We’re just talking, what could possibly go wrong?!

Many researchers have had to pivot their research methods as a result of the pandemic.  In this post, Ciara Harris, who previously shared her tips for presenting online, shares her experience of conducting research interviews online.

I have completed a number of research interviews recently, and not all of them have gone smoothly.

Anyone starting to use research interviews for the first time will, I’m sure, have read plenty about them and talked to experienced colleagues and supervisors. One piece of advice that you are likely to come across – it’s certainly one I heard a lot – is: Be Prepared (like the Scouts!). I thought that I was reasonably well prepared when I started a recent round of virtual interviews for two projects I’m involved in. However, I still had a few issues that I’d like to share with you, along with some suggested solutions, in case you come across them in your own research.

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Survive & Thrive: Persuading, Negotiating & Influencing

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

During a March 2021 PG Skills workshop, UoB PGR alum Rob Pilbrow provided a useful definition of each of these three inter-connected skills. Persuading is the ability to convince others to take a desired viewpoint or action; negotiating is the ability to discuss and reach a mutually satisfactory agreement; and influencing is the ability to effectively persuade and negotiate.

A peacock fanning his tail
The peacock “persuades” the peahen he is a good mate

It is also important to emphasize what these skills are not. Proper use of persuading, negotiating and influencing should NOT be confrontational or antagonistic. It is not about arguing, forcing your will, harassing, pestering or using a power imbalance. Applying these skills should result in a positive, supportive, beneficial and evidence-based discussion, underpinned by an understanding of the person or people being addressed.

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PhD Chats: (re)connecting with the PGR community

Faith Van Horne, a PGR in the Department of Theology and Religion and Diana Cruz de Oliveira, a PGR in Mechanical Engineering introduce PhD Chats, informal, guided conversations reconnecting PGRs.

When Faith started her PhD program, one of the first events she attended was a PhD Chat, an informal guided conversation to discuss some of the challenges associated with the often-lonely PGR journey. As Westmere Scholars, Diana and Faith are part of the team leading the current PhD Chat series. All of the sessions fit the theme of (Re)Connection. As pandemic restrictions lift, many of us are curious about how we will connect again with the PGR community (or for the first time, if we’ve had trouble establishing those connections already). Last week was the initial chat in the series. This was a very informal check-in, just to see how PGRs were doing, and their hopes and fears about (re)connecting with the larger community.

Diana (left) and Faith (right), Westmere Scholars
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Caring for PGR carers

This week, 7-13 June 2021, is Carers Week. Carers look after a family member or friend who has a disability, mental or physical illness or who needs extra help as they grow older. Carers make a significant contribution to their families, communities and society, so it’s important to recognise the valuable work they do, and to make sure they receive the support they need. This is particularly true for PGRs who are carers and are juggling the dual challenges of research and caring.

Carers Week logo

I cannot claim to have first-hand experience of the challenges of caring, but here are some of my thoughts on the ways in which we, as members of the UoB PGR community, can support our PGR colleagues who are also carers. Although Carers Week focusses on caring for those with a disability, mental or physical illness, many of the suggested actions here apply equally to parents or guardians of young children.

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How to measure the quality of research: who is DORA and why does it matter for PGRs?

In this post, Judith Hegenbarth, Head of Research Skills in Library Services, introduces the responsible use of research metrics and UoB’s Commitment to Responsible Research Assessment.

"We love DORA" badge

Any government minister will tell you that performing research costs money, and that public spending on it has to be justified.  The allocation of research funding is based on a perception of ‘quality’, and part of the equation is whether an individual, research group or institution has performed ‘quality’ research in the past.

Metrics

Measuring quality is a contentious issue, particularly when it concerns the ‘performance’ of an individual researcher or scholar.  In the past, the number of times a publication has been cited by other researchers has been used as a proxy for influence and thereby quality.  The h-index became a shorthand for author excellence.  This kind of metric has been shown to privilege certain fast publishing disciplines which produce multi-authored papers.  For those researchers who take career breaks to raise families, or lone scholars who publish larger works less frequently, a single measure isn’t helpful or fair.  There’s more discussion of this on our Influential Researcher intranet page (including Canvas course)

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Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement

In this post, Mustafa Coban, a PGR from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the College of Arts and Law shares his experiences of Shut up and work.

Shut up and work was for me initially, Shut up and write, though I’ve come to appreciate the ‘work’ phrasing is much more apt since there is all sorts of work involved in study and research before, during and after the writing process. It was, and still largely is, a time dedicated to writing, editing, and proofreading. A friend who was leaving the university after completing her studies told me about Shut up and work as I was starting my PhD programme. It took me some time to seek out a session, but once I found one, I found it immediately useful.

University of Birmingham University Graduate School. Shut up & work co-working sessions for PGRs. Weekly Thursdays 1pm-4.30pm; Monthly Mondays 10am-5.10pm. Tackle your to-do list and get more done!

I wasn’t entirely sure of what I expected. But I knew I wanted a time dedicated to writing and only writing. I imagined it as time free not only from reading, but the endless loops and interesting dives into reading, that only seemed to snowball as I chased one footnote, idea, or curiosity after another until I had a folder of pdf articles becoming too big to manage. That was in the early days of my programme, and while I still chase footnotes, through “shutting up and writing” I’ve become better at not trying to cover everything I’ve read.

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Building your research community

In this post, Raeni, a PGR in the Department of Accounting, and Isbahna Naz, a PGR in the Department of Management, share some tips that they found beneficial in developing their sense of community during their PhDs.

3- 4 years doing a PhD is a long time. Some may say, “Life is on hold while doing my PhD”.

We are, of course, all on different journeys but with the same aim. Before COVID-19, we have a study space in the Muirhead Tower, where we could meet, interact and create a community within our cohort even though we are from different research interests. Having a sense of belonging with our peers alongside the journey is essential in numerous ways.

A pre-COVID-19 reading group session – Raeni is at the far right.

Being a member of a research community allows us to stimulate research progress, access an excellent seminar programme, discuss opportunities, and recognise other organisations beyond the campus. The community also sometimes directs us to get opportunities, for instance, acting as teaching or research assistants. Keeping us busy while engaging with others also helps our wellbeing.

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Survive and Thrive: Leadership

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

When most people hear the word “leadership” they think ‘management of staff’ or ‘being the boss of an organisation’.  Whilst these positions do definitely require leadership ability, they are not the only scenarios where leadership skills are required.  You can and should be developing your leadership skills regardless of whether you are supervising others.

Photo of a lionLeadership is not one skill, your ability to lead requires a variety of skills including self-awareness, accountability and communication.  Consultancy firm McKinsey have a conceptual framework for leadership and split it into three levels; 1) leading yourself, 2) leading others, 3) system leadership.  People often move from level 1 to 2 during their career, but not everyone ends up at level 3.  System leadership goes beyond leading one organisation to transforming whole systems and often involves connected organisations addressing multi-faceted problems.

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‘Non-academic jobs’: more ‘academic’ than you think?

In this post, PGR Careers Adviser Dr Holly Prescott shows us how academic research and teaching aren’t the only jobs that can let you ‘keep’ the bits of academia that you really enjoy. You can find a more detailed post on this on Holly’s PhD Careers Blog, PostGradual.

In academia, we’re often taught to value our ‘outputs’ (papers, theses, grants etc.) over the processes that went into achieving them. Saying that we ‘do research’ or ‘do teaching’ can often ‘hide’ the things we actually do to manage and execute those things, and the things that we get good at in the process. Hence, we can often forget this important nugget that Australian geneticist Joel Huey tweeted a few months ago:

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Online groups for international networking and collaboration

In this post, Joanne McCuaig, a distance learning PGR in the College of Arts and Law, explains how and why she set up online discussion groups using Twitter.

I’m a part-time, distance student in my 2nd year, in the department of English Language and Applied Linguistics. I’m a Canadian, living in South Korea, studying with a UK institution; I wanted to take advantage of any networking opportunities. First, I set up my Academic Twitter account – regular Twitter but used as a research profile to share about your skills and work.

Joanne McCuaig's Twitter profile, @JoanneMcCuaig3. 🇨🇦 in 🇰🇷 PhD student 🇬🇧. #Linguistics research, how medical terms are used by academics, media, & the public #CorpusLinguistics and #DiscourseAnalysis

I then decided to start two different student groups. I got the idea after attending an online conference that had breakout sessions for PhD students. It was energising to be able to share about our research, ask questions to others, and offer suggestions for literature, methods, or approaches.  A few months after the conference I contacted, via Twitter, a few of the students I’d “met” at the conference to ask if they wanted to continue the conversation. 

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