QMUL retains its HR Excellence in Research Award

HRExlogoQMUL has retained its HR Excellence in Research Award, along with 13 other UK Higher Education Institutions, following an external review of our policies and efforts to support the development of our research staff.

Professor Bill Spence, the Vice-Principal for Research, welcomed the news, saying “I’m delighted to see this continued recognition of the collective work of our researchers, academics, and development and HR professionals, ensuring that QMUL remains a great place to build research careers. HR Excellence is not only a badge of honour as far as the European Research Area is concerned, but identifies Queen Mary as a global institution that takes a strong, holistic approach to researcher development.”

In 2015, a working group comprised of research staff from all faculties, academic and professional services staff developed QMUL’s 2016 Action Plan, which had eight primary action points which will be the focus of our efforts over the next two years and beyond.  These are discussed in greater detail here.

Amongst these actions will be the establishment of Queen Mary Postdoc Association (QPdA).  This group will be a network of postdoctoral researchers from all Schools and Institutes across the College intended to give our 500+ research staff community a voice in the decision making process at QMUL.  The QPdA will be putting out a call for representation later on this summer with a goal to meet for the first time early in the 2016/17 academic year.

The HR Excellence in Research Award is a European Commission award that recognises an institution’s alignment in policy and practice to the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for Recruitment. In the UK, the process incorporates both the QAA Quality Code for Higher Education – Chapter B11: Research Degrees and the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, and it includes an initial gap analysis and robust action plan that is internally reviewed at the 2-year mark, and then progress and future plans are externally reviewed at the 4-year mark by an international panel organised by Vitae.

Though recent events in the UK raise questions as to how the British research community will continue to interact with the European Research Area on a policy and funding level, Vitae assures that currently, “the UK is still a member of the European Union and Vitae will continue to manage the UK process for the HR Excellence in Research Award as normal. When the overall situation becomes clearer in terms of whether or how the UK will interact with the European Research Area, the Concordat Strategy Group will work with the European Commission to agree the UK’s future participation in the HR Excellence in Research Award.”

More information about the Concordat and the HR Excellence in Research Award is available via the CAPD’s Researcher Development webpages.

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Building relationships to inform government policy

One of the keys to a successful academic career is networking. Did you hear that? It was barely audible; the sound of academic disengagement. It’s not the full on (academic) disgust that you hear when someone presents already published research at a conference – for the second year in a row. Often academic disgust is clearly audible to the human ear, with vocalisations ranging from to the tsk, to the low-range “huff”; a slightly forced exhalation through the nostrils.  Disengagement is more subtle and is often accompanied by an eye-roll. I’m familiar with it, as I see this behaviour in my workshops or my coaching sessions with researchers whenever networking is mentioned.

Disengagement with network-building activities may be tied into a fear that some younger academics possess when approaching someone in a relative position of power (or experience); it may feel like begging for help.  Many would argue, however, that networking is an essential part of building your academic profile; that you should be “shameless, but not rude” and that “any (positive) way of getting yourself known is a good thing”.

Some junior academics think that a firm commitment to the quality and integrity of their research will get them sufficiently noticed and sufficiently respected (read: cited).  Quite frankly, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong in thinking this – both are essential parts of being an academic researcher, but not what I’m going to focus on in this post.  In addition to these, today’s academic has to consider how their research results – or message, if you will – attain reach beyond their discipline’s bubble. In this post, I’m going to consider the academic networking from a specific perspective:  How, as a researcher, might you go about trying to inform and influence government policy?

This was the topic for discussion at a recent panel discussion, hosted by the Mile End InstituteHow to advise government? Routes into the policy making process. The panel was chaired by Graeme Reid (Professor of Science and Research Policy, UCL), and consisted of Halima Khan (Executive Director, Health Lab, Nesta), Joana Chataway (Research Group Director, Innovation, Health and Science, RAND Europe) and Tadj Oreszczyn (Professor and Director, The Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources, UCL).  The panel spoke from their direct experience in helping to inform environmental, health, and energy policy in the UK and abroad, with a mind to providing practical advice to those who are less experienced at working with policy makers.

Policy, framed in the RCUK vernacular, is a major “pathway to impact.”  In the last REF exercise, over half of the (publicly available) impact case studies  touched on some way in which UK research informed some manner of home or foreign policy. However, though the importance of a particular line of research may seem obvious to the academic who worked on it, getting that message across to those who make and shape policy isn’t always the most obvious process.

Clarity and Accessibility
First and foremost, politicians aren’t often researchers. Thus, even before considering the channels available to get your research results to those in positions of influencing policy, we need to think about how and when this message is communicated.

We are accustomed, in our little research microcosms, to discussing our work using an idiom that is usually  jargon-rich as it can make communication between peers more efficient and specific. Research involves some rather complex topics, and though we as researchers should not fear the use of appropriate jargon, we can’t expect that someone from outside our respective microcosms is as well versed in our professional vernacular as we are. Moreover, when explaining the research it may also be necessary to first set the stage: Why is research in this area important? What has it told us so far? What do the methods used and design of the research tell us about our confidence in the findings? What is the “real-world impact” of these results?  Taken together, communication of research that might influence policy needs to be performed in a language that is accessible to policy makers.  As summarised by Prof. Reid, the policy world often “uses the languages of law and economics”, and thus researchers may need to think about re-framing their work in those terms.

Timing and Profile
Getting your research results to inform discussions on policy is a slightly different issue.  Our biggest priority as academics usually involves publishing and disseminating in academic or even discipline-specific circles. With an effective public engagement strategy, however, research that is deemed important within a discipline can get media coverage.  This, when coupled with effective use of social media and academic-led discussion sites like The Conversation, is one way to achieve reach in the public sphere.  If dissemination of your research is well-timed with issues that are current governmental priorities, this is a viable avenue to informing policy.  A message championed by Prof. Lee Badget, an economist whose research has informed policy impacting the LGBTQ community in the US, suggests (as paraphrased by Richard Joyner in the THE) that “influencing policy is to persuade others to add us to their networks.”  So if your timing isn’t in perfect sync with the political climate, you might have to ramp up your persistence; persuading those who reform policy that yours is a voice to be heard in the discussion.

In other instances, the policy sphere seeks consultation directly from researchers to inform ongoing policy reform. This may take the form of an open public consultation, as with the recent green paper on the impending Teaching Excellence Framework.  Response to these consultations can come from individuals or via groups like learned societies, policy institutes (aka.think tanks“), or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  Government will also form Select Committees to address specific issues via enquiries.

Policy makers and members of Select Committees may also seek more direct and informal advice from researchers, either within the academy or via associated groups, as the absorptive capacity of government isn’t what it might have been in less austere times, a point made by several of the panellists in response to two audience questions during this MEI forum.

So how do you go about making sure you’re amongst ‘the consulted’?

Networking, Relationships and Persistence
Here’s where that dirty word comes back again. Networking is all about forming relationships. Cultivating relationships with policy makers as well as with the various groups that mediate the interface between researchers and the policy makers are essential.  This can take the form of joining and becoming active within a learned society that is relevant to your research. If you’re in the earlier stages of your career, consider forming connections with other academics who inform policy in your discipline, and think about how you might use the media, social and otherwise, to promote your profile and help you to forge those connections with other groups at the research-policy interface.

While social networking and online media are all tremendously useful in promoting your research and profile, they cannot replace face-to-face networking.  Some business leaders, though active in their online networking, remain unconvinced as to its power: how does thousands or tens-of-thousands of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ actually translate into real influence?  There is an added level of credibility imparted by non-verbal communication when we meet with people face-to-face.

When I asked Halima Khan how a burgeoning academic should go about forging these networks, she suggested that a certain level of both gregariousness and persistence are required.  Academics should actively seek out NGOs and other organisations that deal with the particular field they work in; making efforts to attend open events like ones that the MEI put on for example, in order to make these valuable connections. Perhaps on top of attending these events, a certain level of preparation and strategy are needed: who do you need to meet and why? Think about your elevator pitch carefully; factoring in your audience, your message and its impact (as you see it). And above all, don’t give up.  If you don’t make the connection you hope for, try again or try someone else in the organisation.

The Take Home Message on How to Advise Policy

  • Have a clear narrative in accessible language
  • Communicate the confidence levels with your research evidence
  • Consider the timing of your research with respect to government priorities
  • Form and nurture relationships with the policy sphere
  • Cultivate your research profile, both in person and online
  • If you want to be heard: be persistent

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Research Mentoring in Higher Education: pros and cons, rights and wrongs?

Mentoring schemes are becoming a common means of supporting developing researchers in higher education. Here at QMUL, a variety programmes are running or being piloted in our Schools and Institutes, aimed at all levels from students, to early-career researchers, to new academic staff. The approaches used vary from peer-based mentoring, to offline mentoring across departments.
Examining the efficacy of some of these approaches is the topic of our next Academic Progressions Webinar. Dr Patricia Castanheira, a Research Fellow from the School of Education, University of Brighton and Tom Levesley, from Chrysalis Research will be speaking about some of their research looking at Early-career Researcher Mentoring. Their talk will be titled: Research Mentoring in Higher Education: pros and cons, rights and wrongs?

This webinar will present initial findings from an ongoing mixed methods study of research mentoring for early career and more experienced university researchers. The aim of this research is to gather and review primary and secondary evidence about the purpose and impacts of research mentoring and coaching schemes. Secondary evidence is drawn from the existing literature. The primary research involves face to face interviews with more than 30 mentors and mentees in five universities across England. The qualitative research will be followed up with a wider survey reaching universities across the UK. The research is designed to inform policy makers and practitioners about what works in research mentoring in Higher Education, and provide practical pointers to implementing research mentoring in different institutions.


PatriciaDr. Patricia Castanheira: University of Brighton – Patricia gained her PhD in Educational Sciences in 2010 and has more than 11 years of experience in research in education. Her research has focused on school leadership, school management, school improvement, school policies, school evaluation and continuous teacher development, and she is widely published in these areas. Patricia has worked with the Portuguese Inspectorate for Education and Science as an expert in Education, and is Co-Convener of Network 11 – Educational Improvement and Quality Assurance of the European Educational Research Association.

TomTom Levesley: Director, Chrysalis Research – Tom has worked in public sector research and policy since 1994. He set Chrysalis Research, a specialist education research agency, in 2010 with two former colleagues to support organisations who want to have a positive social impact in the education and health sectors. Tom began his career as a primary school teacher before spending five years at QCA and its predecessor NCVQ, working in policy, research and development relating to vocational qualifications. Since then he worked in commercial and not-for-profit research organisations, including the National Foundation for Education Research, the Home Office the Institute for Employment Studies and EdComs, an education research consultancy.

The webinar will take place on Wednesday 01 June 2016 at 14:00-15:00.

The talk will last for approximately 40 minutes, after which Patricia and Tom will take questions, through the Blackboard Collaborator platform.

To register for webinars in this series, please visit the CAPD bookings page and search for course code RSAP. Once you’ve registered, you will receive the standard confirmation email from our booking system. In addition we will send along joining instructions in advance of the date. This webinar is open to all QMUL staff and students. For more information, please contact Dr Rui Pires Martins, in the CAPD.

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QMUL’s Fellowship Day 2016

A long-standing QMUL tradition, Fellowship Day brings together representatives from research funders, current fellows, and QMUL academic staff who contribute to fellowship and research funding decisions in the UK. The programme will give you a comprehensive overview of some of the fellowship opportunities open to postdoctoral and early-career researchers.

The event is open to all QMUL research students and staff.  You’ll hear experiences from current QMUL fellows, as well as members of Academic Staff who help to make decisions on what research gets funded, in order to get specific tips on what helps make a strong application.

The afternoon is divided up into Biological/Medical Research, Science and Engineering and Humanities and Social Sciences Research streams, that will culminate in a Q&A panel session featuring all of the speakers from that stream.  You can download the programme here.

To book your place, visit cpdbookings.qmul.ac.uk and search for the course code FD. This event is only open to QMUL research staff and students.


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LinkedIn (in just a couple of minutes)

Next in our ‘in just a couple of minutes’ series, I take a look at LinkedIn, the largest of the professional social networks. Though it wasn’t designed specifically with academic researchers in mind, it provides a flexible medium for you to showcase your research and yourself as a professional. This global reach beyond the academic community that makes it a powerful tool to help promote your professional profile, expand your networks and search for jobs both in and outside academia.

To watch the video, go to QMplus Media (you will need to log in with your QMUL id and password).

LinkedIn on QMPlus Media

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Rethinking Postdoctoral Careers

Traditionally the academic pipeline was clear: complete a PhD, then a postdoc or two and then on to a permanent lectureship. However, that model no longer appears to be adequate to describe the experience of many academic researchers.  Moreover, this model of career progression doesn’t account for the large numbers of people who “leak” out of the pipeline at various points, for many reasons, including choice or the perceived gender based barriers.  Nor does it begin to address the growing number of “third space” professionals that transition from postdoctoral researchers to work at the interface between the academic/research staff and the professional services units within an academic institution.

In our next Academic Progressions webinar, “Rethinking Postdoctoral Careers”, taking place on Thursday 05 May 2016 at 2pmDr Richard Freeman will present data from his research into doctoral career transitions, experiences of over 1,000 early career social scientists and over 100 “third space” professionals together with the results of the 2015 Careers in Research Online Survey to review the current situation and provide practical advice to early careers researchers facing the challenge of developing their postdoctoral careers.

Dr R FreemanDr Richard Freeman is a Senior Lecturer in Research Methods at UCL Institute of Education. He is Programme Leader for Researcher Development with responsibility for strategic oversight of provision for early career researchers. He is also Programme Leader for the Online MPhil/PhD, which launched in October 2014. He is also Deputy Director of the ESRC Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre.

The Academic Progressions series moved to a webinar format last month, where successfully hosted over 50 participants in our discussion of Dr. Anna Mountford-Zimdars‘ work.  If you missed our last webinar, you can view it on QMplus Research Staff Development section or QMplus Media (you will be asked to login with your QMUL credentials).

To join the Academic Progressions webinar, please go to the CAPD bookings page, login and search for the course code: RSAP.  Select the webinar taking place on Thursday 05 May 2016 at 2pm BST.Academic-Progressions If you haven’t registered an account with the CAPD, you can do so here. Once booked on, you will receive an email with joining instructions, as well as reminders, leading up to the webinar.

For additional information please contact the researcher development team at resdev@qmul.ac.uk.

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Dr Eleanor Groves joins LSI Researcher Development

Dr Eleanor GrovesI have recently joined Queen Mary as a Researcher Development Adviser for the Life Sciences Initiative (LSI). My role is to support the career development of life sciences researchers. I will work very closely with the Researcher Development team within the CAPD and my aim is to ‘add value’ to the excellent existing activities, facilities and training programmes, whilst promoting the aims of the LSI.

Life Sciences in QMUL is currently virtual cross-faculty initiative that aims to promote and facilitate interdisciplinary research (as well as teaching and public engagement) and its impact on human health, where we already have a wealth of experience and within which we aspire to be at the forefront of academic activity. The LSI team is expanding and we hope you will hear more about the LSI and its activities in the coming months.

Since making the difficult decision to leave the lab 6 years ago I have become committed to supporting the careers, at all stages, of those who choose to pursue this challenging but exciting and rewarding career path. Do I miss the lab? Well, yes, sometimes – there are so many plusses to a research career, but I don’t miss those days of cowering behind the lab door while the ultracentrifuge gears up or the radioactive spillages where I had to burn my jeans (true)! Instead I find I really enjoy having a positive impact on researchers’ careers – our role as Researcher Development Advisers is to provide researchers with the opportunity to gain the skills and tools needed to be successful, through a variety of means such as training programmes, and to support their careers.

My previous role was as a Senior Grants Adviser at the Wellcome Trust where I had nearly 6 years of experience of grant application processing and administration as well as providing career and application advice to the scientific community. Before that I completed a PhD in bacterial pathogenesis at Imperial College London and undertook a period of post-doctoral research there on an EC-funded systems biology project before pursuing my current career in research support.

I am really excited to learn more about the diverse and exciting research going on at QMUL and am looking forward to finding ways to promote interdisciplinary life science and scientists’ careers. I am always open to suggestions and ideas for relevant activities, training and events so please do get in touch.

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How to get an academic job: Insights from 24 interviews by postgraduate researchers conducted with academics

Careers in and outside science. Source: The Royal Society, 2010.

Careers in and outside science.
Source: The Royal Society, 2010.

The progression to the higher rungs of the academic ladder happens to as few as 0.45% of those who enter UK academia as PhD graduates in the sciences.  Looking at this another way, to those who go on to do a postdoc in the UK in the sciences (about 30% of PhD grads), only about 10-15% of those will make the cut to each subsequent level, from early-career researchers (ECRs) to lecturers to professors. While this paints a very grim situation for ECRs intent on following an academic path, it doesn’t reveal the number of early-career researchers for whom leaving the sector is an active choice, armed with the skills and experience they’ve honed during their time in the academy, ready to transfer those skills to other sectors.

KCL Headshots May 2014 at the Strand, Waterloo campuses, London on the 02/05/2014. Photo: David Tett

Photo: David Tett

For those intending to pursue an academic future, there still remains a large mismatch between the number of postgraduate and early-career researchers who aspire to have an academic job and the availability of employment opportunities in academia: not everyone who aspires to become an academic will succeed. To better understand this disparity, Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars investigates two broad questions against this background.  Firstly, what are the skills, character traits and experiences that academic selection panels at an English research-led university are looking for in hiring entry-level academics? And secondly, what is it like to be an academic?

Dr Mountford-Zimdars will be joining us as part of our next Academic Progressions webinar on Thursday 07 April, 2016 at 2pm.  Her presentation, How to get an academic job: Insights from 24 interviews by postgraduate researchers conducted with academics, is based on research conducted by 12 postgraduate researchers who interviewed 24 academics. The discussion time for this session will also provide an opportunity to discuss the support available for graduate students and post-docs in developing their teaching profile that is often part of the application for academic jobs.

Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars is a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education and Head of Research at King’s College London, UK. Anna supports the development of teaching abilities among postgraduates at King’s College.  Her research work on higher education and, in particular, university admissions has been published in many peer reviewed articles, book chapters, and commissioned research reports. Her research has been cited in Parliament as well as receiving coverage in the media including the Sunday Times, BBC Radio 4, and The Guardian.

From April, our Academic Progressions series will be hosted solely on a webinar format using Blackboard Collaborate.  To join the Academic Progressions webinar, please go to the CAPD bookings page, login and search for the course code: RSAP.  Select the webinar taking place on 07 April 2016 (AcJob).Academic-Progressions If you haven’t registered an account with the CAPD, you can do so here. Once booked on, you will receive an email with joining instructions, as well as reminders, leading up to the webinar.

For additional information please contact the researcher development team at resdev@qmul.ac.uk.

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Endnote (in just a couple of minutes)

Next in our ‘in just a couple of minutes’ series, I take a look at Endnote, one of the longest-standing and most comprehensive citation and reference managing tools on the market.

To watch the video, go to QMplus Media (you will need to log in with your QMUL id and password).

Endnote-screen capture

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Mendeley (in just a couple of minutes)

In the next video in our ‘in just a couple of minutes’ series, we take a look at Mendeley, a citation manager and social networking tool. It’s freely available online and gives you up to 2GB of cloud storage space for your references (as PDFs or linked documents). They offer mobile apps for most platforms so that you can read, annotate and share your reference library from anywhere.

To watch the video, go to QMplus Media (you will need to log in with your QMUL id and password).


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