This blog comes to you from the interdisciplinary Researcher Professional Development team at the University of Sheffield. We’ll be updating on researcher issues, national news and trends, key achievements for the team, and other things that research staff, and staff development professionals will find of interest.

For a festival of peace and goodwill it seems to manage to create a lot of stress and hardship. So how can you ensure you enjoy the festive season rather than feeling like you’ve been ‘sleighed’! As always we are concerned about researcher wellbeing,  so here are some tips for you> All obvious? So how come you don’t do them!

Winter tiredness

Shorter days provwinter-tirednesside us with less daylight hours and your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. We often have to keep going but we need to accept we will slow down over winter. To help keep your energy levels up try to eat regular meals/healthy snacks every three to four hours, rather than large meals. Regular exercise can give you an energy boost and make you feel less tired.

Take a break

Challenge yourself to not do any work related activities from Christmas Eve till New Year’s Day.  It’s only modern technology that has let us tune into our working lives, 24/7, so make sure you really  have a rest from it and don’t be tempted to peek at your emails.

Surviving family relationships

xmas-familyWe can feel under pressure to have the perfect time which leads to unrealistic expectations and then disappointment. Do you really expect everyone to get along without any tensions and for all problems to disappear? Be realistic in your plans and accept that things may go wrong and some people will never see eye to eye. Try to minimise risks but accept you cannot eradicate them altogether.

Be present

For anyone that has taken part in any mindfulness training you will know what I mean. Focus on each moment and enjoy the here and now. Don’t dwell on other things or wish you were somewhere else. It’s called the present for a reason so make the most of it!

Half an hour of ‘me’ time

me-timeOften we feel forced to socialise over Christmas, sometimes with relatives we don’t get along with.  Try and spend half an hour each day, on your own, doing what you enjoy in a relaxed environment. You may already do this without knowing: walking the dog, reading a book, listening to soothing music, so make sure this happens each day or start to develop the habit.


Listen to your body

Your body will signal when it is full but often we choose to override it so try to go back to being aware of it and don’t over eat or drink. Remember the festive season is a marathon so pace yourself so you can enjoy every day.

Digital distractionsdigital-distractions

Social media can cause anxiety so try to take a break from that as well. All news feeds tell us gloomy stories and forecast the worst case scenarios. That can unsettle us and make us lose hope in the future. Worrying about things that may not happen and over which we have no control just drains us so try to reduce time spent on bad news.

Water, water everywhere

Keep hydrated by regularly drinking water even in cold weather. While you are on a break see if you can drink the suggested 2 litres a day and get into the habit.

Anyway, tenerife-xmasgood luck with all that, I’ll be in Tenerife!🙂

That’s  my way of coping

Happy Holidays




Everyone tells researchers that they need to get their research “out there”.  They should be promoting themselves and engaging with the public via YouTube, twitter, blogs and the like.  Some researchers can crack on with this and take to it like a duck to water, especially the written format.  But videos…well for some that’s an entirely different matter.  In an age where it can seem like every 10 year old is a YouTuber, what do you do if you’re not confident on screen or if you haven’t got the first idea of what makes a good video?

The Think Ahead team recognised that this can be a challenging area for some and offered a group of researchers the opportunity to participate in a Success on Screen workshop delivered by Vox Coaching.  During the course of a single day researchers arrived, some looking more than slightly nervous at the sight of a camera, to learn how to make a short video to ‘sell’ their research to an audience.  Following the obzpe2gobovro-laura-lee-moreau2ligatory introductions and awkward first glimpses of themselves on screen, the group learned what looked good on camera and what didn’t.  We’re not talking clothing, although a shirt which strobes is a tad distracting for the viewer, but body language, eye contact with the camera and constructing the content of your frame.  For example; sitting next to a potted plant in order to inject a bit of interest into your shot is all well and good, but when it looks like it’s sprouting from your head, not so much.

I observed the group of researchers develop in confidence throughout the day.  They stopped approaching the task like it was a presentation and instead tried to develop a conversation with their audience.  They were engaging and informative and really thought about the messages they wanted to convey.  At the end of the day 12 people who were complete novices at the beginning of the session had all managed to film enough footage to edit into a three minute video about their research.  You might think that this wasn’t much to show for a full day out of the office, but each participant now has the skills to take the communication of their research to the next level.

So what did they do next?  Well, some are participating in the Think Ahead: SURE scheme and have used their newfound skills to advertise their projects to potential summer students.  Feedback from the student applicants indicates that a major factor in their decision to apply to the Think Ahead: SURE scheme was that the videos demonstrate the passion each researcher has for their work.  Other participants have plans to create short videos to upload to their personal websites and introduce their research to a wider audience.

Image credit: Laura Lee Moreau

On Thursday 3rd November we successfully ran our first full-day event of workshops specifically designed for postgraduate research students to recognise and refine their knowledge of leadership skills. Under the title “Leadership Development Workshops”, sponsored by Science Think Ahead, PGR students across all faculties attended four sessions from 9:30am – 4pm in the Arts Tower computer room, with speakers from a wide range of disciplines and services within the University.


Some of the resources that each of our attendees received

The first session of the day was given by Phil Wallace from the University’s Leadership Development team.  He discussed with the participants what it means to be a successful leader in today’s world, the role of the leader within the community, and the concept of living leadership. Researchers were also given the chance to reflect on that using their own experiences and achievements. Read the rest of this entry »

We live in changing times, it cannot be denied or avoided.  At work, in the world, things are happening, many of them things beyond our control.


Friday was Armistice Day.  I am a poppy wearer and the 11th November is significant to me every year.  I know there are differing opinions about these traditions, so I found myself pondering the complexity of personal values and the tensions that can exist when we find ourselves encouraged to contribute to a collective reality that just isn’t our cup of tea. Read the rest of this entry »

Wnysoc-mediae talk a lot on this blog about the importance of being connected. Of having strong professional connections to help you as you develop your career, and of being connected to peers and colleagues within your discipline. It’s also certainly true that connecting with other people can help you to protect and improve your mental wellbeing

However, I’ve been thinking vaguely for a while about the fact that we’re all so connected, and expect everyone to be similarly connected and responsive. I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve received an email at night, only to have a follow up email ping into our inbox by the next morning because we haven’t replied in the 12 (non-working) hours in between. Maybe we’ve sometimes been the pinger, too.

I was recently at a conference, and realised, about a third of the way into the morning session, that I’d been so busy tweeting the highlights that I hadn’t engaged as deeply as I normally would. Tweeting at conferences is kind of expected now, and as I searched the conference hashtag, it became apparent that I was far from alone in doing this. But – shocker! – when I put the phone down and moved away from the hashtag, I was better able to listen to and think about the topic being discussed. In short, I got way more out of it. Read the rest of this entry »

jigsaw-missingThe start of the academic year is a good time for those of us who support the development of researchers to ask you ‘What’s missing?’ in the provision provided for training and career development support on offer.

If you’re a new PhD student just settling in then you’ve probably been thinking about what skills and experience you need to develop as part of your training needs analysis. If you’re later on in your PhD studies then you may well have been creating a new development plan for this academic year. For those of you who are further into your research career and are staff members you’ll most likely have had an annual appraisal recently where you were expected to highlight your development needs for the coming year. Read the rest of this entry »

women-talking-converted.jpgVia twitter (@kayguccione) I came across this anonymous article yesterday. It adds to a growing recent batch of articles in various places about the value of a PhD for life outside the academy. It describes very well the stats on the likelihood of working in academia permanently, and makes a clear call to reposition the doctoral degree as preparation for whatever should come next (like your UG or Masters is), rather than an academic gauntlet to be run where only the fittest (most stubborn, and most burned out) survive. I am all for this, in fact it’s part of the work I do, getting researchers to broaden their awareness of careers beyond academia — see v i s t a, and v i s t a mentoring (alternatives are available in other institutions). However, yesterday’s article offers the opinion that people aren’t talking about this issue, describing a “universal silence on non-academic career options.” Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been working as an insider in research and academic staff mentoring programmes for a good fair bit now, and I’ve tried to anchor my work in the idea that mentoring is for any and all people who see a benefit to being part of the programme. There are also people for whom mentoring is not the right approach right now: perhaps it’s not the right time, maybe they haven’t got enough time to dedicate to such an involved form of development, or maybe they need a more specialist conversation (e.g. specific funding expertise, english language support, software training, careers service consultation, disability services, counselling services, HR specialists, occupational health etc). It’s my job to facilitate this understanding, and to signpost to alternative/complementary services.


Not signing up to the mentoring programme is therefore ok with me. Similarly I count it as a positive outcome if a potential mentee changes their mind after attending the induction session and decides that mentoring is just not what they thought, or not for them. Properly engaging people in their development is not about coercing them. No-one needs to be guilted into 3-6h critical career evaluation over a 6 month period. Read the rest of this entry »

I have been thinking a fair amount over the years about the writing process, whether in preparation for PhD sessions or through my own struggles. During the last couple of weeks, we have been running PhD inductions across the Faculty of Science, inviting some academics to share their experience of the writing process and receiving contributions from Katherine Clement, who is one of the new writers in residence working with undergraduate and PhD students, Postdocs, fellows and academics from the biological disciplines in our faculty.

“Becoming a researcher is…becoming a writer”

Read the rest of this entry »