Time Well Spent

Written by Dr Amy Birch, Research Staff Development Consultant

Getting the most from your Fixed-Term Contract

While on a Fixed-Term Contract (FTC), you have a brief window to accomplish significant results, both creating high-quality, publishable research and developing the skills needed to advance your career options. Therefore, it is important for you to consider how best to maximise your current opportunities in the time that you have.

Create a Development Plan

Your time is previous, and you are likely to have a variety of responsibilities; therefore, it is crucial to plan and prioritise your actions. As the saying goes, to Fail to Plan is to Plan to Fail. Consider the complete picture when creating your plan – a strategy for how you will use your time effectively during your FTC will help make career aspirations a reality.

Creating a development plan will help you to identify your career objectives and professional development needs. In addition, having a plan is a useful communication tool between you and your line manager. This can form part of your Performance Development Review. Identify both short- and long-term goals, and consider what tools you will require to pursue these goals and improve your current performance. Stay focused on these goals by reflecting at the end of each day (or week) – what actions have you done to advance your goals?

Build your Network

It is important to get yourself noticed in the limited time you have. Don’t pass up any opportunities to present your work,  or attend conferences and meetings. If you aren’t asked, reach out to colleagues or peers in your current network and offer to give seminars. This will increase your profile and broaden your network. Similarly, don’t be afraid to network outside your immediate research experience.

New connections can lead you to other researchers you wouldn’t otherwise meet, or career paths that you have not considered. You may feel awkward about networking, but it is this is an expected part of any role and particularly important while on an FTC. Check out our other blogs for more information on different ways to network.

Engage with Professional Development Opportunities

A professional career in academia is about more than research! While your research output is undoubtedly important, there are other issues, which may be less obvious. In addition, if you are considering a future beyond academia, your professional development is even more important. The Centre for Research Staff Development aims to assist you in identifying and addressing these issues. We offer a variety of professional development courses and one-to-one support. If you are considering a different role within King’s, there may be an opportunity for Work Shadowing to help you to gain insight into that role, or as a networking tool and to share best practise.

Learn to Say No

As you become more engaged and develop your profile, you may find colleagues offering more opportunities to you. While on an FTC, remember that your time is your most precious commodity. Before considering taking up an opportunity, think about how this opportunity will build your CV or maximise your chances at achieving your long-term goals. It is important to be able to highlight your experience to future employers; however, it important to not lose sight of building your research profile. For example, if you have already gained up to 30 hours teaching in one year, think again before agreeing to more teaching. Developing a variety of new skills is more important than showing considerable experience and knowledge of one new skill.

Don’t forget to say goodbye

The world of academia is small, and it’s important to maintain the connections that you have created with ex-colleagues throughout your career. You should reach out and let them know that you have appreciated any past advice and feedback, and that you hope to stay in touch. You may be able to contact them when looking for future opportunities.

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.

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.

Professional Futures 16 November 2016 – How to be a Successful Networker

Written by Donald Lush 

Our speaker:

Dr Triona Bolger, whose PhD was in Craniofacial Developmental Biology, is now a Managing Consultant in the Life Science Practice at Navigant Consulting with a strong interest in EU/Emerging Market commercial strategy for both speciality and big pharma.

Here are Triona’s top thoughts about networking and how to be a successful networker:

  1. Words that come to mind when thinking about networking:
  • Elevator pitch
  • Selling yourself
  • Awkward forced conversation
  • Schmoozing
  • Working a room
  • Speed dating.
  1. All of these things can seem like barriers to a useful conversation.
  2. Networking is nothing more than making connections with people – be interested, be present and be honest. Talk openly about the things that you are passionate about, ask engaging questions and truly listen to the answers. People seek connections and respond well to honest and open conversations.
  3. Networking shouldn’t mean that you are false or behave in a manner that isn’t yourself – this comes across as fake and people will close off .
  4. The purpose of networking varies so try and be open to opportunities – you may be looking for a new flat mate, funding, a job, inspiration, a collaborator and many other things.
  5. You can network anywhere – the residents lounge of your building, at parties, sports, on-line, on a flight.
  6. Generally, I don’t network with purpose, I just try to pay attention to who people are and chat, but this is my approach. Others need to be more studied and others are more gregarious.
  7. Be true to yourself – if you aren’t outgoing and able to introduce yourself, then don’t go to events where you have to put yourself out there. Work out a networking style that works for you.
  8. Identify your ‘party personality’ – are you the centre of the party? Are you holding up the wall, are you chatting in the kitchen in a smaller group, are you making yourself useful clearing up after other? Know yourself and find ways to talk to people that work for you
  9. What do you want to be known for? What do you need / want to know about others? Try to work out your answers to the following:
  • Do you have to be purposeful vs. passive?
  • What is your story?
  • Who is the other person?
  1. Keep in touch with the connections you make through messages, emails or personal contact.

The Power of Online Social Networks

Written by Dr Amy Birch

You’re working late again on a project that seems to be throwing up more questions than answers. Your colleagues in your department, faculty, or university do not have the expertise you need to solve one of the more pressing problems. You’re sure that someone in your field surely must have come across the same problem – but how do find out who they are?

Academia has become a truly global enterprise, with expertise and specialist knowledge coming from across the planet. In fact, as universities have become larger and larger, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up to date with the whereabouts of colleagues in your field, even within the same city.

It is no surprise therefore, that academic social networking sites have exploded. Academia.edu and ResearchGate boast over 36 and 11 million users, respectively. These numbers pale in comparison to Facebook’s 1.79 billion and Twitter’s 313 million active users, but are pretty impressive when you take into account that only researchers can join. ResearchGate has been described as a “mashup of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn”; you can follow subject areas or other users, join specialists groups, publish your peer-reviewed papers, write short reviews on others’ papers, and, perhaps the most widely utilised tool, pose research questions for other users to help you find the answer. Ijad Madisch, one of the founders of ResearchGate, argues that this tool has enabled hundreds, if not thousands, of active collaborations leading to published research in peer-reviewed journals.

Additionally, both Academia.edu (which is more specifically a site to share papers and review research) and ResearchGate provide tools to measure your own impact, via scores which calculate the number of followers you have and downloads of your papers, and both websites do very well in Google search results which means that people searching for a particular paper on your area of expertise are more likely to find your paper if it has been uploaded into your profile.

While these two sites currently have the most active users, there are a number of other websites that are increasing in popularity. These include Zotero and Mendeley, which both started as bibliographic software but also boast online forums and private messaging tools, and LinkedIn, now as equally associated with blogging and online groups/forums as its more traditional job seeking/posting service.

At this point I’m hoping that I haven’t lost you in a blind panic about all the new sites you need to be using and, crucially, keeping up-to-date. Certainly, there has been an explosion in online tools to support professional networking in the ever-increasingly ‘connected’ world. However, it is important to make sure that the sites you are using are appropriate for your needs. This is where some research of your own is needed – find the websites that have the highest proportion of people that you want to network with, who are interested in the same subject areas as you, and who will be interested in your expertise. For example, LinkedIn is really great if you are looking for a move beyond academia as you can connect with people who may be in a profession you are aspiring to; however, posting your most recent academic paper on LinkedIn will not have the same impact as posting it on Academia.edu. This may even be a smaller, more subject-specific social networking site. When I was postdoc, “Alzforum” was the place to go for the most recent news about trials, published papers, jobs, and discussions in my own field of neurodegenerative diseases.

Finally, if you really want to make an impact – it’s not enough to be on the sites, not even enough to keep your profile updated. As with networking in real-life, you have to SAY SOMETHING. Make a comment on a paper you found interesting or start a conversation with a colleague you’ve always admired but never felt confident enough to approach at conferences. Start making connections, and you’ll soon have a rich, varied, and talented online network of peers.