Developing Consultancy Skills in Practice

Ahead of running the Virtual Consultancy Challenge in 2021, Katie Hoare from Careers Network spoke to some of the previous participants to find out what they learnt and whether they enjoyed it.

In spring 2020, as lockdown hit, postgraduate researchers from across the University and the globe were gaining valuable professional skills as well as work experience as consultants, and they were doing so completely online via the Virtual Consultancy Challenge. The Virtual Consultancy Challenge is an online self-access training programme and competition where inter-disciplinary teams of postgraduate researchers work together in virtual teams to solve their “client’s” real-life challenge.

The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.
The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.
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New year, new lockdown

Happy New Year! This isn’t where we’d hope to be at the start of a new year, but there is relief in having got through 2020 and in knowing that vaccines are on their way. While we wait, 2021 will have to be about being kind to ourselves, leveraging the self-knowledge we have gained in 2020 to cope with local restrictions, protecting our mental health, and taking steps forward with our work.

A family in a house cradled between hands, surrounded by coronavirusEngland is in the process of entering a third national lockdown. Those of us living on or near campus must stay at home except where necessary (necessary activities include work, grocery shopping and exercise). We’ve done this before, and the familiar rhythms of daily exercise, meal planning and Zoom calls are already established. Think about what worked and what didn’t work for you during previous periods of restrictions and use that knowledge to get through this one as best you can. If you’re not in England, check your local restrictions.

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Putting dark days behind us

And so we are approaching the end of 2020. The days are getting short, and I am prioritising getting out of the house for a walk (however briefly) during daylight hours to help me get through. Only one week left before the winter solstice in the UK, and the longer days start to bring hope of spring and a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Stonehenge, photographed at sunset close to the Winter Solstice (2009)
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Do I feel included? Experience and thoughts from a part-time PGR

In this post, Susan Quick, a part-time PGR in the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) reflects on issues of inclusivity.

Whilst browsing the many training/job opportunities for PGRs recently I was reminded that ‘PGR/ Early career’ does not always mean inexperienced or young. Labels can be misleading even if they also help us to target training and exchange with our peers in a particular discipline or field. Two caring hands silhouetteYounger people need extra support to enable them to navigate the world of employment. Sometimes this means that bias is totally justified, but at other times it is more important to examine ‘need’ rather than age, career stage or some other protected personal characteristic. In my view the needs of applicants, whether for a job or a training course, should enable perspectives of ‘equal opportunity’ over and above those instilled in legal and institutional principles.

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Survive and Thrive: Adaptability and Resilience

Continuing her occasional series, “survive and thrive”, Katie Hoare from Careers Network explores a key skill sought after by employers in the post-COVID-19 world.  It’s likely that you are already developing and using these highly transferable skills in your research.

What

A chameleon (decorative)According to The Cambridge Dictionary, adaptability is “an ability or willingness to change in order to suit different conditions”.  The term can be applied to people, businesses, physical spaces and technology.  If something or someone is not adaptable, its use and benefit can be short lived.  Resilience has become a buzz word in recent years.  It can be defined as the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster).  In order to be resilient, you need to be adaptable.

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Spotlight on the RDF: “Attribution and co-authorship”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

Recently, a question from a PGR found its way to my e-mail inbox, and it got me thinking about the various influences on attribution and co-authorship that can be tricky to navigate for those new to publishing their work.

Listing the authors tells readers who did the work and should ensure that the right people get the credit, and take responsibility, for the research. 

Committee on Publication Ethics, https://doi.org/10.24318/cope.2018.1.1

While it may seem initially obvious, authorship is in fact an area which is influenced by factors including disciplinary culture. There may be some hidden expectations in your department or discipline, and it’s an area of research culture that all researchers new to publishing should be familiar with, and influencing positively.

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Tips for First-Year PhD students

In this post, Chris Featherstone, a final year PhD student in the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS), shares his advice for new PGRs. For more, see Chris’s personal blog about being a PGR.

Historical Map of Cornwall (decorative)Everyone who starts a PhD comes into it with expectations; as is the way with expectations, some are correct, and some are way off. This post gives a few tips for people in their first year of the PhD, helping with work, and surviving the process. I am two weeks from submitting my own thesis, and so I thought this was a good point to pass on tips that I have picked up in the process.

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Discovering the unknown unknowns

Black cat hiding among red tulipsWhenever you start something new, whether that’s a new job or joining a membership society for the first time, there’s a lot of learning to do. What are the requirements? What are the expectations? Do I have the equipment and/or the skills that I need? Where can I find out all this stuff? Much of this learning is set out for you through formal channels, but often we learn some of the most valuable information informally, stumbling upon it while looking for something else, or while gossiping with a peer.

A research programme is no different (you probably saw where I was going with that!). And in 2020, there are new ways of working for us all.

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Ten tips for organising an online conference

We are all learning to do more online, including conferences. In this post, Sharon Smith, a PGR in the School of Education, shares her experience of organising an online conference. For more detail, see Sharon’s full post on her personal blog.

Laptop screen showing faces attending an online conferenceAt the beginning of September, a friend and I ran an online postgraduate conference for students studying philosophy of education. We initially started thinking about the conference late Spring, but decided not to rush into hosting it, choosing a September date for the event to ensure we had sufficient time to plan for it. This meant that we could attend other online webinars and conferences to see what the common issues were, and to understand the experience from the perspective of the attendee.

Here are ten tips for anyone wanting to organise an online conference:

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Survive and thrive: skills for a post-COVID-19 world

In this post, Katie Hoare from Careers Network introduces her new occasional series, “survive and thrive”, looking at the skills most sought after by employers.  It’s likely that you are already developing and using these highly transferable skills in your research.

The world has changed.  COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of society and both people and businesses need to adapt and learn in order to survive.

An image from the University of Birmingham Graduate School and Careers Network.  The text in the image says PG Skills: skills to survive and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.

As a postgraduate researcher you are accustomed to learning new things and you are already developing an excellent set of transferable skills such as research, independence, project management and communication.  Now all you need to do is augment this with the top skills employers are looking for and when the time comes for you to seek employment, be it during or after your degree, you will be a very attractive candidate for roles both within and beyond academia.

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