Archives for the month of: July, 2017

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: Assistant Manager, Wydale Hall retreat & conference centre

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £20-£25K

IMG_1084.JPGMy PhD was in quantitative Sociolinguistics. I loved it: I loved the variety, the writing, the solving of puzzles, and the cool conference locations. I was quite good at it, too; but after three years of post-doctoral research I knew that I would have to change institutions if I were to stay in linguistics and, honestly, I wasn’t in love with it enough to want to turn the rest of my life upside down. Then for twelve years I worked in training and development, mostly with researchers – I loved it! I loved the variety, I loved how useful it was, how I could make a difference to someone by providing opportunities for them to focus on developing the skills that would make their professional lives more effective.

Then I took the job I’m in now – and I love it! As assistant manager of a retreat centre, which is a registered charity and a faith based organisation, I share responsibility for around 150-200 overnight guests each month, a dozen or so employees, and fifty-plus volunteers. If you looked at my job description you’d see lots of finance (which uses every ounce of the numerical problem-solving skill I developed during my quantitative research), you’d see the development and management of our programme of events (which taps in to the design and facilitation skills I developed first as a lecturer and then as a training consultant) and you’d see management of people (which puts into practice a great deal of the leadership theory I used to teach). You might not see the shifts behind the bar, the mending of toilet seats and the taxying guests to and from the nearest railway station, and you certainly wouldn’t see the work both locally and nationally related to helping people work out their vocation, but that’s all part of the variety which I love!

Our organisational structure is complex and managing the myriad stakeholders and their competing needs, requirements and personalities is a challenge in itself. The management structure has two people between me and the Chief Executive of the Diocese of York; the governance of the charity involves two committees similar to boards of trustees.

The only fixed points in my week are Mondays when the weekly finance and banking needs to be done and Sundays when as a general rule weekend guests leave after lunch and the house is empty. As a Christian community, however, we do have regular times of prayer during the week – every morning, Wednesday lunchtimes and Friday evenings – and in a 24/7 business that rhythm is invaluable.


As I write, I have (on top of dealing with the guest who needs a toilet roll and negotiating with the cook about a late arrival for dinner) a few significant ongoing projects on my desk. I am working out next year’s programme of events (looking at themes, negotiating with speakers/facilitators, ensuring a breadth and depth which offer enrichment to those participating), working towards a deadline of the end of next month to go to print. I’m negotiating with a software company about a significant upgrade of our bookings software, discussing our needs and the functionality of the software, as well as looking at the budgetary implications against the risk of obsolescence of our current system. And I’m worrying about a looming staffing issue which will come to the fore next week when one of full time team members leaves and when a significant review of one area of the business begins in earnest.

I don’t get to do the international travel to academic conferences that I did when I worked in sociolinguistics. I don’t get the buzz of having a journal article accepted, or the kick that I used to get from teaching undergraduates the stuff that I found interesting.  I do get the thrill of problem-solving and the liaising with people at the top of their field (we had to leave the office a few weeks ago when one of our guests needed to receive a call from Downing Street). I don’t get much of a salary, but I do get to live rent free in fourteen acres of garden and woodland on the edge of the North York Moors.

I fell out of love with sociolinguistics largely because, for me, it was important that what I did for a living was meaningful in some way and although sociolinguistics was (and still is) fascinating to me, it didn’t seem meaningful as it didn’t change anything for anyone.  People come to Wydale for a variety of different reasons – most of them, though, come because it’s somewhere to retreat to in order to be able to advance in a significant area of their life, faith or work. When the head of a national organisation comes with their leadership team and remarks ‘we have better ideas when we come here’, or when someone writes to us of their plan to end their own life which was thwarted because they came, or when someone leaves at the end of a quiet few days saying ‘I now know what questions I need to ask’, it feels that I’m part of something significant.

I don’t need to have a PhD to do my job, but the skills I learned are truly useful and nothing I’ve done in terms of qualifications or experience has been wasted. For the first time in a varied professional life my whole life is aligned in what I do to earn a living, there is no discord between the different aspects that used to compete. So my tip, for what it’s worth, is this – make career decisions according to your values as well as your professional aspirations. A role in a non-profit organisation is never going to be lucrative, and it’s unlikely to be prestigious; it’s incredibly hard work and the hours are brutal. But if you’re looking for a professional role which aligns your work with your soul it may just be the sector to look at.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? National and local press; charity websites.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Nothing necessary – though I now boast food hygiene and first aid certificates and if you were interested in the hospitality industry more generally you could usefully look at CIPD or Institute of Hospitality.

doormatWhen I first started in the role of Researcher Development over 10 years ago it was quite common to hear that new members of research staff would be shown to a desk in a lab or office and then left to ‘get on with it’. I had hoped that over the last few years development in induction processes at both department, Faculty and University level had dramatically improved. However about a year ago, when running a Faculty induction day for new Research Staff I heard a familiar old tale of “So there’s your desk, just get on with it”.

I had been part of a cross university working group over the previous few years to look at the enhancement of University level induction of research staff and additionally myself and a colleague in another Faculty had developed a cross Faculty induction day designed specifically for new Research staff to make the most of their research contract with us. So just over a year ago when I heard the sad ole tale of departmental induction experience, along with some recent data from a staff survey and a conversational tour looking at the environment for researchers within departments which all suggested experience was very different across departments, I decided to review departmental induction across the whole Faculty that I support.

inductionUsing the contacts of departmental academic champions who sit on a Faculty committee responsible for the support and development of research staff, I was able to gain information on the process and procedures in place for induction within each department and get copies of the materials regularly given out. This allowed me to look for best practice activities that might be shared across the Faculty and identify any gaps within department provision that we needed to address. The Faulty committee of academics and research staff reviewed the examples of best practice I had found and came up with a set of recommendations we all felt should be provided as a minimum within a department. I then presented this to our Faculty Executive Board for approval before starting out on the long process of touring the departments to support the enhancement of their practices based on the document. Our recommendations for departmental induction contained some of the following suggestions and these are taken as minimum standards but I should say that many departments are doing far more than this and doing a fantastic job of it, but we wanted to make sure that every Department at least;

  1. Send a welcome letter/email from the Head of Department: Many researchers said they had not met their head of department. Our recommendation suggested inviting the new member of staff to meet with them at a specified time to introduce themselves and welcome them to the department.
  2. Provide their new role job description as part of the induction process: Once a researcher has applied and been offered that new job, often all the documents that were involved in the job application, 3 months down the line when they actually start have been filed away never to be seen again. When it comes to their first appraisal where they are expected to reflect on their job description, many realise they don’t have a copy and can’t easily access it. So we felt it was important to offer it at the point of induction and encourage it to be kept ready for appraisal time.
  3. The assignment of a named induction buddy before arrival: Everyone already had someone who is responsible for a new starters induction (often their line manager or technician) but we wanted to make sure they had a peer (ie another member of research staff) they could go to if they had any questions and someone who would take them under their wing, perhaps show them the best place to buy a sandwich at lunchtime, or where the local pub is that everyone goes to after work on a Friday.
  4. A defined process for announcing a new starter to the rest of the department: Researchers often commented that new people would just ‘appear’ in their office and they didn’t know anyone new was starting or who they were! Suggestions for the process include information via welcome email to whole department, in a departmental newsletter and/or announcement at a regular seminar/coffee morning
  5. Department to email Researcher Development Manager to inform them of the new starter: This ensures they are introduced to the support for their training and career development and invited to the Faculty induction for researchers
  6. InductionPackProvision of a departmental induction pack: We had another page of suggestions for what should be included in an induction pack whether that be online or a hard copy, so I’m not going to list it here but it including obvious things like a organogram of the department so the new starter could work out who everyone was and how the departmental structure fits together, links to compulsory training e.g. fire training etc., departmental information for things like how to get onto mailing lists, etc etc the list went on and on.
  7. Provision of a departmental induction pack specifically for the line manager of a new research staff member: This directs line managers to support for research managers online, development opportunities for research leaders, information on the opportunities available for their member of staff’s development, support available for appraisal of research staff and line management roles and responsibilities

I would suggest that if you didn’t get some of these things when you started in your department, why not question what more can be done locally for your new starters in the future to make the research environment a more welcoming place to work.

Reflecting back on the process, although it’s taken a long time to work through both the review of practice, gain approval and now the implementation of the recommendations, it has been really rewarding seeing small changes put in place that can make a big difference to the first impressions we make to welcoming our new research staff.

Doormat Image credit

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: Project Development Officer, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI)

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £28,000-£40,000

PSwarbrickVista1.jpgCABI is an international non-profit organisation that delivers knowledge and helps to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. There is a significant focus on international development and we have offices dotted around the world (mostly in developing countries). I’m based at the HQ in Oxfordshire. I am part of a small business development team and our role is supporting scientists and directors in the development of grant bids; we help to secure funding for our organisation to run its projects. Read the rest of this entry »

‘I’ve stopped watching the news’ said my friend.

I was appalled! I always watch the news on a daily basis to catch up with what is going on in the world, otherwise I feel out of touch. As I’m in a weekly quiz team I also feel the need to keep my general knowledge up to date, knowing about all the latest movie releases, chart music, TV shows and celebrity gossip can come in handy, honest! 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.

Twitter: @julzpreston


Job title and company: Manager, Organistational and Career Development, University of Tasmania

Approximate salary range for your type of role: AUD$91 – 105k


I completed my undergraduate, Honours and PhD studies in Microbiology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Through this journey I knew I was going to become Professor Preston, and was fortunate that my PhD supervisor introduced me to members of the lab I eventually moved to at the University of Sheffield. What started as a three-year postdoc was extended as more funding became available, so in the end I spent five years on the project including a 12-month visiting fellow post at the University of Pittsburgh, USA. Read the rest of this entry »

With the end of the academic year and holidays looming, many of us are wrapping up the year and planning what lies ahead. The process involves reviewing what we have achieved, what we have not done so well, or not finished, but also considering things we intended to do, but have forgotten, projects/ tasks which got lost by the wayside, because of the constant time-wheel, crushing our best intentions. Read the rest of this entry »

ERS_Logo_12_bI attended the Engineering Researcher Symposium last Friday (30 June 2017) and the message that came across to me, was that often collaboration isn’t about having a research idea and then looking for collaborators, but rather it can be by talking to others, that ideas for collaboration come about. Read the rest of this entry »