Fostering Positive Professional Relationships

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

Some of us just seem to know how to build good relationships with others.  Were these people born with this skill or did they learn it?  Of course, it helps to have a genuine interest in other people but where do you start?  In my previous role, I was introduced by one of my colleagues to an idea he had devised about where you start and how you build.  He called this the 5 As.

A number 1, the first step, is Answers. It is easy to ask someone if they will answer your questions.  All you need is questions and the understanding that the person you are talking to will be able to respond so you are not making them uncomfortable.  The questions can give you a sense of purpose when you approach your potential new friend/collaborator/advocate that can dispel any reserve you might have about approaching them.  As you start this conversation, you may find that you’re struggling to connect with them.  If that is the case then unless you really need to build a relationship with them, for example, they are your boss (!), don’t be afraid to move on.  It is likely that you will have some useful answers and there are others in the world who will respond more positively.  If you are getting on well with this person then you’re ready to push a bit harder.

A number 2 is Advice. Asking for advice puts a bit more pressure on the person you’re asking as they are taking more responsibility, but if you made a good start at building rapport with your first A then advice should follow relatively easily.  Again, if you feel by now you have gone as far as you can, cut your losses and move on, but if it is still going well you might be ready for the next stage.

The next A is Assistance. This is asking them to help you with something, for example, share a precious resource with you or read and critique your research paper.  To reach this level you will already have built some trust and respect.  After all, if the resource is precious they would need to feel that it is worth sharing it with you and that they will get something from reading about your research, even if it is the warm rosy glow you get from helping someone.  This level of relationship will have taken time to build and is likely to have come from quite a bit of interaction.

The fourth A is Advocacy. For someone to be your advocate, for example to recommend you to their head of department or fellow research group leader when you are looking for a job, you will need to have built up a fairly solid relationship so we’re talking about knowing that person for several months.  During that time you will have shown them that you are reliable and good at what you do as they will be risking their own reputation by advocating for you.

At the top of the pyramid at number 5 is Alliance. While you will probably have been giving as well as receiving at As 1-4, when you reach the 5th A you will be working together in such a way that both of you are giving equally to each other.  This comes for example when a PhD student has set up their own independent research and still has strong ties with their supervisor that are beyond a shared research programme.  This might manifest itself in recommending good PhD students or postdocs to each other, invitations to be a guest speaker, support in applying for grants or jobs and all manner of other endeavours.

I like this framework as it neatly describes how a relationship builds over time and what you can accomplish.  I use it mainly when talking about networking to demonstrate that just asking questions is a great way to start.  I think though that in any relationship, aiming for an alliance is a great goal to have as mutual respect and support is so empowering to have at any level.  In fact the higher you go in your career the fewer people there will be who will feel comfortable to talk to you because you are so much further advanced than them.  So next time you meet a more senior person in your department you don’t know, just ask a few questions to show your interest.  Who knows, over time you may work your way through the 5 As to Alliance.

My thanks to David Winter of The Careers Group for the 5 As.

Building Effective Relationships in the Research Environment

This is a guest post written by Kate Tapper, founder of buddevelopment.co.uk

On almost every course I run there is a moment where someone gasps wide-eyed at something one of the other particpants in the room says or does….”YOU!” they exclaim…”I work with a whole team of people just like YOU!”.  It might be the way they put some lego together, or how they described their approach to deadlines.

These ‘ah-ha’ moments are the thing I love best about my work.  When people start to see the behaviour that they had previously viewed as ‘difficult’ as simply ‘different’, they can shift their perspective and change their working relationships.

On the whole, other people are not trying to annoy you on purpose!  Nor are your esteemed colleagues incompetent, they are usually trying to get things done the best (or only) way they know how to.  This might be very different to the way you like to work and it may be utterly opaque as to why they do it that way.

Curiosity

You already have a huge asset that can used to improve working relationships; your curious mind. I’ll bet the reason you are in research to start with is that you are curious.  If you can seek to understand colleagues with the same curiosity that you approach your research with, you are half way there.

Think about it.  Do you begin with the raw data of how someone behaves and ask yourself why? Or, do you leap to conclusions? What labels does your categorising mind like to issue? Narcissist! Control-freak! Dreamer! Flaky! Selfish! Can you take a step back and be more questioning about why a person behaves the way they do? Understanding more about personality differences can help you to achieve this mindset.

Compassion

In tandem with curiosity, I encourage researchers to bring compassion to their working relationships too.  Compassion for yourself, which means that you take care of your own needs and compassion for others, which means seeking to understand their needs. Attending to your own needs stops you from becoming a doormat and seeking to understand others’ needs engenders the respect that the best collaborations are built on.

Courage

It takes courage to look at yourself and to question what you could do differently to improve working relationships. It takes courage to try out new ways of working with people. But I am endlessly inspired by the brave transformations that I see researchers make. The world’s greatest challenges can only be solved by the meeting of the world’s greatest minds. And yes, that includes yours.

You already carry part of the solution… now if your research relationships were trusting, respectful, compassionate and courageous… how much more could you achieve?

Kate will be facilitating workshops in emotional intelligence and personality differences in research at Kings in 2018.

Coaching: Supporting You to Reach your Potential

Written by Dr Amy Birch, Research Staff Development Consultant, CRSD

When I tell people that I’m a coach, most will frown and ask “sports coach?” in an incredulous voice. I try not to take this too personally (don’t I look like someone who spends all their time in a gym?!), and in truth there are many similarities between professional coaching and sports coaching.

In sport, a coach will support individuals to improve their performance to obtain better results. They may provide theories and new exercises for the individual, and push them to reach their best performances, but ultimately, it is the individual who is doing the training. The role of the coach is to offer specific tools for success and support the individual in a way that creates experiential learning.

Professional coaching, or performance coaching as I prefer to call it, works in the same way – except without the 6am training in wet, cold conditions or hours in the gym! Performance coaching takes place as conversations between two people, the coach and coachee (or coachees if teams are being coached). The role of the coach is to create an environment and conversation that benefits the coachee by supporting their learning and progresses them towards their goals.

Why might people want to have coaching?

There are many reasons why people may consider using the services of a coach. The most important reason is to improve their situation and achieve some goals. These goals can come in the form of being more organised and efficient at work, gaining confidence in certain environments/situations, and working with certain people in a more effective way.

As a coach, I believe that everyone has the potential to succeed. My goal is to observe, question, listen, and feedback to the coachee in a way that helps them to see different perspectives, gain clarity on their own abilities (and beliefs about those abilities), and have a greater appreciation of their own circumstances. Most importantly, I provide a space for coachees to have time to think and reflect. This will help them to consider new ways to resolves issues, perform at their best, and achieve their goals more quickly.

As research staff, you may have a clear plan for succeeding and achieving your goals. However, if you are unsure about your direction or goals, coaching can help you to gain some clarity. You may feel that you know what your goals are but there are obstacles in the way of achieving these. Coaching is based on the principle that individuals are ultimately responsible for their lives and achieving their goals. However, it is often difficult to see how to achieve them – coaching can help you take a step back and find the best route to your success.

If you think that you could benefit from coaching, please contact Kay Dorelli at kathleen.dorelli@kcl.ac.uk. Please note there may be a waiting list to be allocated a coach.

King’s Mentoring Schemes for Research Staff

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer, CRSD

If the idea of looking for a mentor on your own isn’t for you, formal mentoring schemes can be a valuable alternative to finding an appropriate mentor. Mentoring schemes often require you to state the goals that you would like to work on during the mentoring relationship at application stage, then use this information to either match you with a mentor with relevant knowledge and experience or allow you to choose such a mentor from a list of existing mentors on the scheme. Choosing to opt for a formal scheme often has the added benefit of being paired with a mentor who you may not otherwise have regular contact with, such as someone from another department, university, or even outside academia, who can offer you new, objective perspectives and insights. Mentoring schemes typically also offer training or resources about what to expect from the mentoring relationship before mentoring commences.

There are several schemes across King’s that are open to research staff:

Addictions Department Mentoring Programme – This scheme is open to all staff in the Department of Addictions in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. Mentees are matched with mentors and then it is up to the mentees/mentors to decide how and when to meet. Most pairs meet face-to-face once every few months. For further information please contact katherine.morley@kcl.ac.uk.

British Heart Foundation (BHF) Centre of Research Excellence Scheme – This scheme provides mentoring for female scientists at any stage of their career and for male early-career research staff members. Mentees are assigned a mentor who is typically a senior investigator in a different BHF research group. Both mentors and mentees undergo training prior to commencing the programme. Further information about the programme and how to join is available here.

Cross-Departmental Postdoctoral Mentoring Programme – This scheme is open to Post-docs from the Centre for Development Neurobiology, the Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics, and the Centre for Age-Related Diseases (Wolfson CARD). It provides mentees with the option of choosing a mentor from their pool of mentors who is best suited to support them on the areas of development that they would like to work on. Find out more at the bottom of this page.

Cross Departmental Research Mentoring Scheme – This scheme is run by the Departments of War Studies, Defence Studies, European and International Studies, and Political Economy and the Global Institutes. Mentees can select a mentor from outside their department in the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy. Find out more here.

Dental Institute Post-Doc Scheme – This scheme provides Post-docs in the Dental Institute with the opportunity to work with a mentor who is typically a senior staff member. Find out more here.

Diversity Scheme – This scheme is open to all King’s academic, research and professional services staff at any grade who wish to progress their careers and who meet one or more of the criteria below:

  • Female
  • Trans, non-binary or other gender variant identity
  • Black or Minority Ethnic of any gender identity

These audiences have been prioritised as data indicates that they are under-represented at particular grades and face greater institutional barriers to progression. Learn more here.

N.B. – This scheme is currently undergoing evaluation and is paused but is expected to re-launch in October 2018

How to Choose a Mentor and Make it Work

This is a guest post by Dr Kay Guccione, Mentoring Consultant at the University of Sheffield.

At Sheffield, as at Kings, we take mentoring for research staff seriously, and offer formal programmes designed specifically to meet the development needs of research staff. However, this post isn’t about those programmes. Instead I offer you some ideas about how you can recruit a mentor for yourself.

Both programmatic and more informal mentoring experiences can provide useful career planning support: one provides a more neutral ‘coaching space’, removed from preconceptions about you, your PI, or any disciplinary politics; the other tends to be more discipline-specific and can offer insider knowledge and guidance. What’s right for you will depend of what you’re looking for, and what you already have available to you.

Some general rules for thinking about mentoring partnerships are below — think through what you can reasonably expect from a mentor, and how to communicate that to the mentor you approach:

Mentoring figure 1 updated

When I’m designing mentoring programmes I take care not to duplicate the supportive relationships already available. For this reason, I match mentees with a mentor outside their department, broadening professional networks, and introducing them to a person they’re otherwise unlikely to meet. I can also then ensure that mentors are all trained volunteers, all starting off with the same set of expectations about what mentoring is and isn’t, and all abiding by a defined code of conduct.

There are some clear advantages though to finding your own mentor. You can do it whenever you like — no need to wait for a particular programme start date. Plus, you can choose from a whole world of mentors, you’re not restricted to just those at the same university as you. So, who should you choose?

Mentoring figure 2 JPEG

Without the formalities of a programme to make the introductions or to help you set the focus and the parameters of the mentoring relationship, you will need to anticipate for yourself the potential misunderstandings about what you’re looking for in a mentoring partnership. Right from the outset you should communicate the scope of what you want, and take responsibility for the management of the mentoring partnership.

Some things to include in that first request to your potential mentor:

  • Who you are and what you do — include any links to your work, CV, web pages etc.
  • What you aspire to — intended career route, what you’d like to be able to do, etc. Make it more meaningful than just scoping them out for a future job!
  • Why you believe they can support you with your goals. Their listening and people development skills are as important here as their CV.
  • Reassure them that you are not looking for a substitute PI.
  • Say who will take responsibility for the mentoring partnership, keep up momentum, and take action between meetings? HINT: This is your role as the mentee! More tips on making the most of mentors can be found here.
  • The time commitment you anticipate e.g. 2x1h meetings over 4 months. Set limits so you have a get out clause in case you don’t end up finding the partnership beneficial.
  • IMPORTANT! Give them a heads up on role you would like them to take. If you don’t specify that you’d like to be more than just the passive recipient of their anecdotes, wisdom and advice then you can’t expect them to know.

It’s worth noting that the usual rules of personal safety apply — if they are receptive to your request, do choose a public location to meet and introduce yourselves. While we should be mindful of asking people to do free work for us (this applies especially to women, who are more frequently asked to do supportive/mentoring work for free), be very wary of a mentor who asks for payment in order to help you. And if your intended recruit declines to support you as a mentor, you will have to graciously accept their decision.

Wishing you all the best of luck in finding and recruiting your mentor!

A Mentor – Next Year’s Must Have!

Written by Prof Cathy Shanahan, Department of Cardiology

To be or not to be Mentored 

It is now well established that good mentors are key to the success of any career.  Mentoring of research staff is particularly important as this is the time that critical career and life  choices have to be made and it is also the time of the greatest drop out of women from Academia.

Below, I have set out a whistle stop tour of how to get the most out of mentoring  – not only to leverage your career but more importantly to make informed decisions to ensure life satisfaction!

So, What is Mentoring?

It’s a process whereby an experienced, empathic individual guides you (the mentee) in the development and examination of your own ideas, learning and personal and professional development.  It is completely confidential so it is important that you are open and honest during the process.   

It is not Therapy, Lecturing/Teaching or a cosy chat –  it has a purpose and you, the mentee, need to be the one driving the process!

When is Mentoring Useful?

Mentoring is probably most useful when you are about to enter into a period of change.  This could be anything from an academic decision, such as applying for an Independent Fellowship or moving on from a post-doc to a new career in industry or anything else. Mentoring can also be used to guide you through more personal decisions such as taking a career break or dealing with difficult conversations with the boss!   It can help you gain confidence in establishing relationships and working with more senior staff and will help you gain a broader perspective.  It is best to find a mentor at least a year before important decisions need to be finalized – so there is time to consider and put plans into action.

Choosing a Mentor – Horses for Courses!

Some people are lucky enough to have a great boss who has their best interests at heart and will spend the time to help develop their career.  But not every boss is so altruistic – if you are good your boss might just want to keep you to boost their own productivity (and ego!). But even if you have a great boss a broader perspective is always useful.

You can get a mentor in two ways; either informally, by asking someone you think might be good, or as part of a formal scheme – and there are many of these across King’s.  Of course, asking someone is not for the faint hearted – but you would be surprised at how many people are willing to say yes!  Just as there are horses for courses not all Mentors are alike – so you need to choose a mentor or a scheme that suits your purpose.

The Mentee Does most of the work!  The more you put in the more you get out!

Perhaps the most important rule is that mentoring is not a passive process – it requires a lot of work on the part of the Mentee.  The Mentor is just a conduit to enable the mentee to make their own choices.  If you join a formal scheme you will almost certainly receive training on how to get the most out of the process – but if you find your own mentor then here are the key things you need to know:

  • You need to be the proactive one arranging meetings with your mentor.  But remember they have agreed to the relationship so don’t feel bad that you are taking their time – you are in it together!
  • The first meeting should be about getting to know one another. Send your CV so that can form the basis for some of the first discussions and make sure your mentor understands what you would like to achieve.
  • Once you have started the process your mentor might give you ‘homework’ to help you make the right choice. Sometimes this might seem daunting and take you out of your comfort zone – but ultimately that is the only way to orchestrate change – and let’s face it life would be boring if you didn’t get the occasional adrenaline rush!

Finally, if you find you can’t establish a rapport with your mentor – or they spend the whole time talking about themselves, then change – it’s your prerogative and it’s meant to help you.  And don’t be shy in asking for help – we all need it!

Collaborating with Policymakers

Written by Emma Kinloch, Impact and Engagement Manager, The Policy Institute

At the Policy Institute collaboration is at the heart of our work. We seek to provide the answers to the most pressing challenges faced by policymakers. Recently, we have been working on projects in partnership with organisations such as the London Ambulance Service on improving ambulance response times, the U.S. Department of Defense on maritime security, and Westminster City Council on air quality. It is mutually beneficial to collaborate on such projects. Working with partners who have first-hand experience of policy and practice challenges allows us to understand the real day-to-day constraints and obstacles they face and allows our research to be responsive. In addition, drawing on your partners’ networks can open new avenues which would previously have been difficult to reach without that connection. Conversely, collaboration allows partners to draw on academic evidence and the expert insights of research staff at King’s. Working with partners gives your work the greatest opportunity to have impact beyond academia. When academia and practice convene they create a piece of work that is more than the sum of its parts.

One way the Policy Institute can help you to think about partnerships in your research is through our online ‘Impact by Design’ training modules. Part I, ‘Understanding impact and embedding it into research’, will take you through the fundamentals of research impact. Additionally, it will provide you with practical tools such as an influence/interest matrix to assist you in mapping the key stakeholders who you will want to influence and possibly collaborate with. Part II, ‘Translating research into practice’, will help you think about how to best communicate your ideas and which channels will be the most appropriate to have the maximum impact with your work. The modules are available for self-enrolment now via Keats.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Written by Donald Lush, Careers Consultant 

Let’s tip this one on its head! Collaboration can too easily be seen as an obligation and a distraction, something that stops you working instead of making your research richer, more exciting and more rewarding.

So, start by thinking of yourself as valuable. Why? Because you are. As a research staff member you probably know more about your subject and research methods than anyone else.  Think about what it is you have to offer – be specific and try to create a short and simple statement to summarise it.  A book such as ‘What Colour Is Your Parachute?’ can really help here. Additionally, engaging in collaborations can be an excellent opportunity to enhance your career development and the scope of the impact of your research. Whether you are collaborating with academic colleagues or stakeholders in industry, collaboration can help you develop new knowledge and transferable skills and can promote your academic profile nationally and internationally. Academic collaborations can broaden the reach of your research to other disciplines and industry collaborations can lead to the application of your research in wider society, in turn strengthening its impact.

Successful collaboration is also a key ingredient in building strong teams. If you know what you’re about and can communicate it effectively you are much more likely to benefit from help from colleagues and much more likely to be able to help them. This facilitates teamwork in which everyone is able to play to their strengths and therefore makes the team more effective.

Fully collaborative teams achieve far more than one person can on their own. Collaboration across teams is also much more likely to lead to innovation, as fresh ideas from fresh perspectives are encouraged and developed.

Finally, a truly collaborative project is characterised by mutual respect, honesty and integrity. This means that team members are open to new ideas and tolerant of risk and even failure. Paradoxically, where risk and failure are permitted, the chances of it happening are reduced as honest and positive criticism strengthens the team’s thinking. The consequence is that new ideas blossom and energy is not wasted on blame or power struggles.

There is one potential downside – groupthink. This is where the group falls under the sway of one way of thinking and refuses all criticism. It can be very damaging to the team because it can’t absorb and act on information contrary to its established view. If you’re setting up a new collaboration make sure there is a structure that insists on giving dissent a voice and ensure that the devils advocates in the team are given space to share their thoughts but are not allowed to dominate.

For more on collaboration this is an excellent TED talk.

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