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.”