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.

Continue reading “We’re just talking, what could possibly go wrong?!”

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)
Continue reading “Putting dark days behind us”

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.

Continue reading “Survive and Thrive: Adaptability and Resilience”

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:

Continue reading “Ten tips for organising an online conference”

Back on campus: quiet but productive

In this post, Caitlin Thornton, a PGR researching thyroid cancer in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, describes her return to campus and her laboratory-based research.

On the first day back after lockdown I arrived half an hour earlier, presuming there would be a queue to collect our lanyards and lab coats. Queuing on stickers places two meters apart was part of the “new normal”.  Instead, I walked straight into the Institute of Biomedical Research, helped myself to a squirt of hand sanitizer, collected two lab coats and went up to our lab on level 2. I thought this was weird at the time – maybe I had got the return day wrong? – but really it was a hint of what labs are like after COVID. Quiet.

Caitlin and two colleagues, wearing masks and socially distanced, in their lab
Caitlin and colleagues in their lab

There aren’t more than around 10 people on our floor at any time. Sometimes we will grab 10-minute chats in the corridors holding thermos flasks of coffee because there’s no access to fridges to keep milk to make drinks at work. A lot of our friends and colleagues are still redeployed in the hospitals. Our large communal office which is usually buzzing with people and activity is a graveyard, sometimes if you are drinking a coffee at your desk all the lights go out because no one is walking around to activate the sensors.

Continue reading “Back on campus: quiet but productive”

Spotlight on the RDF: “Responsiveness to change”

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.

Embed from Getty Images

In 2020 so far, we have all been responding to changing circumstances as the global pandemic unfolds and lockdowns are imposed and eased in different locations around the world.  Over the last 17 weeks or so, this blog has featured a number of posts from PGRs responding to this change so this feels like a good moment to take a look at the RDF descriptor responsiveness to change.  Rather than thinking about further development in this area, I want to recognise how far we have all come. Continue reading “Spotlight on the RDF: “Responsiveness to change””

How to organise an online conference and live to tell the tale

Continuing our recent mini-theme of online conferences, Lluís Jerez i Bertolín, a PGR from the School of History and Cultures, shares with us his experience of organising one.

Lluís Jerez i Bertolín
Lluís Jerez i Bertolín

In late April of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc around the world, which was not good. I stepped from assisting the organisation of the Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology Colloquium (CAHA Colloquium) to being its sole organiser, which was also not good. As the Colloquium could not be postponed to the next academic year, it had to take place online, which at the time I saw as a complete disaster.

In this post I want to share three guiding principles that allowed me to navigate this situation and turn a perfect storm into an enjoyable conference. These principles are: communication, decision-making tempo, and accessibility. Continue reading “How to organise an online conference and live to tell the tale”

Presenting virtually

We’ve recently heard about attending virtual conferences, but what about presenting your research online?  Ciara Harris has recent experience of this, for the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and her Annual Progress Review (APR).  Here, she shares her experiences.

First things first, presenting virtually might have some additional challenges compared to ‘traditional’ presentations, but it has advantages too – there’s no travel time, so you can go straight from another project into your presentation (maybe grabbing a cup of tea in between), you can practice your presentation in the exact environment you plan to present in, and you can have chocolate on your desk ready for as soon as you turn your camera off after presenting!

 

Ciara’s 3MT – see all the finalists and vote for your favourite!

There are, however, some additional challenges. Continue reading “Presenting virtually”

Life enclosed – creativity for wellbeing

PGRs Matthew McKenna and Chee Man Tang (Michael) from the Institute of Local Government Studies and the Department of Theology and Religion respectively, have been turning to music to support their mental health and wellbeing through the lockdown.

Matthew writes:

At the risk of sounding ungrateful for the privileged position I find myself in, it seems to me that I have experienced a double whammy of irony in the past few months. I finally moved out of the family home and moved to Birmingham to begin my PGR career into the study of public policy failure and just as I was beginning to settle into life at UoB, the world enters into the biggest global public policy failure seen in generations and I am back in the family home.

This has led to a drastic (and maybe permanent) restructuring of my daily routine and has required me to adapt and make peace with the psychological demands of sleeping, eating, researching and relaxing within the confines of a small selection of walls. A sense of hopelessness engulfed me to begin with (because who wants to conduct a three year PhD from their bedside desk?) but this has been mitigated through balancing my vocation as a researcher with my passion as a musician. Together with my good friend, Michael, who is also a new PGR at UoB and a talented producer, we have created the track Life Enclosed.

Continue reading “Life enclosed – creativity for wellbeing”

How to Navigate an Online Conference

Kish Adoni, PhD student in the School of Biosciences, recently attended a two-week online conference hosted by The American Society of Mass Spectrometry (ASMS).  He shares his experience in this post.

What do you think about online scientific conferences?

ASMS 2020 Conference logo
Logo for the ‘Rebooted’ edition of the 68th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics

It’s weird! That’s the first thing I’d say. No more loitering around the confectionary section of a big hall, waiting to speak to a professor from another university whose papers sprawl across your office desk. There is also no chance of having one too many pints of Guinness and spilling your latest confidential scientific idea to another academic in your field. I suppose whether those things are a positive or a negative depends on personal preference, but one thing is for sure: online conferences are going to become more normal and the chances are that you will attend one.

So how do online conferences work?

Take away the need for expensive flights, food, hotels and transport and you are basically left with the bare essence of what a conference is for: exchanging knowledge with experts that work in the same spheres as you. Continue reading “How to Navigate an Online Conference”