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.

At a recent ‘Managing yourself and your PhD course’ I asked attendees to list their issues. The second biggest issue was procrastination.

procratination phdsProcrastination can be defined as “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” [1] and that’s certainly a problem!

Why do we deliberately not do what we know we should be doing even if it causes us pain?

We end up being stressed, feeling guilty, in a worse situation and gain disapproval from others. This makes it even harder to do anything and can become a downward spiral.

It is basically “a breakdown in our Self Control. You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.” [2]

So how can we overcome it? Top tips include:

1.Have a plan. Now that you don’t have ‘classes’ you have to structure your own time. I tumblr_inline_mjbjohnZlb1qz4rgpnoticed that the biggest issue that PhD students mentioned was all about how to plan and manage activities. If you do not have a plan you will not know where to start and you will not have prioritised your work. Break your work down into sections and tasks. Then make a weekly plan of what you need to do. A daily plan is even better, a to do list might help!

2. Track your progress to help keep motivated. Mark things off as you complete them and don’t be afraid to move things round if you get blocked on one of your tasks e.g. perhaps you need to clarify something with your supervisor. Start the next task instead and then come back to the one that was blocked later on. Seeing your progress will help you feel that you are achieving and keep you on track.

3.Create an environment that suits how you work and remove as many distractions as possible. Be especially aware of digital distractions! Keep off social media and do not keep checking your emails. Make sure you have everything you need, e.g. stapler and staples etc and keep your work space organised so you can find things easily. Check your posture and your computer height, brightness etc to make sure you are comfortable and not creating back pain etc

4.Take breaks. Research takes a lot of focus so you need to take regular breaks to help your mind come back refreshed. Do your work in slots and then have a break e.g. I will read three research articles/write my abstract then I will have a break.

5.Keep your work within working hours and have a home/social life. You are not effective if you work long hours.

6.Ask for help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask others to help when you get stuck. Better to admit you do not know something than waste valuable time. Others are usually only too willing to help. Make sure you make the most of supervisory meetings by listing the things you need to know or resources you need to access etc so that you can make sure you get what you need and when you need it.

If anyone else has any tips on what works for them then please feel free to comment below:


[1] Steel, Piers (2007). “The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure”. Psychological Bulletin 133 (1): 65–94. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65. PMID 17201571.

[2] Dr Andrew Dobson

[3] Image

[4] Image

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Mentoring & Coaching Manager, University of Sheffield

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £35,000-£55,000 across the UK

I did science A-levels, a science degree and a PhD in molecular biology because it seemed at the time that’s what clever people did. When I (finally) finished my PhD I knew it was time to move on to a job where I would feel less idiotic all the time. I thought I’d better make a more informed decision about what to do next and so I trotted down to a careers service appointment. it turned out that a PhD with precisely ZERO extra curricular activities wasn’t massively attractive to employers, even when supplemented with my time pushing Sarah Lee gateaux in Iceland.

Career Path.png

As you do in these situations, I did a post-doc. I started the post-doc thinking that I was just buying myself some time to think, but soon found my feet in a new group and for the first time in forever became a respected colleague and team member. In parallel to building back my self esteem, I started building myself a broader base of experience by getting involved in committees, organising events, learning to collaborate, and attending professional development training. Along with another post-doc in the dept, I set up a post-doc society, and started to be an active member of my research community. I was also by then running a non-profit in Sheffield*, and was on the board of a local charity**.

Post-doc things I liked: the team, the community, the flexibility, the salary, my PI, freedom to invent new things, being an expert, still being at university, meeting and engaging people, activism, sorting stuff out, getting stuff done, and pouring agar.

Post-doc things I disliked: science, soil, sand in my hair, microscopy, repetitive tasks, nutrient solution, microscopy, long-time-to-create-any-change processes, working on Christmas day, RT-PCR, mini-preps, and microscopy.

I dithered for about 6-months wondering whether to say yes to the co-authored grant I was being invited to write with my PI, and eventually decided I’d only be doing it so I didn’t let my PI down. So I had to let her down and say I was looking outside research for my next job. The response surprised me. I’d thought it was going to be along the lines of, ‘you’ve let me down, you’ve let yourself down’… But no, she says: “Oh, I know someone you can talk to, another ex post-doc of mine, Anita, she’ll be really helpful to you, do you need anything from me?” MIND. BLOWN. Soon after, a maternity-cover post came up for the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Researcher Training & Development Advisor. I went for it. I needed to translate the experience of every scrap of my extra curricular work in and out of uni, AND the application/interview technique Anita drilled into me, AND to come up with a diplomatic way of explaining why my PhD took 5 years… but I got the job.

Then I learned how to do the job. It was an exciting (read: white knuckle) ride, made possible by (1) an excellent set of maternity cover notes which kept me afloat and meant I didn’t forget when to do what, or what a committee minutes looked like, or how to book rooms and coffee, (2) my long-suffering colleague Andrew ‘Wiggles’ Wigg, and (3) managers who really embodied a developmental attitude and trusted me to get on with things, take the lead, and speak up if I needed something. After the maternity-cover year, the Faculty won money for an additional post, so I was able to stay in the role, but take on certain specialisms. I picked the then fledgeling Coaching and Mentoring projects as my foci (did I tell you I used to do microscopy), and also started a part-time Masters Degree in Education with a Coaching and Mentoring specialism (I highly recommend this course, which I finished in 2014).

Having a particular specialism meant that when all our researcher development activity was restructured in 2012, a post was created that I fit right into — Mentoring & Coaching Manager for Researchers — part of the Researcher Professional Development (Think Ahead) Team — and I’ve been here 5 years. So what have I been doing?!


In short,

  • researching what’s going on for researchers.
  • designing coaching & mentoring programmes that respond to what’s going on.
  • teaching people how to be mentors & coaches on those programmes.
  • using the data from coaching & mentoring programmes to drive bigger change at the university and wider across the sector.

Because I have specialised expertise I also offer consultancy for others at TUOS and externally on mentoring programme design, and on mentor development. And I belong to groups of other people who teach coaching, groups who research researchers, and groups who influence policy on research careers. I belong to other communities too, I review for a couple of journals, I go to conferences, I maintain a Google+ community, I find out most of what I need to know abut the sector from Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 13.45.47.png

I spend a huge amount of my time at work persuading people to do things for free. All the mentors are volunteers, and there’s more than 200 of our TUOS staff and more than 100 alumni in that group. I train them, supervise them, make sure they follow ethical practice guidelines, and offer them ways to keep learning about mentoring practice.

Bonuses: I get to hang around in HE, I am an expert, I feel I’m making a difference, I get to invent things, tremendous variety, I only take work home if I choose to (I hardly ever choose to any more #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs) and I work with a very diverse set of partners and colleagues (‘professional services’ isn’t as culturally diverse as academic depts are) though ‘Researchers Developers’ as a UK sector tend to be female, tend to be mid-30s (I’m late mid 30s!), tend to have a science PhD, and tend to be paid about the same as a lecturer.

To say I ‘left academia’ I do a lot of research (Trust Me!, Fellowship Ahoy, Value of the Doctorate), writing (blogs, papers, reports, funding applicaitons), teaching (mentor workshops, supervisor workshops, and HEA portfolio assessing) & admin (managing and advertising events, conferences, evaluation and reporting).

March 2017.png

Who knows what next? To move forward in my career I need to move on to a new place — very similar to research careers. As well as researcher development jobs, my direct experience and skill set could fit into academic posts, teaching roles, learning & development roles, posts in HR, organisational development jobs, academic practice posts… there’s no shortage of option in HE or in the 3rd sector, or even the private sector — it’s once again just a case of taking a leap and seeing what happens.

*Running a non-profit = translated = a friend and I managed a website, recruited members and put on some craft fairs in the Millennium Gallery.

**On the Board of a local Charity = translated = Joined a theatre company, learned my lines, stood in the right place, AND, argued in committee meetings that we should buy only fair trade tea and coffee.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Fellow or Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Accreditation via Association for Coaching. Society for Research into Higher Education. European Association for Research into Learning & Instruction. You can sign up to newsletters from all these places if you want to find out more about what they do and why it’s relevant.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? University websites,

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Admissions, Outreach and Engagement Manager, Imperial College London

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £45,000-£60,000

Bioengineering Dept pages | Twitter: @J_DoubleS

pwpimage.html;jsessionid=1vtSYr0CJBMpkWPvHfYbJfJFCb3cCh9fHqk9psy3vxZ8LQSj3Jpd!-2068266046.jpegI have always been passionate about making science and engineering accessible to others, whether that was through research talks or posters during my PhD, or to members of the public, school children, MPs, community groups and patients through my career.

The catalyst for me was a course created by Professor Noel Sharkey at University of Sheffield, where amongst other sessions we had a talk from Fiona Fox, Director and now CEO of the Science Media Centre. After meeting Fiona, I interned at the Science Media Centre during my PhD and it really opened my eyes to a world outside of academia, and the impact of good and bad communication of science. Read the rest of this entry »


I teach professional practices in coaching and mentoring* in an education context and have developed some short workshops for academic supervisors and principal investigators that focus on the relational aspects of research leadership and use coaching techniques as the basis for conversations that help people develop their thinking and understanding.

Read the rest of this entry »

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Digital Publications Officer at Birkbeck, University of London

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £30k-£40k.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAjrAAAAJDEyZWZkOTBlLWQ1NTAtNGQzMC1hYmQ4LWVlMjBjYjk2YTdlYg.jpgMy career has felt too haphazard and bumbling to be described as a path, per se, but looking back, I can see that my choices were instinctively oriented around writing, editing and publishing. After my undergraduate degree (in History), I worked for three years in a bookshop, before securing a sales and marketing job in publishing. I then moved into selling international publishing rights, before returning to study an MA Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Thursday morning I attended the first ‘Research & Innovation forum’, which was led by Professor Dave Petley, Vice President for Research & Innovation.

I think it is worth writing about for a few reasons.

  • It is an example of me engaging in continuing professional development. Many times, myself and colleagues make the point that development is everywhere. It is to be found in much more fluid experiences than a whole day ‘training’ event or qualification.  We develop through engagement in everyday activities where we expand our knowledge base and reflect on the way we work.
  • In working in a team whose mission is to provide, “a framework for the continuous professional development of researchers at the University of Sheffield, supporting individual career ambitions in and beyond academia”, I ought to have an understanding of the current research landscape both in and beyond the university and be prepared to share that understanding with others.
  • To encourage other people to attend future forums.

Read the rest of this entry »

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: IT project manager, Birmingham City University.

Approximate salary range for your type of role: In public sector contexts, project managers can expect to earn £32-45k (depending on type of project, seniority level/skills etc.). In private sector, it can be anything from £35-£70 (for very specialised skills and/or complex projects). Read the rest of this entry »


Over the weekend, my social media accounts were packed  with:

spring forward               Read the rest of this entry »

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Senior Editor, BioMed Central (part of SpringerNature)

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Editorial roles start ~£22k, increasing with promotions

image.jpg Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest post, written by and expressing the views of Dr Steve Hutchinson (founder of Hutchinson Training and Development). Steve runs excellent workshops. He is also one of the editors, and a plausibly prattling contributor to the upcoming book ‘53 interesting ways to enhance researcher development’…

Many years ago, I was trying to successfully navigate the upgrade meeting which would allow me to promote my registration from MPhil to PhD.

This was a scary meeting and not because I didn’t know my science (I didn’t know my science – but I’ve always been good at plausible prattle). The meeting was frightening because straight from the start one of the two panellists fixed me with a steely gaze and asked: “So, what have you learned over the last year that has made you a better academic?”. Read the rest of this entry »