Archives for category: Bryony Portsmouth

Thursday 30th November at 3.30pm was ‘ThirTEA’, the University’s annual call to take thirty extra minutes to consider or engage in development.

I fully support this event and after enthusing the Department at 3.25pm, I decided that what I was going to do with #myThirty30 was to build a Buckyball*.  My reasoning was that for the last three years, I have encouraged others to make these as part of our annual Kroto researcher showcase but I have never tried it myself.

The next thirty minutes turned out to be incredibly illuminating from a learning point of view, for so many reasons.

Firstly, you need to know that I did not complete the Buckyball, so from the point of view of my original objective for the thirty minutes – mission not accomplished.

I didn’t feel crushed or despondent, just baffled – I knew I should be able to do it.  My colleagues had different responses to my lack of completion, some wanting to have a go to see if they could make it work, others offering encouragement, others reflecting back to me their own experiences of learning and the techniques they use.

Here’s how the process went:

  • I started building without using any instructions
  • When my progress slowed, I used ‘here’s one someone made earlier’ (at the researcher showcase) as a visual reference point
  • I got stuck
  • I did a little bit of mistake repeating while I figured out another strategy
  • I knew where the instructions were to be found but I momentarily though it’d be ‘cheating’ to look them up
  • I knew I had the capability to achieve the build and felt something was amiss with the kit
  • I counted the amount of pentagons in the completed kit and the amount I had – they were different
  • I looked up the instructions
  • I compared them to the physical reference I had used
  • I noticed the colour use for the completed one and the one in the instructions was different
  • It was now obvious why I had lots of red but left over and not enough white pieces

Throughout, I made decisions based on unconscious assumptions, born of past experience.  Some of those assumptions were helpful and some were a hindrance – what category would you put each of the below in?  Were there other assumptions that I made?

I assumed it could be done
I assumed the visual template was accurate
I assumed prior knowledge would help me
I assumed I had done it wrong
I assumed I could do it without assistance
I assumed repetition would resolve it
I assumed using instructions was ‘cheating’
I assumed taking a break would enable a breakthrough
I assumed there was an issue with the kit
I assumed I would succeed

The main thing I was reminded of from the experience is that in learning, there is no getting it ‘wrong’, all of our experiences are useful, if we only take the time to reflect on them.

I also experienced the ‘easy when you know how’ effect – it took ten minutes to complete the Buckyball after I had read the instructions!

*visit our fabulous ‘Outreach & Widening Participation’ webpages to find out more about the Buckyball.


Periodically, I mention on this blog the University’s HR Excellence in Research Award.

As an institution, this is our collective statement and plan of action in regards to continually enhancing the research environment, particularly in relation to research staff.

One of the actions in the institution’s HR Excellence in Research Award action plan, mirrored in the University’s Athena SWAN action plan, is that Unconscious Bias workshops are made available across the institution. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been thinking about the nature of success:

I’ve been working in HE for five years and I have to admit, whilst I have no doubt that ‘success’ abounds (degrees completed, research grants awarded, public engaged with etc.) far too many people don’t recognise it if it doesn’t look (to them) big enough. In many of my day to day encounters people will talk in terms of what hasn’t been done, what is going to be ‘too hard’ or what they got wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

The beginning
Recently I’ve been thinking about how Think Ahead came to be.  Fifteen long years ago, Sir Gareth Roberts completed a detailed review into the supply of people with science, engineering and technology skills to support UK innovation.  The review made many recommendations, two significant ones for researcher development being;

  • “The training elements of a PhD, particularly training in transferable skills, need to be improved considerably.”   (and)
  • “HEIs take responsibility for ensuring that all their contract researchers have a clear career development plan and have access to appropriate training opportunities.”
    (SET for Success, 2002).

In 2005, the European Commission adopted a ‘European Charter for Researchers’ and a ‘Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers’ furthering the agenda to make research careers more equitable and attractive. 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 »

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 »

As many of you will know, the Researcher Professional Development Team has a Twitter handle @thinkaheadsheff.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking after the account and as a result, I came across what I found to be a really interesting article. This isn’t always easy as the speed of traffic and new information that comes across the home feed is staggering to a luddite like me. Read the rest of this entry »

This post is a follow up to one I wrote in April, which (sad face) didn’t generate any comments or debate.  As I mentioned then, the University is a signatory  the UK ‘Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers‘.  Blank face? I hope not but just in case, here is how RCUK sum it up on their website:

“The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers sets out the expectations and responsibilities of researchers, their managers, employers and funders. It aims to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of research careers in the UK and to improve the quantity, quality and impact of research for the benefit of UK society and the economy.”

The Concordat underpins the work so many of us do and has had a massive effect on the way in which the University of Sheffield considers and improves the environment for researchers. Read the rest of this entry »

Last week provided me with a double of interesting events that made me think about the importance of ‘engaging’ (with learning, people and change).

There are various definitions on but for me engaging is a conscious act, one of opening up oneself to new information, ideas or opportunities. From this can come the act of engagement, characterised in a multi-way transaction in which all parties are actively involved and inevitably, something changes as a result.

On Thursday, I attended a TUoS Engaged Learning Network event. Professor Brendan Stone, who introduced the session, describes engaged learning & teaching as, “combining academic rigour and disciplinary knowledge with opportunities for students to learn with and from external partners, ‘real-world’ challenges, and experiences outside the University.” (‘Engaged Learning Sheffield’, 2016).

The keynote speaker, Dr Ira Harkavy from the University of Pennsylvania, talked passionately about the need for academia to use its considerable resource and standing to foster community engagement and cooperation to enable genuine research impact in the local environment.

In the Q&A at the end, an impassioned colleague pointed out that this type of engagement, whether in Undergraduate learning or in core research, needs to be woven in to the fabric of the institution, rather than be seen as the activity of a few ‘out there’ individuals on the margins.


What all of these positions reminded me was of the need for researchers to look beyond the day to day activity of research to consider who they will need to engage with to create change (no matter how big or small and whether in their own lives or beyond).

This contemplation was then reinforced on Friday when I attend a meeting of the nascent University-wide researcher society. Once again, impassioned colleagues talked, this time the focus being the benefits of engaging with researcher networks/associations for skill development, social connectivity, profile raising and to support collective change.

Both of these events had a common undercurrent, the certainty that collaboration and collective effort can be a force for change. For me, the very desire for ‘engagement’ implies that either an individual wants to improve something, be it personal and directly related to themselves or for the wider benefit to others.

I guess what I am trying to say (in a muddled philosophy kind of way) is that my choice to engage in both of these events, provided me opportunity to hear others’ visions, reflect on my own values, think more broadly about the role of research in society and be reminded about the potential for change that comes through a collectively engaged ‘voice’.

Time well spent, I’d say.

(Image credit: The University of Edinburgh)

Hopefully you are familiar with the Concordat? It is a sector owned document, rolled out eight years ago and it is a ‘good practice’ guide for institutions in the support of our researchers.

Externally, we are measured on our success in implementing the Concordat’s seven principles through the HR Excellence in Research Award which is independently reviewed every two years.

Over the last 18 months, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into how things are going and as a result, the Research Staff Development Committee, charged me with going on a tour of the University to find out about the environment for researchers.

Read the rest of this entry »