IHR Early Career Researcher Network Focus Day

Written by: Susi Sadler (@SusiSadler) and Sarah Walker (@Sarah1003Walker)

“You need to show you can get funded, so start small”

“Publications are important, make sure your work is published, but also collaborate with others as much as possible”

“Work on something you’re interested in”

Words of wisdom were thrown out like sweeties to attendees at the Institute of Health Research Early Career Researcher Network’s recent Focus Day. The theme being “Things the University is Doing that you Don’t Know About, that you Might Want to Know About, that Might Help you Progress your Career. Plus Helpful Career (and Life) Advice from People who’ve Been Where you are and Survived”. Or something like that.

Other, more (or perhaps less) practical advice included…

“Don’t follow your dreams [like I did]”

“Don’t work weekends [like I did]”

And even “You may not want to return to work three weeks after childbirth, but it worked for me”

On arrival to the Focus Day, attendees were given a copy of “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist” by Siobhan O’Dwyer, Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonough. After a gentle start to the day, with colouring and refreshments, the thirty-five attendees were inundated with useful advice on a range of career-related topics, including: The Exeter Academic and how it relates to progression and promotion, the University of Exeter Doctoral College and how it supports development for early career researchers, the purpose and achievements of the Positive Working Environment Board and how to get the most out of mentoring and other one-to-one career support.

But equally valuable was the insight into the somewhat stochastic and unexpected career paths of those who have, somehow, navigated the world of the early career researcher and made it to the heady heights of mid-career researcher or even senior academic. Most would not have been able to predict where they have ended up, had they been asked. Many described similar traits which they identified as important for career success – being proactive enough to pursue your interests and ambitions, getting good support structures in place, and being bold enough to make the first steps into job and funding applications despite the seemingly universal “imposter syndrome”. Although difficulties with work-life balance were a common theme, all the contributors found their academic careers rewarding, interesting and challenging.

The highlight of the day was, without doubt the very hotly-contested Cake Competition, with eight delcious entries shared by attendees and presenters after a buffet lunch, ensuring that everyone left with full minds and full stomachs at the end of the day.

The IHR Early Career Researcher Network would like to thank all the presenters: David Llewellyn, Katharine Harris, Jo Thompson-Coon, Angela Shore, Karen Leslie, Andrew McRae, Kate Lindsell, Nicky Britten and Sarah Dean. The Focus Day was funded by a Researcher Led Initiative Award, applied for by Sarah Walker, Becky Whear and Susi Sadler. Thanks also go to members of the IHR ECRN for their input in planning this event.

The impressive cake competition winners were: 1st Krystal Warmoth, 2nd Paulo Landa and 3rd Rachel Burn – Congratulations all! Each winner received a Princesshay gift voucher; Krystal also received a ‘Star Baker’ cake tin.

Dontations were also collected for Sands (https://www.sands.org.uk/) throughout the day. A £30 donation has been made in memory of Hamish Robin Wilkins and for all those other families who have lost their babies too soon.

As well as bi-monthly meetings which are open for all early career researchers to attend and discuss any issues or concerns, the network is planning to arrange a number of more focussed seminars and workshops over the next few months, so please contact Tristan Snowsill () to be added to the mailing list and find out about future events.

Fisheries Fun in the House of Parliament

Hi! I’m Katherine Maltby, a PhD student in the Biosciences department here at the University of Exeter. I’m in my final year, working on a project looking at the impact of climate change on fisheries in the south west of the UK. So far, my project has involved producing future projections of climate change impacts on fish stocks, as well as interviewing fishermen to explore their perceptions of climate change and its potential impacts. As part of my PhD I decided to take a break and undertake a placement at the Houses of Parliament to find out more about how scientific evidence is used in policy and decision making. You can find out more about my research adventures on my personal blog: https://fishingforecast.wordpress.com/

For the past three months I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake a fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), which was sponsored by the British Ecological Society. It’s been a whirlwind of interviewing, writing and all things fish! My fellowship finally culminated with a new POSTnote on UK Fisheries Management that was launched at a packed breakfast briefing attended by many MPs and Peers in Portcullis House on 21st February.

In case you’re wondering what POST or a POSTnote is, let me fill you in. POST is essentially Parliament’s in-house source of science advice, providing independent, impartial and balanced analyses of public policy issues related to science and technology. By doing this, it provides MPs and Peers with information in an accessible and timely way that can help to increase understanding and awareness on often-complex topics. POSTnotes are one of the main mechanisms through which POST provides this information, and these are four-page briefings that summarise current knowledge on a topic. To go about producing one is a well-formulated step-by-step process, normally starting with a desk-based literature review to help develop the scope of the POSTnote and get you up to speed on what topics you’ll cover. For my POSTnote, I had to cover how science advice is generated and used in fisheries management, the UK and EU fisheries management practices currently in place, and the opportunities and challenges for UK fisheries management in the future. With Brexit, a new fisheries policy is currently being developed and so my POSTnote has hopefully been well timed to help inform discussions and debate on these topics.

The next step of producing a POSTnote involves interviewing relevant stakeholders from academia, industry, government and the third sector to get their perspectives and essentially help flesh out the POSTnote. I really enjoyed this part and getting out and speaking to people, although this didn’t help with reducing the number of topics that I wanted to consider writing about!  Finally, and most importantly, after all of this information gathering the writing process begins. As a fisheries scientist myself this was something I struggled with at the start of writing as for me everything seemed important and I felt it needed to be included. As the writing process went on, I realised that this a) simply wasn’t possible and b) wasn’t entirely necessary – in order for people to understand a topic it doesn’t mean they necessarily need to know everything single thing about it. It was my job to tell them the key points, issues and concepts in the simplest and most logical way possible. The POSTnote has to go through numerous reviews before being published including an internal review, external review and final sign-off, in addition to all the drafts in between! It was a tough job but I think I learnt a lot of new skills about how to communicate scientific topics to a policy audience. I then finally launched the POSTnote at a breakfast briefing which I organised to provide an opportunity for MPs and Peers to discuss fisheries and the issues surrounding science and management.

Aside from producing the POSTnote itself, the fellowship was also a great way to learn more about how Parliament works and how evidence is used in decision making. I had a hall pass for the whole Westminster estate which meant I could attend events, debates and anything else that was going on (including getting a pint or two at the infamous Sports and Social Bar!). Some highlights included going to Prime Minister’s Questions, an evidence session for the EFRA select committee’s inquiry on ‘Fisheries’, being involved in a ‘fake parliament’ exercise that was held in a temporary chamber and also attending the annual fisheries debate in the main chamber.

Overall, working at POST was a brilliant experience and I can’t thank the British Ecological Society and POST enough for giving me the opportunity to work there. I would really recommend doing the placement to other PhD students – you can get funding through numerous research councils as well as learned societies. It gave me a whole new perspective on how scientific evidence is used within decision making and the need to communicate this evidence clearly, accurately and effectively. Here’s hoping that this new POSTnote will be useful in informing further debates and discussions on future UK fisheries policy!

Written by: Katherine Maltby (final year PhD researcher in Biosciences)

PGR Profile- Edward Mills

Name: Edward Mills

Discipline: Modern Languages / Medieval Studies (I kind of vacillate between the two, but it is of course perfectly possible to belong to both!)

Location: Mostly in the shared PGR office in Queen’s (not the same one as Imogene, sadly!), although I do spend quite a bit of time on the Exeter Ship Canal working with the University’s rowers.

What is the working title for your research project?

Funnily enough, the current title is ‘Imagining and enacting education in the French texts of medieval England, c. 1120 – c. 1420’.

Can you describe your research project in more detail?

My research falls broadly into the domain of ‘Anglo-Norman’ studies: that is, the distinctive dialect of French that was used in England during the centuries after the Norman Conquest. I’m looking at literature, specifically didactic literature, and investigating how Anglo-Norman texts conceptualise and then carry out the process of education. As the incredible Ken Robinson points out, we all have an interest in education, one built on our own experiences in school; my research gives me the opportunity to marry that interest with my love for all things French and medieval.

… and can explain it in a single sentence?

How was education imagined and enacted through the French texts of medieval England?

What is a typical day like?

I tend to get into the office at some point between 9am and 10am. Those morning hours are usually the most productive part of my day, so I try to get the bulk of my writing done before lunchtime, which I’ll often eat in the Senior Common Room (SCR) with other PGRs. The afternoons tend to be when I do my non-writing work, whether it’s replying to emails, doing ‘gradmin’ (I’m the PGR Representative for Modern Languages, so I have a lot of meetings to attend!), or teaching. I’m often involved in some sort of event in the evenings, too, from chess to playing trumpet in a couple of student and local bands.

What would you say is your proudest moment during your research journey so far?

That’s a tricky one … it’s a toss-up between finding out that I’d received funding from the University, meeting the people behind my scholarship fund, and presenting at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds last summer.

What do you like to do when you are not researching?

I’m a big fan of Organised Fun™, so I tend to get involved in a lot of student groups and societies (they’re not just for undergraduates, after all!). I’m currently Secretary of the Chess Society, where I occupy the exalted position of being the worst player on the Committee, as well as a cox and trainee coach for the University rowing club. Societies played a big part in helping me to settle in at Exeter, and have given me opportunities that I would never have got elsewhere. One particular highlight was coxing at Henley Royal Regatta last year: even though we were drawn against very strong opposition, I really enjoyed the chance to race on perhaps the most famous stretch of water in the world.

If you could start again, what would be your advice to yourself as a new postgraduate researcher?

Stay geeky! Seriously, though, your enthusiasm as a researcher is one of your most valuable assets, and it’s worth taking a moment from time to time just to remind yourself of why you’re doing a PhD. In my case, it’s because I believe that Anglo-Norman is really, really cool, but whatever your particular interest, don’t forget that it will sustain you for three years of research. During that time, you’re allowed – nay, encouraged! – to be as unforgivingly, unremittingly nerdy as you want to be. Take that opportunity.

And finally- can you explain your research project in 5 emojis?

💭- The ‘thought bubble’ emoji reflects the ‘thinking’ element of my research: how was ‘education’ as a concept actually understood during this period? What did it mean to ‘educate’ in a period where the French term éducation did not yet exist?
✍️- The ‘writing hand’ is perhaps more obvious: how did these Anglo-Norman texts construct themselves in order to achieve these aims of …
🏫- … education?
📜- The ‘parchment’ emoji here isn’t just shorthand for ‘medieval’: it’s actually a reminder of the fact that the texts that I’m studying existed in a manuscript and oral culture, meaning that ideas of authorship and originality were radically different to our own.
❓- Why the question-mark? Well, I was going to put a French flag here, but that of course creates more problems: should I define my corpus of texts by language or by location? Will eagle-eyed readers spot the anachronism of a medievalist using a flag first adopted in the 1790s? Instead, I wanted my final emoji to be a reminder of the centrality of questions to the process of teaching, as well as of the exploratory nature of my research. Many of these texts are almost criminally under-studied, so I’m sure that my project will raise many more questions than it answers!

Edward Mills is a postgraduate research student working towards a PhD in French. He writes a semi-regular blog, Anglo-Normantics, and Tweets (somewhat more frequently) at @edward_mills. For more information on postgraduate Modern Languages study and research at Exeter, medieval or otherwise, check out @ExeModLangsPGs.