The future of the social sciences and humanities

A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference in Cardiff: Boosting the Impact of the Social Sciences and Humanities, organised by the Network for Advancing and Evaluating the Societal Impact of Science.

I was there to talk about one of my favourite topics: making a difference with your research through engaging with Parliament. You can find out more about that in my blogpost ‘9 ways research gets into Parliament.’

The conference, the speakers and their words were really inspiring, so much so that I’ve compiled some of their key messages about the future of our disciplines into an infographic below (pdf here). You can find out who said what by looking at the footnotes.

Be inspired!

AESIS

 

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Seven super useful professional skills a PhD gives you

It’s been a few months since I last blogged as I’ve been busy with my first post-PhD job in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing, and I use my PhD skills everyday.

Since I heard it said during my PhD that it doesn’t prepare you for anything but an academic career, I thought I’d set the record straight here: it turns out lots of the things you have to do to get a PhD are really useful skills in the world of work.

So, for those of you who are worried that the PhD isn’t prepping you for life afterwards, let the next few hundred words reassure you as I talk about seven super useful skills that the PhD gives you, which will serve you well in the world of work – especially in the early days of your new job.

1) Being good at being a beginner
When you start a new job, you are a beginner. For some, that can be really intimidating; however, having done a PhD, you will have already survived being a beginner. Remembering this in the early days of your new job gives you strength and helps you when you have those inevitable wobbles.

Similarly, when you start a job, you will likely feel a bit of an imposter. However, you’ve had that feeling before, and you survived it back then. This too helps you in the early days to keep your calm and poise.

2) Being organised
This is not to be underestimated. When you start a new job, you will likely be responsible for looking after your files and a constantly refilling inbox. Having recently completed a PhD, you will be experienced in keeping tabs on a large number of documents. This will mean that you won’t feel too intimidated by all the new virtual papers and will just start organising as a reflex.

3) Meeting new people
Chances are that during your PhD you will have attended one or more conferences. This means that, on one or more occasions, you will have felt awkward about being in the presence of strangers. As uncomfortable as that may have been, I can promise you, it gets easier. And this means that, when it comes to the world of work, you will have already had practice of meeting new people. So you will have already started developing your coping mechanisms and will be well on your way to being an old hat.

4) Acquiring and filtering information
Come on now reader, surely this is an obvious one? If it’s not, then let me make it clear to you: you are absolutely awesome at this. You can’t get to the end of a PhD without being great at acquiring and filtering information. And this is a great skill in the work place – especially when you are starting out in a new job – because it means you learn the ropes quickly and can retain what you learn.

5) Managing your workload
When you enter the world of work, you might have to do what your line manager tells you, and have your time mapped out minute-by-minute, but it’s unlikely. Much more likely is that you will be responsible for your own time and workload and getting things done. Some might panic at this idea, but not you, for you have spent three plus years becoming a pro at managing your own workload, prioritising and juggling. You defo have the head start over the majority on this: feel smug if you wish – you deserve it!

6) Receiving feedback
No one likes getting criticism, however, as a former PhD-er you will have spent at least three years listening to one or more people telling you that what you have done is not quite good enough (although they hopefully packaged it up as “it’s good, but you could work on this bit”). This means that you are an expert at dealing with feedback from a senior person on your work. And this means that you will be able to engage positively with your line manager when he or she tells you that “what you have done is good, but maybe try this” (or words to that effect). 

7) Being open and trying new things
When you arrive in your new job, you will be joining a group of people who may have been there for some years (or maybe even decades). It’s quite possible that they will be following systems and procedures that have been in place for years. But maybe someone has identified that they could do things better or differently. Or maybe your organisation wants to do something new. If you’re in any of these situations, then you are on to a winner, because not only are you the new person (putting you in a good position to rock the boat – if you are brave enough (and I say go for it!)), but, having done a PhD, you are used to exploring new avenues not knowing where they will lead.

These aren’t the only skills you will be developing in your PhD. You’re also developing a few superhuman skills too (read my post about these here).

 

seven skills

Pdf here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anarchy in the academy: why create an academic poster?

Academia is an institution predicated on convention. The choreography of our words, actions and – dare I say it – ‘outputs’ is implicitly shaped by the historical establishment. As well, of course, as by contemporary agendas: the need to publish; to be measurable; impactful; REFable. Typically, we operate in sentences and paragraphs, charts and graphs, chapters or papers. Images are often secondary, whilst for some they are a seemingly unaffordable luxury.

The academic poster is a form of knowledge communication which explodes the boundary walls of academic convention, opening up a space for alternative forms of expression. Prose is often ousted, or at least demoted, as shapes and forms, space and image shoulder the semiotic load.

The academic poster is an act of liberation – perhaps even peaceful protest. Not only for the researcher, but for his or her research. In our thesis we all tell the story of our research, except it’s not the story; it is merely a story: the tale we choose to tell as we navigate our way along the doctoral path: through supervision meetings, conferences convening colleagues and chapter revisions, towards the Mecca to which all PhD students are directed: the successful viva. Subverting the linear constraints of the thesis, the academic poster provides a stage upon which an alternative research narrative may unfold.

It is for the reasons above that I was drawn, some months prior to the submission deadline, to start planning an academic poster for last year’s postgraduate research showcase. I understand the constraints within which we as scholars must operate, and I know how to do so. Yet I am of an academic generation that is hungry for change, for opportunities to express, communicate and engage in the research process in new and innovative ways, a generation that has not been in the game for long enough to believe that change is not possible. The postgraduate researcher showcase provided me with a platform upon which to enact my frustration with the academy simultaneously with my belief in the power and value of alternative mediums of academic expression.

What is more, I don’t know about you, but I have to do a lot of reading and writing as a PhD student. Creating a poster gave me a break from obsessing over paragraph, chapter and thesis structure, as I was forced to think about colour and composition. It also made me feel good knowing that I was creating something that others would be able to engage with without having to burrow into line-crossing, multi-clausal sentences.

Creating an academic poster enabled me to see my research differently. Simple as. It also forced me to think about how to make my research interesting to an audience that isn’t composed of geeky linguists like myself. It required me to take off my academic blinkers and think about my research from a real world perspective. I have benefited from the activity, as has my research. I can’t really comment on the effects it might have had on others, although it did win the prize for most innovative poster, so I must have done something right. Which is interesting in itself, because what I did was cover my poster with actual swatches of wool. And the judges voted for it. Which goes some way to proving the point above: that there is power and value in alternative forms of academic communication.

So my advice would be to do two things: become proficient at operating within the rules, but also know how not to. Disrupt the norms, push the boundaries and challenge conventions, because that, dear colleagues, is what academia is really all about.

This post was originally written for the University of Exeter’s Doctoral College Blog, which can be found here

 

 

 

 

Advice for researchers on engaging with policymakers

Along with two awesome women, Zoe Bulaitis and Kate Massey-Chase, I am co-running a workshop this week on ‘Policy-making and the Humanities’. We’ll be writing and podcasting about it properly in due course, so check back here for more in the coming weeks. For now, and for our participants, here are some of the resources we’re using in the workshop.

Advice on engaging with policymakers can be found here:
How the arts and humanities can influence public policy – Huffington Post blog piece
What is the value of history in policymaking? – Institute for Government
Let’s close the gap between academics and policy makers: Peter Shergold on changing the system – The Conversation
How should academics interact with policy makers? Lessons on building a long-term advocacy strategy – LSE Impact Blog
The ten commandments for influencing policymakers – Times higher Education
How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation – the Guardian
Policy makers: guide to working with policy makers – National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement
Getting research into policy: the role of think tanks and other mediators – LSE Impact Blog
How academics and NGOs can work together to influence policy: insights from the InterAction report – LSE Impact Blog
Tips for engaging with government – Jo Clift Consulting
Maximise your impact – University of Bristol Policy Press Blog
Overcoming the five barriers to influence – American Management Association
Evidence for Health II: Overcoming barriers to using evidence in policy and practice – Health Research Policy and Systems

 

When writing a policy brief, here are some Government and Parliamentary avenues to explore to establish the relevance and timeliness of your topic:

Government:
Publications
Policies
Consultations

Parliament:
Hansard – a record of Parliamentary activity including: MPs and Peers’ written and spoken contributions; debates; petitions; and divisions.
Parliamentary research briefings including: Commons briefing papers; Commons debate packs; Lords in Focus; Lords library notes; POST notes; and POST briefs.
Commons Select Committee inquiries
Lords Select Committee inquiries
Joint Select Committee inquiries

European:
Topics of the EU
EU legislation

 

 

What’s the difference between government and parliament?

In anticipation of my interview at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology  two years ago, I did some serious swotting up on who government and parliament actually are (I confess, I didn’t really understand the difference).  It’s the kind of information which really needs to be shared in visual format, hence I’ve made a video to explain it. It’s my first attempt at a video, so please be forgiving in your evaluations!

In this video I explain the difference between government and parliament, I explain who they are, what they do and how they do what they do.

Innovation and enterprise hacks – from Venturefest SW 2016

This Tuesday 18th October saw the first ever Venturefest SW.
Venturefests are events which connect industry, innovation and investment.
I attended the inaugural Venturefest SW, and can definitely say it is a not-to-be-missed event.
Below are some tips I gleaned from just a few of the excellent speakers:
Roy Sandbach, Elizabeth Kavanagh, Matthew Porter, Lloyd Brina and Darren Westlake.

venturefest-3pdf here.