Lecturer to do list…

The small things that make up ‘academic life’…

  1. Sort out VAT on expense claim
  2. Organise marking for seminar reviews 
  3. Review two papers
  4. Organise interview transcription
  5. Sort out consultancy claim
  6. Book student to improve wordpress site
  7. Re-draft sections of Athena SWAN application
  8. Re-draft paper revisions with co-authors
  9. Write dept blogpost
  10. Send out email about dissertation prize 
  11. Share draft of report for feedback
  12. Write a research project to-do list and print out spreadsheet of remaining funds 
  13. Meet colleagues for end of term lunch
  14. Set ‘out of office’
  15. Go on annual leave 

I think I’ll cut to 13, do 14 and try to enjoy 15 without worrying about 1 to 12! Have a great break!!

Clearing my mind with plants 

It’s been a busy 2015 and today I just needed an hour or two to clear my mind and refresh my thinking on what needs to happen before the end of term. I decided getting outside and doing some gardening might be the answer – getting a planty perspective (see work by Atchison and Head at Wollongong for more!). I began by clearing this lovely old acer – planted 50 years ago – of the leaves that had fallen from its neighbour. 

Then a quick check-on the camellia hiding by the shed.

I then got a bit active by tidying up the lawn/paving interface. Who needs a gym membership!!

Finally admiring this gorgeous specimen below. It’s very warm outside today. 

Now – with my mind a bit clearer – I’m going to pick up my work where I left off 2 hours ago. 

Citizen Science Event (for social scientists) in May

Following a superb meeting on citizen science last week – here are a couple of events you might be interested in…

British Ecological Society Citizen Science special interest group’s events in May

The two events are quite different in structure and purpose – but both linked to citizen science (obviously!). Feel free to come along to one, or both. Registration for BES members is £30 for event 1 (training day) and £10 for event 2 (workshop) and includes lunch (what a bargain – thanks to the BES for support enabling us to keep costs down). Fees are slightly higher for non-members. Both events are at Charles Darwin House in London (15 mins walk from Kings Cross Station).

Event 1. Monday 11th May 2015. A training event for citizen science: What you need to know, but no one told you!


Event 2. Tuesday 12th May 2015. Understanding Participants Interactive Workshop.

For the workshop (event 2) we welcome contributions from participants:

As citizen science becomes an increasingly used and accepted method within the natural sciences, there has been much discussion around the scientific and data dimensions of citizen science. However, the socio-personal dynamics of participation in citizen science have remained largely unexplored. This workshop will showcase experiences from researchers and practitioners involved in citizen science projects. We would like to invite contributions from researchers working in this area.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Narratives of participation and engagement
  • Cultures of amateur natural history, traditional expert amateur groups
  • Age, gender and ethnicity in citizen science – overused and underused communities
  • Temporalities and spatialities of citizen science participation
  • Methodologies and techniques both for looking at (i) citizen science socio-dynamics and (ii) the impacts of citizen science methodologies and techniques themselves
  • Curiosity, creativity and emotion.

Please send a 150 word summary of your potential contribution to both Alison.dyke@york.ac.uk and h.geoghegan@reading.ac.uk by Friday 20th March. The organisers will determine the final format of the event based on these contributions and will respond by Friday 27th March.

More details on both events and booking details are at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bes-citizen-science-sig-events-may-2015-tickets-15495436267

Feel free to pass the details round to anyone who might be interested. Space is limited so if you are really keen to come then make sure you book early!

Be yourself, not an imposter: on conferences and public-speaking

Early-Career Plenary Panel at the RGS-IBG 2014

Early-Career Plenary Panel at the RGS-IBG 2014

Risk is both motivating and paralyzing. On the one hand taking risks can move us forward as researchers, advancing our knowledge of the world. On the other hand the before, after and moment of risk-taking can stop us in our tracks, unable to move, respond or get on with life. I’ve experienced both of these feelings of risk in the last few years. It’s not easy to talk about but once researchers do start talking about it we find there is plenty we have in common. This post has been inspired by the amazing talks I’ve seen this week at the inaugural Citizen Science Association conference in San Jose.

I’m a lecturer. I find that I am now so occupied with a mixture of research, teaching and administration that some of the risks I agonised over when I was doing my PhD and as a postdoc, such as standing up in front of an audience and giving a presentation, no longer feature on the horizon in the same way. Last year I had to lecture for 2 hours each week. At first I was anxious, of course, I was. But as the weeks passed and my students continued to show up, I saw those nerves and the risk of failure diminish.

Public-speaking is a central part of academic life. Nobody told me this. You don’t get a handbook on day one of your postgraduate life that says, being an academic involves x, y, z. Instead, you learn by doing. Making mistakes. Taking risks. Picking yourself up. We need to prepare our students for the element of public-speaking (the same goes for writing too but that is for another blog post). We cannot expect academics to be effective communicators, if we do not spend time during undergraduate degrees and as postgraduates cultivating the ways in which we communicate our ideas and research. Indeed as researchers we need to continually evolve our ability to communicate.

When I talk about the risk of public-speaking, I am referring first to the element of standing up in front of students, colleagues, peers, even strangers, to share ideas, knowledge and, importantly, our enthusiasm for the subject. I am also talking about publicly communicating in a friendly and conversational manner via other media such as blogs and Twitter.[1]

First, there is the risky decision to communicate our work – to submit an abstract to a conference, to organize a conference session, to draft our conference paper, presentation or poster, to share this draft with colleagues, peers and supervisors for feedback, to finalise the draft – usually cutting down the word count.

Second, the conference date arrives, we sit patiently as we await our turn to speak. Self-doubt creeps in. I don’t think I should’ve submitted this paper. I wish I had time to alter it. Usually at this point, I get a knot in my stomach. I am waiting for my turn to talk and I feel sick.

Third, I am behind the lectern or holding my papers. I remember one particularly nerve-wracking occasion where my hands were shaking so much that the clicker to move the slides on was doing this as my hands moved. It didn’t help that I was in a drama studio standing in the middle of the room – all lights on me. I felt completely out of my depth. These days I realize that preparation is key. Knowing what you want to say and how. Avoiding papers if I can. Instead working through ideas and trying to identify how I want the audience to feel once they’ve heard me speak.

Finally, the nerves have passed. There is the applause. There is time for questions. Honesty is the best policy. If you get a tough question and can’t figure out how to approach it. Why risk it? Explain that you need to reflect on that some more. The same goes for the risk of asking a question – I’ve lost count of the numbers of times that I didn’t ask a question at a conference or seminar in the last 10 years. And how many times I regretted it or sat in awe of colleagues who would pluck a fully-formed question as if from nowhere. And then a few months ago as part of a teaching course, our teacher informed us that formulating questions isn’t an easy activity. It takes time. We can’t expect our students to have a question immediately. Phew!

For me, public-speaking will always involve a certain element of risk – an emotional and personal risk. The knot in my stomach. I used to think these feelings were bad. I’d avoid any occasion to speak in public, even in small meetings. I wouldn’t risk it. I hated how it made me feel. But then – I said, enough is enough. I decided to take some control. Through my university I found a presentational skills course. It wasn’t run in-house by the university, but was led by professional actors and communicators for people in industry and leadership to ‘present with presence’. The course was in central London. I had to be there early. I felt both excited and nervous about the course. I arrived at the building.

The offices were up a flight of stairs. I met our course leader and my two fellow students. One worked in sales for a large builders merchants, the other was the people manager for a 5* Mayfair hotel. And there was me – a postdoc researching enthusiasm. We had to present for 5 minutes on our work. I held cards. I spoke too fast. I didn’t get anywhere near the point. We were filmed. We were given feedback from the group. We reviewed our own performance. We developed a number of presentations across the two days. On the second day, I returned. We had to give another short presentation. I lost it. I broke down in front of the group. I was crying, really crying. And it was a relief. I cared about doing a good job so much that the thing I failed to do, possibly ever, was be myself.

Being ourselves is the very best thing we can do.

How can we ever expect to feel comfortable or do our best if we are not being ourselves.

The group were a bit shocked by my outburst. They also couldn’t believe what I did next. I got up and did my presentation again. This time as myself, not the researcher I thought they expected me to be. I got a round of applause and feedback that stayed with me for years to come.

I have taken a risk telling you all of this. I hope some of it resonates with readers.

Being yourself seems like the most obvious and simple thing in the world. But it isn’t always that easy. The risk of being oneself, of showing the academic world the real you has been much discussed in blogs, on Twitter – the imposter syndrome is what they call it. (I blogged a bit about it last week.) The feeling that you might eventually be found out, that you aren’t supposed to be here. So we hide away. Or we portion bits of us away to avoid being discovered. But the risk of doing this can be anxiety, stress, depression. I know this from personal experience. From beating yourself up that: you haven’t read everything – well you can’t possibly read everything; you aren’t intelligent enough – well you clearly are, you’ve done a masters and PhD; you don’t spend all your time fixated on some theoretical idea – well neither does most of the rest of the world.

Imposter syndrome affects researchers regardless of age or gender.[2] It is a term that I have become familiar with as I progress in my career. Feeling there are things that I can’t do, but actually upon reflection, why can’t I do them? Well, because I’m often not being myself, following what I believe to be the right thing for me.

In April this year I was invited by the postgraduate geography community to open their mid-term conference. I shared with them the image of two concentric circles one showing ‘where you are’ the other ‘where the magic happens’. We need to get out of our comfort zones, be ourselves and take risks.

Creating the space to talk about the people behind the research or conference paper is risky, but the price is too high not to. What better way to learn to take risks than from each other.

[1] Athene Donald on why women should blog. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/11/21/donald-blog-female-academics/

[2] Athene Donald on the imposter syndrome. http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/2012/01/29/what-am-i-doing-here/

How do you remain enthusiastic?

IMG_3594Earlier this week, I got this email:

Do you mind me asking – how do you find the confidence/enthusiasm to keep working when people around you don’t necessarily support/encourage you? How did you find that inner confidence to go for it?

I was flattered and shocked. On the one hand, it is great to be recognised by someone for being confident and enthusiastic. That I actually appear to stand my ground. But on the other hand, it gave me the opportunity to press the pause button and reflect on what this means. I haven’t always felt confident, particularly about the work I do or the way I present it or myself.

This is very topical as my School host their first imposter syndrome workshop for postgrads and early-career staff. I felt like an imposter for a long time during my PhD, particularly during my MA. I was interested in things that didn’t yet have a strong theoretical grounding or a pre-established field. I struggled to contribute as my work put fields often held apart in dialogue. Add to this my specialist subject of choice – enthusiasm!

When you research a subject like – enthusiasm – people expect you to be enthusiastic. They want you to be cheerful, positive, smiley. They describe you as a ‘ray of sunshine’. This can be a very tiring job – being the cheerful, smiling face in the department. However, it has meant that I know almost everyone in the department and across the school because I’m not afraid to say ‘hello’.

However, being enthusiastic comes at a price – your research isn’t always taken seriously. The language can baffle others. You have to fight hard and align with big issues to tell the small stories of enthusiasm. Don’t get me wrong, I love this, but I know I could make my life easier.

So back to the original question. I asked another colleague how he remains enthusiastic – he joked, “I cry on my way to work and on the way home”. We all laughed. But there is some truth in it – finding a space to let out some of the emotion is vital.

Here are a few in-expert tips on how I try to remain enthusiastic and go for it:

1. Understand yourself – take time to think about what you enjoy doing, what motivates you, what makes you feel positive. Keep it in mind.

2. Smile and say ‘hello’ – regardless of how you’re feeling, always make time to smile and chat (however briefly) with others.

3. Do something you love – academia isn’t always a happy place, but the pros far outweigh the cons for me.

4. Realise we are all human – our bosses were once early-career lecturers, our senior colleagues experienced challenges, they might have been different but no less challenging. They face similar things now.

5. Avoid thinking you can’t do it – has anyone actually said you can’t? The second you let self-doubt in and let it linger, you’re in a battle. Remember you’ve got to be in it to win it. Push yourself. Don’t let the expectations you think others have of you cloud your thinking. (Remember 1.)

6. Accept you won’t please or understand everyone else – do a good job, others will let you down (it’s inevitable) but you can maintain the standards you set for yourself.

7. Take time out. Writing your PhD? Can’t concentrate? Think watching a whole season of West Wing in two days is wrong? Think again – take time out, return with renewed resources.

8. Have normal conversations – we could spend all day talking about our research, teaching, admin – create space to talk about life outside academia. Talk about your weekend, TV you’re watching, holidays, food… All academic talk makes things rather dull and leaves little room to develop the sort of collegiality that is really inclusive and helpful in the bad times.

9. Use social media – find an online community who give you the energy and boost you need to keep going. Twitter is excellent for this. I’ve got 1700 tweeps that inspire me by the quick ‘refresh’ of the Twitter feed.

10. “Now is the time, be yourself” – basically when you are busy doing points 1 to 9 there is a “sweet spot” – where your enthusiasm, aspirations and real-life meet in the right combination – and you realise YOU can make things happen for yourself and others. You realise that if you were waiting for someone to come along and hand a career, your life, to you that you were wrong. You make it happen. This is that moment. And once you start. You’ll keep going. It’s not always easy and when the going gets tough I return to points 1-9.

Okay – I am sure some of you are laughing at this post. Academia is emotional and we could do more to share our experiences. I reported a few posts ago about being encouraged to write about these issues. This is my small contribution. To close, I’ll share the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson for a positive quote:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

5 signs you might be addicted to academia

I completed my lecture-based teaching last term so I could throw myself into reading, writing, re-drafting this term. My name is Hilary and I think I’m addicted to academia. I was eating, drinking and sleeping ideas, references and cross-disciplinary inspiration. I’ve identified 5 signs you might be addicted to academia:

1. You wake up and you head straight to your computer. Saturdays and Sundays too. You love it!

2. Your tea, porridge, soup, toasted sandwich, coffee…all go cold while you sit at your computer typing. Darnit!

3. You check your emails but you say “I’m in the zone, I can’t possibly be distracted and answer that”. You’ve become one of those people who fails to reply.

4. You work from home with the occasional trip to the library, saying to yourself: “there are some great books in here, I need to make more time to read”. You take books out and actually read them.

5. You finally make it into work. You tell people what you’ve been up to. In the common room, you share stories of being excited and inspired by new ideas. Colleagues know exactly how you feel.

Yep, Academia is Addictive.

Happy New Academic Term!

So far featuring…

1) a grant deadline2015/01/img_4265.png

2) titles for our display boards (you kinda have to work on my corridor to know how much these please me)2015/01/img_4274.jpg

3) an assessment for my academic practice course – quality time with the library catalogue2015/01/img_4273.jpg

4) a chocolate brownie mountain to aid all of the above2015/01/img_4315.jpg

5) a thermos mug to keep my tea warm on those days I work from a very cold house2015/01/img_4316.jpgHave a great Spring term!