Institute of Health Research Early Career Researcher Network Event

The Early Career Researcher Event was held on a warm sunny day on St Luke’s Campus. A sense of anticipation was in the air, as the attendees caught sight of the burgeoning tables, overflowing with offerings for the cake competition later that day.

Cake 1 Cake 2Cake 3

A few of the entrees to the competition

All Early Career Researchers on bands E and F were invited to attend, along with people who had recently been promoted to G grade. We were especially eager to make the event open to research facing professional service staff and people based in Cornwall and Plymouth University.

Our Speakers:

Jane Slaven, an Advisor from the HR department started off the day by talking to us about the structures that are in place within the University to support us during our career progression. She highlighted the importance of working alongside our line managers to ensure we could identify and meet the targets required for progression. She also signposted us to the University webpages where we might find a range of useful resources to help us manage our physical and psycho-social wellbeing:

Our second speaker was Professor Michelle Ryan, Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology/ Dean of Postgraduate Research and Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College. She discussed the role and structure of the Doctoral College and emphasised the importance of Early Career Researchers in providing feedback to her regarding particular issues which affect us. This will help the developing Doctoral College listen to the voices of Early Career Researchers and ensure that the support they provide is representative of our needs.

The Vice-Dean of Research, Professor Angela Shore then talked about how our roles as ECRs are funded; primarily through individual research grants and teaching opportunities. The importance of gaining lecturing experience was discussed in an interactive session, with audience members contributing various other ideas, such as contributing towards funding bids, which could aid in our career progression. Attendees found this session highly useful and it highlighted the need for the peer-network to also consider how individuals without a PhD could also progress with their careers.

Professor Nicky Britten (Professor of Applied Health Care Research) built on the theme of being proactive. Talks focused on the need for ECRs to flag any concerns about the way we are managed with our Heads of Research. This led to a discussion later on that afternoon about the need for a suitable feedback system so that ECRs knew what actions had been taken after they had raised concerns. Nicky also outlined how ECRs contribute towards the IHR.

Afternoon Discussion:

The afternoon discussion provided the opportunity for ECRs to discuss what they would like the future of the peer-network to look like. Whilst we agreed that it was useful to have a space to come and share concerns, it was suggested that it would be constructive to also have a positive focus during meetings. Various ideas which were put forward included:

  • Having the opportunity to talk about the work that we are all involved in.
  • Inviting external speakers to occasionally attend part of a session and deliver talks on agreed topics for the development of ECR peer network members.
  • Structuring sessions around particular topics e.g. C.V. construction.

Inspired by the talk from Michelle, there was a high degree of interest in using a peer-network meeting to identify key issues of importance for ECRs at Exeter University to feedback to the Doctoral College. A preliminary date for this has been set for 5th July, during the next face-to-face Early Career Researcher Meeting in South Cloisters.

Our attendees from Plymouth indicated that they would like to be involved with the Exeter Peer Network via video-conferencing. This is a very exciting expansion of our peer-network and we look forward to getting to know each other more in the future.

When asked about what they had found most useful from the event, attendees said:

  • “All speakers provided very useful information”
  • “Loved the cake competition!”
  • “Finding out that whatever level, people have similar concerns”
  • “Understanding overall what the perspective of the university is around ECR’s”
  • “Talking to other ECRs!”

Winning Cake

Winning entry to the cake competition: Jo Varley-Campbell (Research Fellow: University of Exeter Medical School PenTAG Systematic Reviewer) with her beautiful white chocolate and raspberry creation.

Overall, the event was a welcome opportunity to meet colleagues at a similar stage in their careers and share experiences over cake. We look forward to doing the same again next year.

Written by : Dr Liz Shaw -Research Associate: University of Exeter Medical School HS&DR Systematic Reviewer

Liz Shaw

The Researcher Led Initiative awards are intended to enable postgraduate research students and early career research staff to be creative, proactive, and empowered, through the process of initiating, designing, managing, and delivering new professional development activities for their peers that will develop the skills and experience needed to progress their careers. The awards support short-term, well-defined initiatives that develop and deliver transferable skills training experiences and/or resources to the applicants’ peers across the University.

‘Life Beyond the PhD Conference’- a review

Last year Laura O’Brien won the chance to attend the Life Beyond the PhD conference, below is her account of the conference and why you should enter the competition this year.

Life Beyond the PhD Conference 2016

During the last week of August I was very fortunate to be able to attend the ‘Life Beyond the PhD Conference’ at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.  This conference lasted from Tuesday to Friday and consisted of a variety of workshops, exercises and lectures which were both useful and enjoyable.

As a final year PhD student I have been spending a good deal of time considering my career options once my study is completed.  As a distance learner it is difficult to access the university’s careers centre from so far away and therefore when the opportunity arose to attend a conference focussing entirely on this topic I was very eager to attend.

I found the conference to be useful in different ways. The first positive I encountered at the conference was meeting other PhD students from different universities pursuing different areas of study.  It was very interesting to meet and discuss PhD work from fields of study vastly different to my own.  This gave a whole new dimension to my understanding of the advantages and benefits of completing a PhD and how these can span across the spectrum of subjects.  It was nice to share experiences and ideas with other students particularly for me as a distance learner.

During the conference I had the opportunity to take part in workshops designed to improve my understanding surrounding applications for academic jobs.  One workshop focused entirely on CV’s.  This morning session really helped me to understand the differences expected between CV’s for academic teaching posts and research posts.  By preparing our own CV’s in advance and swapping with others in a group, I was able to examine and discuss ways in which to enhance my CV to ensure it is as effective as possible, individual for each job specification.  I found this session to be very informative and useful for future job applications.

In addition to workshops there was also a group of lecturers who visited the conference to discuss their careers inside and outside of academia.  These lectures were very interesting as they provided a really insightful look into daily working life in different fields.  I had begun the think solely about a career in academia after my PhD however by listening to different speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, I feel that I will spend more time researching work outside of academia as I now understand that a PhD carries many skills which can be used in a variety of working contexts.

I would recommend attending this conference for any PhD student who is approaching the end of their studies.  It is suitable for students studying in any discipline as the guidance given is universal.  The conference provided me with a clearer appreciation of the different career paths available and the opportunity to debate these options with other PhD students.  I have very pleased and grateful to Exeter University that I was able to attend the conference this summer.

Written by: Laura O’Brien- PhD Education

To be in with a chance of winning one of two places for this year’s Life Beyond the PhD conference, please tell us in 300 words or less how attendance to the ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ conference would contribute to your professional development-