Learning Agility – Why This is Important in Such a Volatile World

Written by Holly Hart, Organisation Development Consultant, Organisation Development 

I think we can all agree that the world we live in today is unpredictable, complex and often ambiguous. The rate at which technology is continuing to develop is almost mind boggling and with that comes uncertainty, especially in the workplace. What will our roles look like in the next 5 years? Will they still exist, or will we need to adjust our career plans drastically?

The answers to these questions remain unknown therefore we need to accept and be comfortable with change. Research suggests the most successful individuals are also the most agile; they have the confidence to weave together pieces of seemingly unrelated information to craft novel, innovative solutions on the spot.

So how do we get comfortable with change and uncertainty? Well, learning agility is the key to unlocking our adaptability. Learning agility is the ability to learn, adapt and apply ourselves in constantly morphing situations; being able to learn something on one situation and apply it in another completely different situation sets us up very well in today’s everchanging world.

Learning agility presents differently depending on the person and the context; according to Korn Ferry International there are 5 dimensions of learning agility:

  1. Mental Agility
  2. People Agility
  3. Change Agility
  4. Results Agility
  5. Self-Awareness Agility

Increasing agility across these 5 dimensions unlocks enduring potential to achieve and succeed in uncertain situations; equipping individuals with the tools and solutions to draw on when faced with new challenges.

So now you know the importance of learning agility, how do you increase your own? There are many resources, journal articles and videos online. This video from Lynda.com will take you through setting goals, creating a learning plan and staying on track to improve your learning agility and get ahead. (N.B. Please note that you will have to log in to Lynda.com with your King’s username and password to access the video).

Well-being – What Does Yours Look Like?

Written by Lorraine Kelly, Head of Engagement & Development, HR

What does the word well-being mean? It can mean so many different things to each of us; for some it’s about fitness and going to the gym, for others it is listening or making music or sometimes it may mean taking some quiet time to reflect after a busy day. The one thing that we all share is our need to understand and manage our own well-being.

Sometimes, when we are busy and we have a lot to deliver at work and in our busy lives the things that are really important to us can be neglected or even forgotten. Having a healthy mind-set when it comes to our well-being can support us to feel more confident and to be more successful. It can open our minds to different ways of thinking; encouraging positive behaviour. Over my working life I have learnt how to be more aware of my need to manage my own well-being; this has largely contributed to a better work life balance, ensuring I had the time for the things that were important to me.

We are delighted to offer a workshop at the Research Staff Event which will get us thinking about how we can understand what well-being means to us, how to better manage our well-being and consider strategies for success. This interactive session will look at the importance of maintaining individual well-being before we discuss strategies to achieve individual well-being as a group; by the end of this session each person will have a set of actions which they can take forward to support their own well-being.

Learn more about the Research Staff Event 2018 and register to attend here.

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:

Blog/Tweet/Podcast

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.

Volunteer

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.

Writing a Successful Grant Application

Written by Dr Chris Bird, St Thomas & Waterloo Campus Research Development Manager

A key feature of forging a successful career in academia is to secure grant funding for your research. Although there are many different styles and funder requirements there are a few important things to keep in mind. Whilst many ‘top tips’ focus on the obvious….’read the instructions, allow plenty of time, read example applications, talk to experienced people’ etc, etc…..here are a few things which are all too often overlooked.

  1. Know your funder – You should start from the basis of what is the funder looking for? Often people start with a fully developed proposal and then try and find a funder to fit. The key to success is to develop your proposal with the funder and funding scheme at the forefront of your mind.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of the reviewer – It can be useful to imagine your worst nightmare of a reviewer and then try to pre-empt any criticisms they might have. Often researchers forget to explain why the research is important, or include key details or explanations because they think these are obvious – what might be obvious to you might not be obvious to reviewers. Peer review is also a very useful way of weeding out anything obvious you may have overlooked.
  3. Detail! – Explaining the background to the problem is clearly important and you should try to summarise why the problem is important and what you have done so far (include some preliminary data!) but given most funders will have a word limit on the proposal, you should make sure you leave enough space to sufficiently describe what you will do and how you will do it. You need to provide enough detail on what you are actually asking for funding to do and how you will do it. Don’t forget to explain your methods, analysis and include details like power calculations!
  4. Make sure your objectives align with your workplan – It’s all about making it easy for a reviewer to understand what you are doing, why you are doing it and where it will get you. Make sure that you’ve got a really clear question and narrative about the question and also make sure your research plan fits the questions you’re asking. Don’t forget to include those important milestones and deliverables so that it’s obvious how each aspect of your research will move you towards your goal. Avoid just measuring lots of things without a clear plan of why (otherwise it will be obvious to a reviewer you are just on a fishing trip).
  5. Make sure you have the right team – The people involved are just as important as the project you’re proposing. Provide evidence that others you may be working with are capable of delivering the work. If you don’t have a good track record, sometimes the best thing is to collaborate with people that do. Even if you can’t include co-investigators (for example if you are applying for a fellowship) make sure you have the right people to mentor and advise you – often they can be at another institution or may provide some expertise not available ‘in house’.

And of course lastly…don’t forget to read the instructions, allow plenty of time, read example applications and talk to experienced people as well – but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that!

How to Establish Yourself as an Independent Researcher

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett, Centre for Research Staff Development 

This blog post may seem bizarre to those in Arts & Humanities.  What do you mean, establish yourself as an independent researcher?  You’ve always been doing this.  You started your PhD with your own idea and have carried it through, perhaps even with minimal input from a supervisor all the way to senior postdoc.  But for those in other fields the idea of independence comes much further down the line.  While most of what I am about to describe will apply to anyone in the sciences I hope that our A&H cousins will derive at least amusement from this potential career transition and perhaps even some useful insight for themselves.

I was lucky when I arrived for my first day in my new postdoc job.  I had just obtained my PhD and naively flew out to a snow-filled Boston.  My new supervisor came to collect me from the airport (I was his first postdoc, he doesn’t do that anymore) and by the time we reached his car my mouth was so cold I couldn’t speak.  When we arrived as his office he told me there were several projects on offer but he would recommend I select one in particular as it would give me results and future spin-out projects I could use to set up my own research group.  As I thawed from the snow, I also began to lose my naivety about what my future might hold.  I went on to develop that project and more and use it to win myself a University Research Fellowship from the Royal Society.  I wonder how different that might have been had I not had such an enlightened supervisor.

As you make the transition to lecturer or fellowship holder you will be required to demonstrate that you have credible ideas for your future research that will sustain you in the short- (1-2 years), medium- (5 years) and long-term (10 years).  Those ideas need to have come from somewhere and the recruiters or funding body will want to be sure they are from you.  They will also want to be sure that you can develop them without running back to your previous supervisor for input all the time.  That is not to say you should never speak to him or her again, but that you will not fall over if you don’t.

If you’re going to convince anyone that you can do this you will need to have started the process at least a year beforehand.  I said I was lucky in that my postdoc supervisor offered this to me right at the start.  Most will not think to offer it, but are open to a frank conversation about what you might be able to develop and take with you if you initiate that conversation.  Others may not want to let anything go, so if you face this you’ll need to consider how you can convincingly start your independent research with no prior results.  Most grants applications will need information about prior art, so this is an important step.

The next step is to be able to describe what your contribution was to the project.  As you’re working on it, keep note of the decisions you make about the direction of your project.  Think also about where your work might be published and why.  If you can show you have done this in the past, so much the better.  This will help you demonstrate that you are clear about what you are doing and where you are going and increase your credibility in the eyes of a recruitment panel or funding body.

The opposite of all of this is to get carried away with your independence.  This happened to one of my colleagues who was aiming for a position in a research institute.  He was so excited about demonstrating how many ideas he had that he convinced the interviewers he would not be able to carry them all out.  He soon learned his lesson and is now a very successful academic.

Positioning for Career Success as a Researcher and Potential Academic

Guest post by Dr Shelda Debowski 

Research Staff are faced with many challenges as they grapple with establishing themselves as credible researchers and positioning for future career success.  I see many individuals who rely on others to plan their career strategy and direct their efforts.  Although well-intentioned, their perception of what is helpful for career success may not always benefit the research staff that they are trying to help.  This blog, then, offers some tips that have worked for many successful research staff members, ensuring they can ensure they are well positioned for research or academic roles.

  1. Clarify your identity and strengths. Each researcher is unique, bringing particular skills, passions and interests to their role.  The capacity to articulate who you are and where you wish to take your career underpins your future. Being able to confidently talk about your history, goals, achievements and ambitions in a clear and succinct way will greatly assist in bridging current roles and future opportunities.  If you see avenues to go for awards or external recognition: give it a try. At the least, you will have built a more nuanced insight into yourself and your directions.  The capacity to build a narrative that demonstrates your career success and progress is a valuable skill in building your future.
  2. Understand what is important. The major currency in proving your competitiveness is your research track record. Aim to build a profile that shows you can deliver good outcomes, including the capacity to work as a lead or senior author. The capacity to obtain funding – even small amounts – is also another marker that will assist you in your next career step. Also look for chances to illustrate you can work as an independent researcher and research leader.
  3. Explore potential career paths and their requirements. Good career management requires due diligence. Regularly monitor roles that are emerging and test your competitiveness against the criteria. If there are gaps, seek opportunities to gain some experience, so that you can show you are not a complete novice.  The opportunity to build some teaching experience, for example, is a major advantage if an academic position comes up. You might seek chances to teach part of a course, be a guest lecturer, supervise masters, honours or PhD students, or work with lab classes. If you have a chance to teach, make sure you obtain evidence about your effectiveness, so that you can show that you were capable.
  4. Seek good mentors, sponsors and models. Mentors can assist you in mapping your career and ensuring you are well positioned to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to make contact with people who can guide you and offer good advice and insights. Sponsors can open doors and make connections for you when you are ready to advance to the next stage. You may need to make a connection with them to build your visibility and presence. Models are people who have blazed a similar trail to where you wish to go. Look at their track record and learn from their experiences and choices.
  5. Reflect and evaluate. Your career needs to be managed by you. Monitor your track record and ensure you are performing across the crucial areas that signal you are competitive. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on how you are doing.

In summary, career management is an amalgam of planning and ensuring you can act on opportunities.

Found the suggestions in this post helpful? Attend The Strategic Academic course that Shelda will be delivering at King’s in September 2018. Look out for when this course is open for bookings in our weekly newsletter and website. 

Developing a Positive Relationship with Yourself

Written by Donald Lush, Careers Consultant 

Cast your mind back almost two thousand years and try to put yourself into the mind of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. To put it mildly, he was a busy man. The Empire had reached its greatest extent and was the most peaceful and prosperous it would ever be. He presided over all this without email, telephone or even a reliable postal service or any modern tools of government.

Yet he found time to reflect on his own thoughts about himself, how to approach his work, what success and failure meant to him and how to deal with both. His thoughts on this, The Meditations, is a rich and complex work that bears a great deal of re-reading.

Here are some of his recommendations for busy people trying to plan for their future:

  • Success and failure are transient and should not be taken over seriously
  • What matters is how we approach them and what we can learn from them
  • Kindness, generosity and service to others are the things we should care most about
  • Live in the present – don’t let the future or the past dominate you
  • Peace of mind is worth more than power or wealth

Coming back to the modern world, it’s surprising how much of this wisdom lives on and how the best advice for dealing with the external world is often to reflect on your own thinking and attitudes (and perhaps change them).

Here’s a really useful tool for doing just this in a structured way, helping you to identify and analyse the highs and lows of your professional life and think about the future in the light of what you have learnt. It’s much more likely that plans built on this kind of reflection will be successful and rewarding.

I’ll end with my favourite piece of advice from Marcus Aurelius (one I would l like to live up to more often):

‘Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present’.