Taking Charge of your Future

Written by Dr Stephani Hatch, Reader at the IoPPN

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”Maya Angelou

The first time I took charge of my future is when I found my voice and refused to be intimidated by the power and assumed knowledge of my guidance counsellor.  With very few accessible role models for what I wanted to achieve at age 14, my guidance counsellor attempted to place me in classes that would result in the receipt of a diploma required for vocational courses rather than one that would prepare me for university.  This decision was made despite being a strong student. With my parents support, we insisted that I be included on the university track and decided I would search for a different high school where I would be encouraged, supported and nurtured to thrive. There were lessons I learned from this experience: the importance of finding your voice and being prepared to move on when your needs are not being met.

Fast forward to my undergraduate years, I took charge of my future by listening to the sage advice of a PhD student who told me to find a faculty role model and ask that person to mentor me.  I plucked up the courage to approach an academic I admired, and she mentored me through the next steps, applying to postgraduate studies. That mentor was my first of many mentors; when I think back, my mentors were the key to me continuing to take charge of my future.  To date, my mentors keep me focused, realistic and motivated toward achieving my goals.

Taking charge is not a single event; it is a process that will continue across your career. I joined King’s in 2006 and it was a clear opportunity for me to recreate what had worked in previous experiences and intentionally avoid potential barriers. However, in many ways I felt 14 again, with very few accessible role models and a feeling that an environment that lacked diversity and inclusion may be a barrier to achieving my goals. I looked around and the absence of ethnic minority academics was immediately obvious to me.  Being in a different country with seemingly different cultural rules, within and outside of the workplace, also left me with a feeling of uncertainty.  My response was to find my voice and have sometimes uncomfortable conversations with my line manager about who I was, who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish, immediately and in the long run.  I was also upfront about how my academic experiences had been shaped by gender and race.  Yes, gender was the more comfortable conversation to have, but for many reasons, our continued race discussions have been more important.  This openness also led me to working on Diversity & Inclusion initiatives at King’s which has greatly improved my research, teaching and ability to support my students and colleagues.

Based on these and many other experiences, I offer the following tips:

  • Find your voice: Let people know who you are and who you want to be (and it’s your prerogative to change your mind);
  • Know what is expected of you: make this a part of your communications with your line managers and supervisors; know how your progress is being benchmarked in your faculty and the wider institution;
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations/have difficult conversations: step outside your comfort zone at least once every few months; many situations/conversations you are avoiding can become unnecessary barriers to your progress;
  • Let other people say no: no one likes rejection, but you cannot let yourself become your biggest barrier;
  • Keep moving forward: if the decisions you are making and the people you are surrounding yourself with are not contributing to your progression, make new decisions and approach new colleagues;
  • Find mentors: this is preferably someone that is your champion but does not have a vested interest beyond that; make sure your mentor is fit for purpose; one mentor may not be able to guide you in all aspects required of an academic (i.e., research, teaching, administration and citizenship);
  • Share information and strategies with your peers: academia is competitive but it can also be a supportive environment; always model how you would like to define collaborative and supportive relationships in how you interact with your peers and colleagues.

Attend the Research Staff Event 2018 to hear Stephani speak and introduce a diverse panel of speakers who will be sharing their experiences of taking charge of their future at King’s.

Engaging with your Professional Network

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

I didn’t really see myself as someone who was good at networking.  I have to take a deep breath and steel myself before entering a room full of people unless I already know them all.  But I do it because there is always the possibility that I might meet someone interesting.  It surprised me then that during an appraisal one year my line manager pointed to networking as one of my strengths.  Really?!  Yes, because I was always bringing people to our department who had interesting ideas, projects and attributes that would enhance what we were trying to do.

What was it I was doing?  Just following interests, enjoying talking to people, keeping my mind open and being creative about how I could work with the people I met.  Admittedly some of those people I never saw again but others became good colleagues and some also friends.  Over time we built up relationships that became stronger and stronger following the 5As that I described in an earlier post on this site from February 16th.

What I discovered later was also a theory that has implications about getting new ideas from others.  As the theory goes, we generally work in groups of 5.  This is the number of people you see frequently and with whom you share and discuss ideas most frequently.  If you and your friends move only in this group you’re likely to lapse into group-think, only knowing and understanding a small fraction of what the world is doing.  In practice it doesn’t work completely like this.  Your core of 5 is not the same as that of your 4 core members.  There are probably some overlaps, but they are more likely to have others in their core and this will enable new ideas to be brought in to yours.

Then of course the net continues to spread with you having a wider group of about 50 people you see on a less frequent basis but whom you would be happy to invite to your party. Beyond that is a group of around 150.  It is difficult to keep up with more than that because you have reached the limit of your mental capacity.

What if you could keep people who are within that 150 a bit closer to you? The trick might be in the connections you have and the people with whom your connections are linked.  Are they the kind of people who could provide you with the ideas that you might need in the future, ideas for new avenues to explore, new knowledge and new collaborators, for instance?  If you could build the ideal network, what would it look like?

At the Research Staff Event on June 20th we will be doing just that.  One of the workshops will explore who we would like in our networks and how we can set them up to be the most useful.

My thanks to Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford, for developing his theories around Dunbar’s Number.

Research Staff Event 2018

Written by Donald Lush, Careers Consultant, King’s Careers & Employability

On 20th June 2018, we are hosting our annual Research Staff Event, with the theme Taking Charge of Your Future. Working in higher education is inspiring and challenging, but can also feel overwhelming. This year’s research staff event aims to give you the opportunity to take some time to think about your position in King’s, and higher education as a whole, and consider your current path and next steps. You will hear from a panel of your peers about their opinions on the strategies, and struggles, they have encountered while taking charge of their futures at King’s and be able to engage in discussion about the best ways that King’s College London can support you when you are considering your future. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to network with research staff colleagues from all disciplines across the university, and you will hear about how different departments can support you during your time at King’s.

This month’s blog posts are written by inspiring colleagues who are taking part in this year’s event. Their posts will highlight their own experiences in higher education or provide a taster of their workshop. Whether you are new to King’s or worked here for many years – we strongly encourage your attendance at this event to hear about how the Centre is supporting you and get to know your research staff colleagues. The remainder of this post provides information that will be further discussed during a workshop at the Research Staff Event, titled ‘To Infinity and Beyond: Building a CV that really Stands Out.’

One of the careers questions researchers ask frequently is about the best way to make a CV stand out.

There are many ways to approach this issue and quite a few of them are presentational, looking at ways to make your skill and experience clear and relevant to a potential employer.

But there is sometimes a deeper problem. A good example often emerges when applying for academic roles and needing to describe your teaching experience. What if you haven’t got any?

Building a strong CV relies on having some concrete experience to draw on. This is most eloquently described by Peter Feibelman in his book ‘A PhD Is Not Enough’. Although this book is aimed at scientists and mainly meant for the academic market in the USA, its point is a good one. It’s important to teach and research, but it’s not enough.

Here are some thoughts about what you could do to get those invaluable experiences:


Sharing your research is a great way to gain experience in public engagement with it. It works too. For more information, read this very detailed handbook from the London School of Economics. A group of King’s PhDs have just started their own podcast series. Dr. Ben Goldacre more or less launched his career in epidemiology via the Bad Science blog.

Create your teaching opportunities

What if your department doesn’t have many (or even any) undergraduates? How can you get to teach?  Check out The Brilliant Club to see researchers getting into the classroom. Or you could set up your own seminars and conferences or invite local schools in to share your work as Sweta Raghavan did.


There are thousands of charities out there that could use your help whilst providing you with all sorts of skills from education and training to administration.  Have a look at this website to see just how many!

These are just a few of the ways you can find experience and develop your skills. This blog, from Warwick University, has many more. Check them out!

For more information, attend Donald’s workshop at the Research Staff Event. Register for the Event here.

Early Academic Career Development: Lukewarm Amphibian Edition

Written by Dr Susan Cox, Royal Society University Research Fellow, Randall Centre of Cell & Molecular Biology

There’s a myth that if you gradually increase the temperature of the water a frog is sitting in, it will eventually boil alive. I think many people settling into their first academic position feel like that frog. After the euphoria of having a job for longer than three years starts to recede, you notice the number of things you need to do has steadily crept up. And the tasks are mutating, too: from the analytical or lab-based skills that put you to the top of your field to writing, managing projects, and interacting with other humans.

I’m not sure there’s a universal winning tactic, except to steadily learn new skills, and get advice from those who have already been through it.  But I didn’t get where I am today by letting a total lack of data get in the way of giving my opinion, so here are my top tips:

1) Learn to say no. Practice it in front of the mirror every morning, preferably while flossing, which will give you healthy gums and some useful facial expressions that will discourage follow-up requests. Everyone will want something from you: you can’t do it all. Try to work out which things are the most valuable to you.

2) Accept you’ll make mistakes. You are going to be doing a huge number of new type of tasks, and sometimes things will go so badly wrong you’ll feel like you’re trying to descend Mount Everest by snowboarding on a yeti. Don’t worry. You get used to it.

3) Spend at least one day a week doing stuff that you love. There’s no point having fought your way to this position if you’re spending the whole time tearing out your hair while reading email. Discuss work with your group/colleagues, get some time on the wet lab bench or in the library, or lock yourself in a room for eight hours with a fascinating data analysis problem. When someone threatens this time, visualise yourself as Jean Claude Van Damme about to deliver the death blow to his opponent.

4) You know those people, the really annoying ones, who do an impossible amount of everything and look politely puzzled as you flail and gasp through life? To a lot of people, you are that person.  Don’t let the high standards you set yourself make you feel like a failure.

5) Write grants, write papers, do work. Lather, rinse, repeat.

6) Every so often, take a bath and gradually increase the temperature of the water until your muscles relax. Unlike a frog, you won’t even jump out of the water to thermoregulate. Stew until you have a brilliant idea or you run out of hot water.

But seriously, the most important thing is to learn to say no. Particularly if someone asks you to write a blog post.