Archives for category: Kay Guccione

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.

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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.

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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).

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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,


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 »

d53018c541604453a8446db7ebff4483.jpgI work a lot with stuck and panicking PhD researchers near the end of their time here, and from them I have some intel to share. Bear in mind then that what follows doesn’t represent an ever so typical experience, but it does represent an important and keenly felt negative experience. One we can all learn from as colleagues in researcher development: be your role full time academic superhero and supervisor, or like mine, a specialist learning and development role, I think this will be relevant to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear doctoral supervisor,

“I was blissfully unaware how long it would take me to write up. To be honest I would have preferred a more clear marker from my supervisor, or from the department, saying stop doing experiments now and write! I was expecting someone to say when I had enough data, because I never felt I did, so instead I kept going much longer than I needed in the lab because I didn’t know how much was enough. I feel pretty annoyed about that.”

FullSizeRender.jpgIt’s 246 days ‪until the 31st of October. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With 8 months to go, now is a perfect time to make sure that your thesis writers know it’s time to spend some time each week — an hour a day, every day? — writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Guest post on the University of Edinburgh IAD4RESEARCHERS blog


This is our first guest post on iad4researchers and I’m delighted that Dr Kay Guccione (@kayguccione) at the University of Sheffield took the time to share her perspectives on the valuable role postdocs play in supervision. Unless there are factual errors I won’t be making any edits to our guest posts, so their views are their own.

Postdocs view experience in supervision, teaching and learning as core to scoring that academic career (Akerlind 2005). And post-doctoral research staff are actually very active in teaching and learning*. I believe that post-docs are a really important but often under-recognised group of teachers in research intensive universities. Development of an academic sense of self is in part a result of having the right formal institutional responsibilities and resources (McAlpine et al., 2013) yet, post-docs aren’t often included directly in university Learning & Teaching strategies, or seen as key assets with specific skills, position, and the right experience…

View original post 1,021 more words


In May 2016 I posted about the launch of a research project I am collaborating on with Billy Bryan (@BillyB100) looking into perceptions of value in the PhD.

The study has progressed really well over the last 9 months, we have now completed two phases: our survey for current PhD students got 200+ responses, and we also did 22 in depth interviews with PhD graduates across a range of career types.

Analysing all this, we are beginning to characterise and understand some concepts of value that apply to doctoral study, and the factors which affect how value is judged. We wrote about it here in an article for Research Fortnight, which in summary says:

Post-Phd, graduates looking back on their time studying tend to value the professional competencies they gained (e.g. critical decision-making, resilience and negotiation), the friendship and professional networks they built, and their personal capacity to understand the world, far more highly than they value the technical research specialisms they gained. Graduates who had pursued a range of experiences and extracurricular activities perceived they got more value than those who hadn’t, and people keep using their PhD networks to their advantage even after leaving the academy.

Based on these early exciting findings we are adding an additional data collection phase — an online survey for doctoral graduates in all career paths, who are up to 10 years post-PhD — and we would like help circulating the call to participate. Please invite your friends and colleagues.

This new survey asks about value of the doctorate over time since graduation and focuses in on personal accounts of value at work, social value, personal value e.g. how we interact with the big questions, the problems, and challenges we face. The survey link is here and the participant information sheet (showing we have ethical approval) is here.

The survey will take around 10-15 minutes to complete  (depending on how much you want to tell us!) and responses will be anonymous so participants cannot be identified.

Ultimately, we hope that the findings of this work will raise awareness of the emerging issues affecting satisfaction with the doctoral learning experience even beyond the PhD. We aim to provide meaningful new guidance and support for students, supervisors, and universities.

Please spread the word and share this post!


9e46e897a7450e44f4d99b034b08fac7.jpgAbout every other day I see a piece on Twitter or a blog, or a similar about attitudes to leaving academia. It’s part of my job to consider these attitudes, especially when they may prevent people from freely accessing events, internships and mentoring designed to broaden researcher career horizons. I wrote about it in this post on silence and stigma in leaving the academy, where I make the point that supervisors and PIs have a responsibility to make sure they don’t prevent people engaging. 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 »

IMG_1137.jpgThrough my thesis mentoring work, PhD supervisors write to me most weeks and ask — with varying tones of enthusiasm and frustration  —

“how can I support/encourage/motivate/force my student to get their thesis written?”

I tailor my reply to the cues I pick up from the emails, the context, timing, relational aspects. I ask for more detail about what’s been happening. Sometimes I coach the supervisor, sometimes I coach the student. Read the rest of this entry »