Recently I organised a development event which saw an external facilitator come to Sheffield to share his knowledge on the relationship between researchers and the media. It promised many valuable outcomes for the researchers attending; they would create a press release, gain practical experience of undertaking an interview with a journalist and receive personal feedback on their performance. Everyone who attended told me what a great opportunity this was and that they were so glad that they had made the time to participate. But what struck me more was what happened after the event had ended.
When I arrived at the room to catch up with the facilitator before he left for home, rather than the empty room I was expecting, a few people still remained. They were talking, not just about the content of the workshop and what they were going to do next, but about their current situation; whether they wanted to stay in academia, how they were struggling with having handed in their thesis and what to do next, what coping mechanisms they had in place to deal with their workload and how they managed to have some sort of work-life balance. One participant was incredibly honest and shared their feelings of shock at the transition from Post Graduate Researcher to Post-Doctoral Researcher.
The event facilitator was providing reassurance that these feelings were ‘normal’ and the members of this small group were eager to further explore the situations that each had presented. These people had never met before that day and had clearly built up a level of trust and confidence throughout the workshop which enabled them to share, challenge and offer support to each other. They advised each other of further opportunities that could be beneficial (including those offered through the Think Ahead framework), and contact details were exchanged, along with the promise to share links to articles, websites and blogs and keep updated with each other’s progress.
We all hear about the importance of networking during development events and conferences. I always thought that this meant being engaging, attempting to maintain an air of professionalism whilst shovelling a double choc-chip muffin into your mouth during refreshment breaks, and going home with a whole host of contacts who you might call upon in the future. It never entered my head that making a commitment to fully engage with a development opportunity and fellow participants could have a whole additional outcome to the objectives advertised on the event specification and open up a whole network of peers who are willing to provide support, share their experiences and take a genuine interest in you and your career.
In case you haven’t seen it, this (2014) paper reviews the current needs of researchers in a changing landscape, and presents a case for shared discussion space for exactly this reason. It recommends that all modern doctoral training workplaces should make discussion spaces like this available.
The next time I’m at an event I won’t be in such a hurry to leave in time to catch the next bus home.
To talk more about what matters to you, and make sure the Researcher Professional Development team know what’s on your mind… please visit our ‘talk to us’ page.
Hancock, Sally, and Elaine Walsh. 'Beyond Knowledge And Skills: Rethinking The Development Of Professional Identity During The STEM Doctorate'. Studies in Higher Education (2014): 1-14.