will get them there. If you’re looking to secure a lectureship then an honest look at your list of publications, ability to pull money into an HEI, your teaching credentials and your work as a member of the academic community is vital to establish whether you need to put some extra work in to make yourself stand out.  This Essential Guide to Moving Up the Academic Career Ladder from jobs.ac.uk is a good place to start with practical exercises to get you thinking about your own development.

If you’re thinking of leaving academia to find a more senior role, then you still need to know what you’d need to get there. From policy work to government to pharma, each industry has its own nuanced labour market and culture, so you’ll need to spend some time thinking about how you can transfer your skills into this setting and in some cases consider what else you could be doing to boost your CV for jobs in industry. For a post-doc’s story about his transition from the lab to editorial work, see Kyle’s video case study

3. Availability of promotion – there are some factors in job hunting which are governed by things out of our own control: the state of the economy, the competition for jobs, increase or reduction to funding streams.  It’s worth reading around your area of research/interest – be strategic and knowledgeable.  It helps to understand when and where jobs might crop up and how you will stand out as a candidate for promotion. What you do have control over however is your mindset and approach to moving up and on; stay positive and open in your thinking.

Influencing Upwards When You Have No Power

Written by Dr Steve Hutchinson, Founder of Hutchinson Training & Development

As a coach, many of my clients are people who have lots of responsibility but no real authority and are trying to influence their informal collaborative teams and colleagues to do things for the good of a project.  Their team members are often more senior, and are frequently professionally recalcitrant and have little desire to meet seemingly arbitrary goals or deadlines.  The question that this results in is essentially ‘how can I influence when I have no power?’.

Moreover, on my travels I typically encounter just two types of individual.  The first who will tell me that their life is difficult, and then spend the rest of the conversation saying “if only they / the boss / the team / the department would change…”.  The second grouping also have problems and issues – (don’t we all?) – but tend to suffix these issues with a self-imposed follow-on of “but this is what I am doing to improve things!”  Both groups have similar types of issues, but the first group are far more stressed, and also far harder to work with.

In short, regardless of position, some people exert influence and some don’t.  Did Martin Luther King have a badged position of authority?  Not really.  Did Ghandi?  Nope.  Does Malala Yousafzai?  Not at all.  You don’t need position and money to lead and change the world (although they undoubtedly help), you just need influence skills.

Think of your life as concentric circles, as in the diagram here. In the centre are things you can absolutely control.  Surrounding this are things you can influence.  Surrounding this are things that concern you but over which you have no control.  Nothing else matters.  The more you can expand your influence, the less should concern you.  This is what effective leaders do.  They use their positional power where appropriate and their personal influence all the time.  (Want to know the difference between positional power and personal influence?  Ask yourself whether you’d follow your PI or supervisor if they didn’t have a grant cheque.)

And the key thing here is that effective leaders hone and practice their influence skills constantly so that they can deploy them when it matters.

Think of the relationship you have with your boss. Then list out the factors in it that (little ol’) you can actually control.  Not many probably.  Now list the things that you’d like to change (concerns).  Now, think about what actions you, and no-one else, can take to influence the relationship.  Think about how much you CAN prepare, what you CAN find out about their motivations, agendas, preferences, communication style and what you CAN do to make everything in that relationship as productive and healthy as possible.  Yes, this requires effort but exerting influence in some areas of your life makes it easier to influence other areas too – as you start to act more confidently, and this in itself is influential.

Of course there are many influence tactics and many books on the topic (a few good ones are listed at the base of this article) but I believe that the three key influence primers are:

  • Act Confidently – Think about how the confident version of you would act (head up, sternum raised by an inch or two, good eye contact, open gestures etc) and influence from this position.

 

  • Lead by Example – Show the type of behaviours you want other people to exhibit. If you want your team to hit deadlines then you must first publicly show them that this is what you

 

  • Basic Human Decency – “Manners maketh man” and all that. ‘Pleases’, ‘thank you’s’ and a show of respect to the person you are trying to influence makes more of a difference than you’d think.  And not ‘thanks in advance’ at the base of an abrupt email.  If someone helps you then thank them for it – properly and (where appropriate) publically.  Basic Pavlovian conditioning suggests that their good behaviour will stick around if it’s reinforced.

Now, on top of these tenets, there are myriad tactics you can deploy.  In the 1960’s Marwell and Schmitt captured just some of these in a seminal paper concerning ‘compliance gaining behaviour’.   The original (cited below) or the quick and dirty internet guides to their work (such as http://www.workingpsychology.com/marwell.html ) make for interesting reading nearly sixty years later.  Some of the techniques they suggest seem close to manipulative, but they’re just tools.  It’s up to you how and when and whether to use them.

For me though, the things I pay attention to if I’m trying to influence someone are:

RESEARCH: What do I know about the person I am trying to influence?  The more I know, the more options I have.  Do they value logic or emotion?  When and where are the best times to catch them where they’ll be least distracted? Etc

WIIFT (What’s In It For Them?):  Why would they want to help me?  What advantages are there for them?  Get someone to want to do something and they’ll cheerfully do it all day.

VALUE: Show them that it’s important to you and that you value what they are doing.  This is the difference between sending an email and printing off the document you need them to approve and highlighting the key element of it.  If it seems important to you it’s much more likely to move up their to do list.

So, to end, we can’t really control people.  All the power and money in the world will only take you so far.  The real leaders are those that can influence and, to quote Dwight Eisenhower (US President) “get someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.

Learn more about influence with these resources:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

 

  • Persuasion – the Art of Influencing People by James Borg

 

  • Start With Why – How great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek (His TED talk on this topic is also very interesting).

Cited Reference:

Marwell and Schmitt (1967) Marwell, G. & Schmitt, D.  Dimensions of compliance-gaining behaviour: an empirical analysis. Sociometry. 1967, 30, 350-364.

Dr. Steve Hutchinson was originally a biologist but is now an international freelance coach and development professional.  He co-wrote the Leadership in Action course and wrote and directs the Leadership Essentials I and IV courses for KCL.  His leadership coaching work takes him all over the world, and he’s written or edited several books.  

The Art of Recruitment

Written by Dr Ben Wilkinson, Interim Deputy Director & Senior Research Fellow, Policy Institute & Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development, CRSD 

One of the key aspects of leadership – whether you’re in charge of a team, or helping to build it up – is recruitment. Recruiting the best people to work alongside you is essential. Not only for the good of your research group or research project, but also to make sure that your working environment is a happy one. After all, you will spend about a third of your life at work.

There a numerous rules of thumb, strategies and even companies devoted to getting recruitment right. Here are three useful rules of thumb:

  • Values, values, values:

Some organisations deliberately and overtly look at the values of potential recruits. The logic is simple: over time, people’s interests and ambitions can change, but their values rarely do. If someone’s values reflect those of an organisation or a bit of an organisation, they are likely to settle in more quickly, and contribute more effectively. This is why it’s a good idea to include values-based questions when recruiting new staff members. The NHS, for instance, overtly conducts “Values-Based Recruitment. Universities do this less overtly, perhaps understandably putting a premium on expertise and knowledge, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive and there’s no reason not to ask values-based questions when recruiting potential staff members.

  • You don’t need to recruit in your own image

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, always said that you should try to recruit people smarter than you. He also acknowledged that that is really hard to do: we’re all human, and egos get in the way. Indeed, Schimidt thought that universities were on to something here. By using committees and peers, universities had found a way to improve recruitment.

Of course, there is a danger to this, and that is recruiting people who are like everyone else on the panel. They have similar skills, they have similar experience. But the difficulty is that if you recruit someone who has many of the same skills as you, you won’t have someone who has all the different skills you will need to get the project done, or to make your research group a success. There’s real power in diversity of skills – and its wise to use that.

  • Listen to your gut feeling but also be aware of unconscious bias

In the current enlightened days of recruitment we all try to follow processes and procedures that enable us to recruit from a diverse pool, the reason being that objectivity will result in better recruitment outcomes than relying on our subjective and often unconsciously biased perceptions.  It can be surprising how influential unconscious bias can be.  There is a wealth of research demonstrating how much this disadvantages people who are from minorities in recruitment and how much a leader can benefit if they welcome difference.  Occasionally though we meet someone at interview to whom we have an instinctive cautionary response.  As long as you are sure that your response has arisen from an appropriate source, it is worth paying attention to it as it can save many headaches down the line.

The gentle art of recruitment is essential to good leadership; getting the right people around you will make your research group or team more productive and happier.

Leading & Supervising Postgraduates

Written by Prof Maddy Parsons, Professor of Cell Biology, Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics

I think one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of being an academic is having the opportunity to supervise and mentor postgraduate students (Masters and PhD) who are undertaking their projects in our team. In deciding to do a postgraduate degree programme, these students have already defined themselves as being committed to the field, interested in learning more about an in-depth subject area and developing new skills. This enthusiasm and genuine appetite for knowledge is essential in any research environment, and as such, students can have a really positive impact on the team as a whole if they are mentored properly. However, providing effective leadership to postgrad students can also present some significant challenges. In my 12 years as a group leader, I have supervised or co-supervised over 40 students and I suspect I’ve probably made all the mistakes you possibly can along the way! However, I think (hope!) I have also learned a few key things that might be helpful to consider:

  1. Good communication is essential. It might sound obvious, but establishing regular communication with new students is absolutely critical. Face-to-face is always best; I try really hard to make sure I have an allocated time to meet students every week and discuss progress and plans. Ad hoc or ‘open door’ policies tend not to work well, particularly if the student lacks the confidence to ask questions and discuss ideas spontaneously. This dedicated time is also important to develop mutual trust and respect that is essential to any student:supervisor relationship.
  2. One supervision style does not fit all. A senior colleague told me early on in my career that I should adopt one leadership style with students and stick to it. I realised very quickly that this was very bad advice! Everyone is different and you have to adapt to make sure they are getting the right level and type of support that works for them and for you. This can only be learned through good communication and developing an understanding of what each student needs in terms of leadership and mentorship.
  3. Micro-management kills innovation. All students need closer guidance when they first start, but after this it’s important that they take ownership and develop the project using their own ideas. This can be particularly tricky if you have pre-conceived ideas about where a project should go. Providing enough guidance and feedback to enable students to develop their critical thinking skills and pursue new avenues is essential.
  4. Encourage collaboration, open discussion and interactions. Postgraduate study can sometimes be a lonely business; it’s really important that students develop a network of peer support through regular interactions with other team members, other students within the department/College and externally through attendance at meetings and conferences. I really try to encourage these types of interactions as it has a huge positive impact on confidence and is an essential part of career development.
  5. Get excited! All research has its ups and downs; celebrating the successes with students (however small) and providing encouragement through the harder times is really important in maintaining confidence, momentum and commitment.

Building Resilient Leadership into Your Research

Written by Dr Jeremy Mead, Founder and Director of Resilience Tools Ltd and Director of Leadership in Action

Over the last 15 years our landscape has changed dramatically; social media and fake news have undermined people’s confidence in institutions and conventional hierarchy. Now more than ever great leadership is so important. But what is leadership?

Leaders are only leaders if they have followers. People follow authentic leaders who know their strengths and are candid about their weaknesses. Great leaders are dynamic, stepping forward at the right time and stepping back to allow others to lead when necessary. They also have vision and the ability to convey that vision in a compelling way.

Leadership is needed in all spheres of life, at all levels and in all parts of organisations. We all have the opportunity to exhibit leadership and it’s likely you will already have demonstrated it, whether in your day-to-day work as a researcher, on a sports field, in running a seminar series, or through involvement with a voluntary organisation. Whether or not you are currently in an ‘official’ leadership role, developing your leadership skills will make a significant contribution to your success in getting things done, forging collaborations and advancing your career.

Most researchers comment that demands on them are greater than they were a year ago. Work doesn’t get any easier and there are usually growing pressures from family, friends and other commitments.

That’s where Resilient Leadership comes in. A Resilient Leader knows where they are strong, their areas for development, what takes them from pressure to stress and how to rebalance. They have confidence in who they are and what they do, so that they create, build and take opportunities; bouncing back, knowing they will find a way through uncertainty, change and even crisis.

Over the last 20 years I have worked with people to first understand what makes a resilient leader and then use this understanding to help people build their resilient leadership. The Resilient Leaders Elements is a very practical framework which has been developed to help people develop their leadership:

Clarity of Direction and Resilient Decision Making address what people do as leaders. This is the cognitive intelligence that makes sure the best decisions are made in pursuit of well defined outcomes. Awareness and Leadership Presence address who people are as leaders. This is the emotional intelligence that has others want to follow you.

You will have noticed that Resilient Leaders pay equal attention to the cognitive and emotional aspects of leadership. It is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the smartest person should lead (particularly in academic circles). The truth is that anyone can lead and the best person needs to step forward for each situation and others need to encourage and support them to do so.

Develop your Resilient Leadership right now:

Here’s a short exercise to help you build your Resilient Leadership and which addresses the first part of our definition: “A Resilient Leader knows where they are strong, their areas for development…”

  1. Read the descriptions of each of the Elements
  2. Which is your strongest?
  3. Which needs the most development?
  4. What do you do well already in each of the Elements?
  5. What could you do better in each of the Elements?

Now find someone you trust and take them through the answers to these questions. Make sure you do more of the things you already do well and make a decision to address one development area through some simple actions.

We have developed an on-line resource called the Resilient Leaders Development Programme. This is used in King’s Leadership in Action programme to allow people to identify their strengths and development areas before the course and to measure the impact of the programme as a whole.

In the latest Leadership in Action programme it came as no surprise to find that typically participants had significant strengths in making robust, well researched decisions (Resilient Decision Making). They were authentic and worked in service of others (Leadership Presence). In contrast, development areas were mainly in the areas of Awareness and Clarity of Direction.

On average, participants grew their Resilient Leadership by over 20%, with around 30% growth in Awareness of Self and Others.

The programme consistently gives people confidence in their leadership such that they feel more prepared to step forward when required as well as the confidence to step back and let others lead when appropriate. This not only increases their own performance as researchers but also the effectiveness of their groups and collaborative partnerships in which they are involved. Ultimately, by making the most of each person’s capabilities better research gets done.

Focusing on building Resilient Leadership across an organisation such as King’s delivers the capability to create, build and take opportunities in our ever more uncertain world.

Driving Positive Change with the CROS

Written by Alexandra Melaugh, Pre-Doctoral Fellow in Health Economics & Deputy Chair of the RSRC

Last year the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) was circulated to research staff at King’s College London to elicit feedback on their research experience. It must be said, there are a lot of surveys that we are asked to complete, and although it can be burdensome, and we can sometimes choose not to complete them, the CROS survey is one which works to highlight areas that require improvement and tries to make a change to better meet the needs of researcher staff.

The Research Staff Representative Committee (RSRC) is driving forward changes to improve the research staff experience across the university and is comprised of representatives from each Faculty of the university. As the research assistant representative sitting on the RSRC, I believe it is very important to improve the research environment of researchers (pre-PhD) and try to make sure that the opportunities they can access whilst working at King’s are fit-for-purpose. By sitting on the RSRC I have been able to feedback discussions I have had with colleagues and other research assistants to try make a positive change and let their voices be heard. As a result, this feedback along with the results that were brought to light from the CROS survey, have led to shaping the objectives of the RSRC for this year. Alongside these, we have created a set of working groups to achieve our objectives. Here is an insight in to what we are working towards:

  1. The Performance Development Reviews (PDR’s) have been found to not be uniform across Faculties. The RSRC have set an objective of improving research staff career development by working with colleagues in the Strategy, Planning & Analytics Directorate, as well as HR, to redesign the performance development review (PDR) and make it a better fit for research staff to plan their future career development. We intend for our changes to be implemented for the 2019 PDR period.
  2. Results from the CROS survey showed over 31% of research staff have observed or experienced disrespectful treatment. The RSRC plans to reduce the occurrence of disrespectful behaviour and increase the visibility of research staff. Collaborations have been formed with the Diversity & Inclusion teams at the university and faculty level along with the Centre for Research Staff Development (CRSD) to ultimately increase accountability and create a safer environment to report incidences of disrespectful behaviour when they occur.
  3. A lot of confusion exists around the expectations within a job role. The RSRC are working with Faculties of the university to establish a unified description of job roles for research staff and clarifying job titles is the first step towards this.

It must be acknowledged, there are many things that the RSRC wish to achieve in 2018 but due to time limitations we established these three objectives as our priority and the CROS survey has helped us to establish these. So, when you see the email enter your inbox asking to complete the CROS survey, make sure you complete it because it is an opportunity to anonymously express your thoughts about the research environment and the culture at King’s. It is one way to get your voice heard as research staff at King’s.

Making Strategic Choices to Raise your Visibility

Written by Prof Sue Brain, Professor of Pharmacology, School of Cardiovascular Medicine & Sciences 

King’s employs many postdoctoral staff on a range of defined-term contracts.  Whilst these workers will be already an expert in their own area of research or education; they will be at a relatively early stage of their career. Most will have ambition to progress to a greater independence and to become established within their specialist area. The success of this ambition will involve, to a greater extent developing a suitable c.v. for applying for the opportunities that are likely to occur.  The priority should always be to work within the specialist area that their senior academic has employed them for, to obtain high impact publications or contributions that are recognised within the sector.  This may relate to research, discovery, innovation, business, education, communications or a related academic field.  However, one of the aims of the postdoctoral staff member is to develop their c.v.  so that their potential is obvious.  Sometimes this can be achieved purely via their work with their supervisor; especially if the work involves working in a high impact field where there is an unmet need for the acquired skills. Usually though postdoctoral staff will benefit from adding to their c.v. via related activities. This may be in terms of teaching and providing some evidence of having learnt how to enhance education, if they want to be an academic. This may involve outreach or seeking out and agreeing to invitations to speak and contribute at meetings, if communication skills involving a wider audience may be important for future career choices. Future employers may also want to see evidence of being able to take responsibility for an area of work. This evidence may come from roles carried out externally to the university (possibly a management role within a part-time or temporary work position) or via involvement with many of the committees and working groups within the university. The latter can be very important in enhancing visibility within your School, Department or even via the university.

One major question is ‘how does a postdoctoral staff member manage to do this whilst working on their postdoctoral project’? The most important aspect is to ensure that the choice of any additional commitments is targeted, strategic and relevant to aspirations for future career possibilities.  It is not possible to take every opportunity, thus it is important to make the opportunities work for the postdoctoral worker. Also, decisions may have to be made where an activity is curtailed when it is not clear how continuing it will enhance career aspirations. These can be difficult choices to make and involve saying ‘no’ to senior staff who may have previously depended on you.  How does one get the balance right?  An important factor is to ensure these choices are fully discussed and agreed with your supervisor/line manager. The needs of your immediate academic supervisor and group need to be taken into account. All postdoctoral workers will already have some academic responsibilities alongside their employment role in making their research group work.  Opportunities such as getting involved in writing grant applications and writing review chapters that are related to the postdoctoral research can be invaluable and sometimes step changing in terms of the career of an individual postdoc.  Attendance and visibility at meetings is also important. However, it has to be remembered that meetings are associated with travel and time away from work, so these too have to be chosen in a strategic manner.

The discussions could take place at your annual professional development review (PDR), but are also appropriate to discuss during any of your meetings with your immediate supervisor.  Most supervisors have a background that is similar enough to that of their postdoctoral staff to be a source of good advice; whilst ensuring the career remains ongoing in a positive manner.  However, there are a range of schemes available within and outside of King’s where by postdoctoral staff can obtain mentors. Mentors will also be ideal sounding boards for discussions on how to enhance visibility of early career postdoctoral staff whilst building the c.v.

To conclude postdoctoral staff should always have a priority to enhance the research work to which they are attached first. However, they should also work strategically to take opportunities to enhance their profile, relevant to the careers that they hope to enter.

Research Technicians – the silent partners?

Maybe a few decades ago that was the case. Has it changed?

Written by Bill Luckhurst, Technical Services Manager, Physics Research Facility

Over my long career as a research technician in Kings, I have gradually seen a blurring of the dividing lines between the differing roles in Research. The distinct boundaries tended to discourage mutual respect and collaboration between the different roles; however, these boundaries have been naturally eroded by wholesale changes in the way that research is conducted.  We all know how the changes have affected us: collectively we are far more collaborative and our role is more inclusive though I believe we do more with less, have fewer support staff and work within a highly competitive environment. The global reach of research at Kings has naturally attracted a diverse and talented range of staff who over a period of time have contributed significantly to the highly collaborative environment we all now work in.

The above changes have helped my career as a research technician but I too have helped myself. I am not one to be silent; I’m a person who wants to be part of a team, valued and respected. I have found a variety of ways over many years to get myself heard, the consequences of which have been my ability to move around and work with diverse research groups within Physics throughout many decades and through periods of change.  How did I do this?

Research technicians possess many skills, can multitask, and are fast learners; we may just not be aware of it or be prepared to demonstrate it. Self-belief might not be evident, a result of defaulting into the silent partner, undervalued mode.

I was always looking to spread myself about the various research groups, whether existing groups who saw their technical support dwindling, or new arrivals keen to get their research started. What could I offer? Technical skills, enthusiasm and continuity. If what I was offering did not match expectations I would be sent on courses; Electron Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy spring to mind. I would look at the arrival of new instruments large or small as an opportunity not to be missed; I would become involved with the installation and user training, skills that are essential and can be passed on.

I have seen the ability of many technicians to adapt to new situations. We have existing skill sets and core work that is the bread and butter of our research groups but I believe research technicians can be willing participants in taking on new responsibilities in a variety of fields. We may have qualifications that we feel define exactly where we should be placed within a Faculty or research group, our comfort zone. We can also step outside the zone because as Research technicians we can adapt to new situations and experiences as I have done. I have scared myself witless on a few occasions as I thought I had taken on too much additional responsibility.

I also looked beyond my own Faculty and department. What can I offer others? I have found that networking has helped here. Research technicians can often be the first point of contact from other departments’ research groups. Here’s a chance to offer advice or skills you have or to recommend another go-to person. Raise your profile at every opportunity, which could be by gently pressing for co-authorship of papers where you have had a significant impact on the outcomes, or by looking to have acknowledgement on papers where technical input has been essential to the complete package. Why should we be left out if we have contributed to successful publications? Although, to be fair, more recently over the last decade or so I have seen far more inclusiveness in the authorship and acknowledgements in papers.

Over many years I have used line managers and Heads of Department (HODs) to good effect. Push your line manager to place you in another department or Faculty research group for a two-week period during the summer or quiet period, maybe just to shadow. Try suggesting a research technician swap for a week or so: it could be a completely different experience outside your comfort zone that helps with your work portfolio and networking. Touch base with your HOD – remind him or her that you are there. I have the impression that HODs just don’t expect research technicians to make an appointment for a chat, an update on department research trends or the arrival of new researchers or groups, or a chance to offer your services.

I have found that very little just falls into your lap. By and large I have had to go and find the extras that have allowed career progression – the bits that get added onto the end of your PDRs, that add value, build career progression  and make you indispensable.

Ask your line manager or HOD if you could have a go at shadow short listing candidates for new technical appointments or maybe having an input into a JD for a research technical post. Why not, if you believe you have something to offer? If new labs are in the pipeline ask if you can participate in design meetings; if you have worked for some time in Research labs you know the faults and things which could be done better. You can be surprised what can be overlooked on a design brief!

To summarise, the only way to avoid being the silent partner is by using your voice – not just what you say, but what you do and contribute to the successful outcomes of research groups.

Raising your Profile

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

Why do we want to raise our profiles? There may be a variety of reasons, some obvious, some less so. Interestingly there may also be unexpected consequences of the actions we take in our day-to-day lives that contribute to raising our profiles, as I found out.

One obvious reason for engaging in profile-raising activities is to increase your chances of getting the job you really want, invitations to speak at conferences or other events, grants and the best collaborations. In this case you might aim to publish or exhibit your work in the places where they have the greatest impact, talk to the most influential people at places of work or funding bodies that interest you, or connect with others outside of your research field.

Other reasons for raising your profile also interest me. In a previous role I had a colleague, Paul, who seemed to have an endless supply of great postdocs and PhD students applying to work with him. He was a good researcher himself and that obviously would have helped, but he was still fairly junior in his field and consequently less likely to be known as those who had been around for a while. I had to admit to being slightly jealous of his success, having only just set up my own research group and finding it difficult to get any applications from people wanting to work with me, let alone those from good candidates. What was his secret, I asked him. Paul knew that by getting great people to join him at an early stage in his career his own research profile would rise too. He is an excellent speaker and it turned out he deliberately gave talks in places where he could influence fledgling researchers by showing them how exciting research in his team could be.  During those talks he also demonstrated how he would support them, which of course would be attractive to anyone who is aware of the ups and downs of research. Those who passed through his lab when we were neighbours have certainly gone on to successful careers of their own.

There are others who feel passionately about an issue and recognise that by raising their own profile they can promote the profiles of others. Over the last year I have witnessed the effectiveness of Bernadine Idowu as she promotes equality within academia by being an exemplary role model, encouraging others to succeed by her own actions. Her determination to improve the chances of BME would-be academics gives her the motivation and a solid reason to talk to those at the top levels of King’s and other universities where others at her career stage may feel inhibited. This has resulted in her being well known within the academic BME community and beyond.

In my own career I also wanted to support a cause and found unexpected consequences for my profile. When I set up my own research group in London there were about 8 labs here working on fruit flies, my chosen model organism. Those who know me are fully aware that I feel strongly about the power of collaboration and mutual support. What better way to demonstrate this than to set up a monthly meeting of those 8 labs to discuss our research and support each other with shared knowledge and technical expertise? Rather naively I hadn’t really thought about the consequences for my own profile and how much this meeting might be valued by others. About 2 years after we started I was at the annual Drosophila Research Conference in the USA, the premier international gathering of fruit fly researchers that attracts around 1,000 participants. At this conference a participant I had never met before who worked on an unrelated research question in a lab in the USA saw my name badge and asked, “Are you the Kathy Barrett who runs the London Fly Group?”.

There are many reasons for raising our profiles. There are also many ways in which our profiles rise because of the actions we take for other reasons. Either way, getting yourself noticed for positive actions can only help you navigate your way through the vicissitudes of life.

Five Steps to Visibility

Written by Dr Emma Williams. Emma works towards illuminating a wider career choice for early career researchers. Trainer, consultant and coffee lover. Find out more at www.ejwsolutions.co.uk 

Embarking on a postdoc or working in another research role? You are discovering that the life of research staff is not just research. Teaching, committees, looking after amazingly young-looking undergraduates in your lab … all add into the rich mix. Don’t you just want to raise the drawbridge up and ignore the wider university from time to time?

Once we could hide in our ivory academic tower and descend (or condescend) to tell our London Society about how marvellously we were doing. If you are now imagining a Victorian gentleman scientist, it is time to drag ourselves into the modern age!

Our next steps, academic or otherwise, depend on being successful in your current role and having a wide network who can provide you with skill opportunities, references and a heads up on interesting jobs for you.

Visibility is the key to unlocking the future. Here are my top five research staff tips – all of which are making the most of the things you need to do anyway. I’m a big fan of ‘double counting’ when it comes to saving time and effort!

Follow your passion

Exploding bananas with school kids might be some people’s idea of fun but not all profile raising needs to involve children (or bananas). If you are doing something in concert with your values and motivations, it will be easier and feel much less like ‘work’. You will also meet like-minded people to create an authentic network.

If communicating your research is important – do it. If you want to champion underrepresented groups then student inclusion, Athena Swann and similar schemes are always looking for research staff to get involved. If you want to channel the impact of your research into a social enterprise, King’s can help you.

Play to your strengths

This is not just sensible but time saving! We are much faster at things that come easily so chose a visibility route that channels your talents. Writers could blog, contribute to newsletters or contribute to the wider public press. If public speaking is your thing present your work at a variety of places or set up an interest group. Those with great people skills might consider committee work, steering groups or working with research stakeholders (patients, companies or charities).

Not all of this needs to be academic. Perhaps you are involved in charity work or university sporting events? Your personal back story might be an inspiration to future students or current research staff.

Don’t be a bad news fairy

Yes, we all know research doesn’t work all the time but a constant flow of negatives will paint you in a bad light too. Simple proactive, positive actions to take are:

  • List successes in meetings with people as well as problems.
  • Offer solutions to set backs
  • Be part of the solution

Do not hide your successes – promote them. Be proud of what you have achieved. No one else (apart from perhaps your mum) will prioritise your career. It is up to you.

Say yes (and sometimes then no)

Be on the lookout for opportunities to raise your profile. This will mean reading department / university emails! Or perhaps your discipline’s learned society has a need for committee members or volunteers? Which undergraduate courses are looking for TAs or guest lecturers? Be proactive and manage your time well. If you have sat on a committee for a year time to say no and give the opportunity to someone else.

Visibility starts at ‘home’. People at King’s have worldwide connections. A colleague in your department may just have got an email about an academic position that might be suitable for you …

Take part instead of being a cog

Research staff sometimes blame the great university machine for their woes. Being reactive and pointing the finger rarely achieve great things and have a very negative impact on your mental outlook.

Be proactive and take part to influence the debate (whatever you are passionate about).

Your research alone is not enough for you to be visible. Let’s learn a lesson from another Victorian. Wikipedia describes the plot of H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man”:

 “He demands to be left alone and spends most of his time in his rooms working with a set of chemicals and laboratory apparatus, only venturing out at night.”