Notes from the top: Women as Leaders – Making an Impact


Ten days ago, I had the great privilege of being given the opportunity by Edwina Dunn, founder of The Female Lead, to attend the Institute of Directors’ conference ‘Women as Leaders 2016: Making an Impact.’

It was one of the most inspiring of days. With seriously inspiring speakers.

In this blog post I’m going to share what I heard. It was hard to make notes fast enough during the day, so things aren’t verbatim, however, I have done the best I can to replicate the words of the speakers. My notes are restructured into a narrative that will, I hope, be maximally helpful for you.

I’m going to share what the speakers had to say about:

Where are we at?

We’ve got a problem
We have rising indebtedness and there’s nothing we can seem to do about it – it’s a structural not a political issue. There’s increased devolution, shrinking of the public sector, and lowering of taxes – the UK has the lowest corporation tax in Europe. We have non ring-fenced government departments like the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We’ve got a problem and we’ve got to think of a better solution to this long term. – Yasmina Siadatan

We are far from having parity in the workforce, and it’s costing us
How much economic gain do we lose by not having equal numbers of women and men at the same levels in the workforce? Globally, 28 trillion dollars in additional GDP. Globally,  workforce parity is worth the entire economy of the USA and China; it’s a commercial imperative. In Europe alone it’s 200 billion dollars. If we don’t start to change things, on our current trajectory it’s calculated that it will take over 100 years to reach parity. We need intervention and a step change. Edwina Dunn

There’s an imbalance in business too
Only 18% of firms are majority run by women in the UK.- Yasmina Siadatan

Women aren’t progressing
What’s holding women back in financial services?
Women identify three main areas: 1) the company’s culture; 2) their own line manager; and 3) inflexibility. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

BUT

Women-owned firms excel
Women-owned firms outperform those owned by male counterparts, with 13% higher revenue.- Yasmina Siadatan

And diversity is good for business
Companies prioritising diversity see a significant lift in profits. A 10% increase in gender diversity leads to a 3.5% increase in pre-tax profits. Greater diversity leads to richer discussions, more conversations and less hierarchy in companies. – Juliet Morris

We need balance, representativity of everyone, full vibrancy of diversity, views and cultures. The more we encourage diversity of thought and expression, the better. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

There’s a new kind of capitalism emerging
Traditionally the worth of a business was measured by its revenue, but this traditional capitalism no longer serves people’s needs. 80% of millennials want to work for companies that care about having an impact. There’s a new way to measure a business’s worth and its impact: the triple bottom line. This measurement takes into account: 1) social, 2) environmental and 3) financial factors. There’s a new kind of business organisation framework: the B corporation. It’s a business that creates its value in these three dimensions. – Yasmina Siadatan.

So what does all this mean?

It means we need to get out there, be leaders with a capital L and change things. Here’s how…

How to be a leader with a capital L

Sacha Romanovitch on changing the leadership paradigm

Think about the next and the new
So much of life is focused in the now, but if we want to create a future for our children, we also need to think about the next and the new. Look around. The world is reaching its limits in resources. Things that once seemed esoteric are now really important.

Change the leadership paradigm
The prevailing paradigm of leadership in the world has been that leaders are heroes who save the world. The old view was: I’m perfect; I have all the answers. In the old days we held our hands tightly. If we open our hands to others, we can do something together, something better. Let’s have leaders where it’s okay for them to ask questions, it’s okay for them to think about how to bring things together in different ways. We need it to be okay for leaders to say I got it wrong, and yet for those leaders not to then be mullered. We will get the leaders we deserve.

Create meaning for people, build community
For me it’s all about creating the environment for others to do their best thinking. It’s brave leadership, trying to do something different. Creating a community to do something different, possibilities emerge; strength emerges. How do you create meaning for people? By enabling people to bring their best, whole selves into the office. You have to create space for people to ask at work: why am I on this earth? What is important to me? How does that connect to what I do every day? When you go into the world of possibilities, people won’t step forward straight away. It takes time. You’ve got to create a space for them to shine. You have to believe that people are good.

On instigating change
How do you carry people with you when instigating change? By creating time and space for them to express what they are uncomfortable with. By not necessarily waiting until you’ve got everyone onboard. Sometimes you’ve got to get on and do stuff and show people it works rather than wait for them to approve the theory.

Love and encourage
We need to bring love, kindness, thoughtfulness, mindfulness. With leaders like that we can change the system. I want to be a leader who is progressive and changes things. I know I won’t always get it right. Through community we can encourage each other, pick each other up and create the world we deserve.

On the language of leadership
So much of our language in business and leadership is to do with fear and destruction. What does that do to your brain? In that place of fear you aren’t set up to think, to be creative and constructive. When our toddler falls over we don’t tell them they did a rubbish job, we support and encourage because that’s what we do. We need to bring that language into leadership.

Challenge assumptions
The world puts assumptions on you and you have a lot of assumptions in your head. The assumptions we make? We create them in our head; we write that narrative. We can rewrite them. You’ve got to start with yourself. Once you can challenge your own assumptions, it equips you to work with others.

Chose what to fail at
You can’t do everything. I never buy clothes that need ironing. I outsource things I don’t have to do.

Make choices, pause and be clear
For you to make wise choices, you need to create those pauses so you are making a choice, rather than life happening to you. A minute sitting, breathing, thinking ‘what’s happening to me right now?’; in the world where it’s so relentless it’s a lost skill. It’s hard to pause. When you’re clear you can make things happen, you can change the world.

What else?

Make your company better through its personality
If you get a company, institution or business to think a bit differently by coming up with something innovative and creative, not just talking about it, but delivering and getting everyone to come with you, you’re adding brand worth. If you’re making your company better through its personality, then you’re improving it.Kim Winser

Be a leader with a capital L
Sometimes people say “it should be that women are leaders because we are softer, nice touch, collaborative” Ehhh? We are competitive, dammit! It’s perfectly respectable to compete. I don’t accept the softer thing. It’s incorrectly placed to suggest that women as leaders are softer. It’s really important that when we are leaders, we are leaders with a capital L.Kate Roberston

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How to achieve

Kim Winser’s five tips for achieving

1) Knowledge
When Marie Curie started in the world of physics, she wouldn’t have been saying I want to change the world and break records. She would have been passionate about what she believed in – physics. It was more about her knowledge and expertise and talent. Whatever field you’re in, make sure you’re really good at it, because that’s how you’ll get to the top. Learn from others. Watch different people doing different things and learn from them. Look at people that are so good in their space. It’s knowledge and expertise that will get you to the top.

2) Energy and determination
If you’re going to do anything, really do it. If you’re really do it. If you’re really determined, that will drive you.

3) Delivery
If you’re going to have thoughts and you’ve got energy and talent, then deliver it.

4) Gut
If you’ve got knowledge, experience, and a team, if you have a feeling for something, you have to follow it. Sometimes people are nervous of that. The chances are if you’re knowledgeable and up to date and are really thinking, listening, watching, reading, your gut is going to be pretty good.

5) Confidence
Dressing is so important because of what it does for you. It does say something about you, but that’s secondary to what it does for you. If you’re well dressed and confident in a meeting, the rest of the day you’ll focus on business, your talent and your gift to the meeting. If you feel confident, everything flows from there. 

What else?

Take opportunities
It’s not a question of nature or nurture; it’s being brave enough to take the opportunities that you are faced with. Never run away from an opportunity. Grasp it and make it yours.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Be yourself
You have to be genuine, truthful, authentic and honest. You shouldn’t change personality just because you are leading a business. Every personality can fit. Be honest to who you are. It’s about being giving. Be generous; give more than you take and then you’ll stand out. Don’t worry if someone else takes the credit for something, just give, because you will stand out and more and more people will see that.– Kim Winser

Be yourself
The most important thing is to be yourself; be proud of who you are. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. In this difficult world, be yourself; be brilliant take your opportunities and make a difference because we can definitely do that. It’s important to know what you believe in and stick to that and not change your principles. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Learn to let go
Figure out how to let go. When you ask someone how to do something and then they don’t do what you want, ask yourself ‘is this going to crush my business?’ No. You’ve got to learn how to pick your battles – so that you can make your business run without you. If you want to go on holiday you have every right to.  – Tara Mei

Learn to love guys
I’ve learned to love men because I spend all my time with lovely, lovely men. If you’re going to be a CEO, you’re going to end up with lots of guy friends, so just get used to loving them. – Celia Francis

Plan to scale up
Put scaling up into your strategy right from the start, so that where you are now is just part of a bigger picture.– Tara Mei

Talk to the market
It’s about education, talking to the market. Get out there and talk to people: show them the value of something, show them the problem, then show them the solution.Emma Clarke

And finally

Be a girly girl full of swagger
Why do we get lots of women managers, but fewer CEOs? Because girls don’t have quite the same swagger. You have to be able to feel and be confident if you are going to attract great people to work for you. The winning combination for the future leader? A girly girl full of swagger. – Celia Francis

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And when adversity, insecurity or fear strikes?

Starting and picking yourself up
I didn’t know what a business plan was when I started. I had YouTube videos on, working out my finances. I wanted to raise money, went to meetings to get money, they listened to me, then said no. I felt stupid. Today the business is a success. My business thrives because of me. I have a strategy, a plan. My Sat Nav is set to go where it’s going to go and everyone is going that way. I had no self-belief. I didn’t understand that I could do it and had no one telling me that I could do it. I’m bloody-minded and bright as hell, but there were places where I was scraping myself off the floor.Geeta Sidhu-Robb

Asking the stupid question and feeling things
When I was young, asking the stupid question, I realised that half the room didn’t understand either. I learned that lesson, and I realised that asking that stupid question was how I was going to learn most. Sometimes I think we have a desire to find the answer that’s intellectually right. Sometimes when I get stuck I think about how I feel about something. Rather than intellectualise, I feel things. I’m instinct first and analysis second. If you can work out what you’re feeling it’s sometimes much more powerful.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Staying calm
Advice I would give to my younger self? Try to find a way to stay calm. There are a lot of times in my career where something seemed like a total disaster. Things that seemed terrible, but ultimately turned out to be good. I think you have to go through it a few times before you realise that if you get through it it’s fine; as long as no one’s dead, you’re fine.– Celia Francis

Being in the right environment
As women we set our sights and boundaries at a particular level, whereas men do it differently. It’s about surrounding ourselves with the right environment so that we are enthused and inspired to do more. – Yasmina Siadatan

Taking risks
You have to be a bit more confident with taking risks than a girl might be. Boys are better than this. You’ve got to be able to say: it’s a high risk, but we are going to jump. You have to be able to do that and be okay with it.
Every week I secretly do something that scares me. It’s about getting used to the idea of risk and ‘the fear factor’. If you can think of something to do that’s low risk but that will give you the experience of getting over your fear, something you normally wouldn’t do, then you do it and it works out okay and you realise you’re fine, if you can do that you can do anything.– Celia Francis

You will shine
The thing about developing your own business: everything that’s weak about you will emerge, but everything that’s strong about you will shine. Geeta Sidhu-Robb

This too will pass
In moments full of doubt I’ve remembered: this too will pass.– Sacha Romanovitch

You will make it work
If you’re desperate enough and hungry enough you will make it work against adversity. – Emma Clarke

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How we can change things?

Firstly…

We aren’t fighting hard enough. – Kate Robertson

Things haven’t fully changed. It is our responsibility to make the change; for ourselves and our daughters.  -Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Edwina Dunn on changing perceptions and surfacing new role models

What can we do to achieve parity in the workforce? Two things:

1) we can change the perception of STEM subjects for girls; and

2) we can change girls’ perceptions of who they can be.

If you talk to people in the UK, you hear comments like “I’m not very good at maths.” People wouldn’t say that about English. It’s not like that elsewhere. The government says we are going to be the number 1 economy in the world in a digital future, but we are currently number 21.

We need to change perceptions and we need role models. Girls need to aim at somewhere and know that they can be successful. Having role models is imperative in helping us drive future success. Looking at social media, we see that boys follow a diverse collection of people, individuals, groups and organisations, whilst girls follow singers, actresses, models and celebrities. If we keep gazing in the same direction, at the same people, we aren’t going to change anything.

How can we celebrate, enjoy and learn from people who have amazing skills? By surfacing them and creating new role models.

ACTION points:
1)
Get involved with The Female Lead – a non-profit project that celebrates women’s achievement, endeavour and diversity, it aims to make women’s stories more visible.
2) Get involved with  Your Life – a campaign inspiring and informing young people about the transformative power of studying maths and physics.
3) Offer yourself up as a role model – this is awkward for women, but we have a responsibility to tell our story, to share it.

What else?

We need to teach girls to be comfortable as leaders
We need ways to teach girls to be comfortable being confident and having swagger whilst being able to retain their core femininity. – Celia Francis

We need to encourage young women
It’s really important we go out of our way in our own communities and networks to encourage young women to be the best we can be. – Yasmina Siadatan

We need to pay attention to young leaders. – Kate Robertson

ACTION point: get involved with One Young World  a UK-based charity that gathers together the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change.

We need to get the media using different words
If we can get the media to start using different words, replacing ‘pretty, kind and likeable’ with ‘ambitious’ ‘clever’ and ‘strong’, then we have a chance.– Edwina Dunn 

Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word
We need to get over this issue where girls think ambition is a dirty word. – Edwina Dunn

Send your daughter to coding classes. – Celia Francis

We can’t sit within our own boundaries
We are starting to see a global movement; there is an erosion of physical boundaries. No longer can we conform to a particular idea in one nation. People are so interconnected; ideas are shared from one to the next. We can’t sit within our own boundaries. In emerging economies there is a rise in the middle classes. We have connected cities and educated, informed, moving populations.  –Yasmina Siadatan

We need to invest in training line managers in building relationships
If we do nothing else we should invest in the training of line managers to understand the people they are managing, not just the businesses they are managing. The most important thing in any business is the relationships you build. With strength of purpose, together we can help each other to succeed. People want to be more flexible in the way they work. Richard Branson said the most important thing is for people to work where they are happy. Do we do that enough for our people? It’s a hugely empowering thing enabling this. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Hire both men and women
This is the most powerful outcome for your company. Celia Francis

Sometimes you need the help of people already there
All barriers that have been broken down for me have been helped by the support of a more powerful man. In our lives there continue to be men who are very powerful. In my experience the support now for women exceeding in business is better than before. In particular it’s men who have daughters. Sometimes you need the help of people already there. But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t taken the opportunities with both arms open.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

We need leaders with a capital L across sectors
In business you will find more leaders with a capital L than you find in government and elsewhere. I wish that the leaders in government were of the calibre of the ones in business. In the global business we change things; 12 months later? Oh my god it’s changed!– Kate Robertson

So, ladies and gents, are you up for it?

To help us begin, I’ve made a wordcloud of some of the verbs the conference speakers used. We can use them to be inspired, and to drive our actions.

I’ve also made an inspirographic with some of the conference highlights – do feel free to refer to it and share.

WaL wordcloudIoDwal3

pdf here.

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10 reasons you should start a new hobby in the middle of your PhD

In the past few months I’ve taken up two new hobbies: making sourdough bread (at home) and dancing (in classes). I am so so glad I’ve done this.

If like me you’re right in the thick of your PhD, I would totally recommend starting a new hobby. Here are 10 reasons:

Hobby

  1. The anonymity

Ever get tired of the “how’s the PhD going?” question? Taking up a hobby where you meet new folk means you get to meet people who don’t know that you’re doing a PhD. And if they don’t know they can’t ask about it. Even if you do tell them, it’s still fine because you have something else to talk about: your hobby.

  1. The learning satisfaction

If you’re doing a PhD then you must love learning and getting better at things. When was the last time you started learning something new, then? What’s more, when you’re a beginner you see progress really, really quickly. How different to a PhD, eh? So satisfying.

  1. The liberation

Have you been told that when you do your viva you’re supposed to be the world expert in your topic? So, no pressure then. When you begin a new hobby, though, unlike with your PhD, you are a total novice. The people around you have no expectations. You are legitimately allowed to be totally rubbish, and that is so freeing and refreshing.

  1. It’s an Impostor’s Syndrome antidote

Following on from the previous point, seeing how rubbish you are at your new hobby and being okay with that (you’re a beginner – it’s expected!) does make you realise how much you know and can do in your own area of doctoral expertise, and realising this can help keep the Impostor’s Syndrome under control.

  1. It’s good for your sanity

A person could go insane thinking about the same thing all the time day in day out. But we PhDers often do, don’t we? It’s hard to stop thinking about the project sometimes. But if you’ve got something else to think about, like for example how to improve on the last loaf of bread you baked, it gives you a break from PhD thoughts, which can only be a good thing for your sanity.

  1. It gives you perspective

Further to the last point, there have been times when my entire world has been PhD shaped. And I usually don’t realise it at the time. However, when you incorporate your new hobby into your world, suddenly it can’t be PhD-shaped anymore. The perspective makes the PhD seem smaller. Always nice.

  1. It helps creativity

Having just suggested that a hobby will give you a break from thinking about your PhD, I’m going to do a 180. Sometimes when you’re sat at your desk trying to have intelligent, creative thoughts they just don’t come. Maybe because you’re trying too hard? A hobby will put you in a completely different space (in your mind as well as geographically, perhaps) and if the ideas won’t come at the desk, there’s a good chance that when your PhD brain is switched off is when you’ll get a breakthrough.

  1. It’s a productive distraction

Everyone needs downtime and distraction, and websites like Facebook or Buzzfeed are perfect because there’s usually something new, they are mindless, and quite simply they are there. However, I don’t know about you, but I do kick myself when I think about the time I waste on websites like those.

But if you’ve got a hobby things are different because you have a topic or activity or sport to research. So you can read about that. And since it’s going to help you get better at your hobby, it’s not wasted time at all.

  1. Life is short

PhDs are so naughty, aren’t they? They spread through your life an hour at a time, and before you know it Saturday is in the library, Sunday is just finishing a bit on this, oh and I’ll have to work late next week.

I could really do with working more on the weekends and in the evenings, but if I do that my whole life will become my PhD. Life is too short for it to equate to a PhD. It’s time to start living now, not when we’ve got our PhDs.

  1. It’s a back up career!

The secret (superhuman) skills of a PhD student

Prologue

Eleanor Roosevelt famously compared women to tea bags, claiming you can’t tell how strong they are until you put them in hot water. I think perhaps something similar can be said for PhD students: you can’t tell the skills they’ve got until you stick them in a non-PhD related situation. My recent fellowship at POST was a prime example of one of these situations and, whilst there, I drew on skills I hadn’t realised I had. On reflection, I think they are skills that many of you have, though you might not have realised it. So in this post I’m going to list five of these desirable, transferable skills, which you could proudly put on your CV! I’m drawing comparisons with superhero powers because, well, because why wouldn’t you?

SUPERMAN’s x-ray vision

Like Superman, you don’t just look at the surface of things but beyond; you question and scrutinise and examine from every angle, trying to get right to the core of it.

In other words, you have excellent skills of analysis.

Prove it to yourself: try explaining some of your doctoral analysis to someone who’s not in your field. DON’T hold back on the jargon, the theory, the analysis, etc. Watch them get lost. Yes, you can scrutinise and pick things apart to the nth degree.

ROGUE’s powers of absorption

Like the Marvel hero, Rogue, you have an amazing ability to absorb (information) and, actually, like a supercomputer, you process vast amounts of data.

In other words, you can efficiently process and synthesise large amounts of information.

Prove it to yourself: this is an easy one: look at your working bibliography, your footnotes, your PhD notebooks, your folders and files. Now reflect on the fact that you have processed and are synthesising all of that. And that’s not to mention all of the sources you processed and filtered out.

BEAST’s flexibility

Like Beast, one of the founding members of the X-men, you are super flexible.

In other words, you are brilliant at adapting to different environments and situations.

Prove it to yourself: imagine a job where someone does the same thing in the same place day in, day out, day in, day out. Now think about your timetable. Chances are you work in more than one place (office, research centre, library, lab, home, coffee shop…); you can be working on a chapter, a paper, and something for your supervisor all at the same time; and you have to fit around your supervisors/ the interlibrary loans team/ teaching. That’s adaptation.

CATWOMAN’s toolkit

Like catwoman, you’ve got lots of tools in your toolkit when it comes to tackling something; you can approach things in more than one way.

In other words, you are a lateral thinker.

Prove it to yourself: think about all those times your supervisor asked you to try thinking about your research in a different way, then you went away and did it. Alternatively, think about those moments where you’ve come across something a bit left field, or from another discipline, and thought to yourself “oh! This could apply to my research in this way…” See?

FORGE’s ingenuity

Like the Marvel mutant, you have super intelligence.

In other words, you are an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable person, with a unique perspective on the world.

Prove it to yourself: obviously you’re intelligent, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing a PhD. But more than that, think about what you’ve been doing of late. You’ve been filling your mind for the past X number of years with information – some of which is in your thesis, lots of which is not. You are therefore richly and uniquely knowledgeable. Though you might not be using it right now, it’s all there in your brain. If you’re bored some time, try thinking about all the things you’ve processed and learnt since commencing your PhD. I’m betting it’s a long list or a big spider diagram that you don’t manage to finish.

Epilogue

Thinking about superheroes, I was reminded of something Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker (Spiderman). I’ve not fully thought through what it means to me yet, but I reckon it’s worth mulling over. In a society that often equates knowledge with power, this is what Uncle Ben says:

“With great power comes great responsibility”

PhDStudent

(Yes, I did make a potato stamp for the occasion, and yes it was fun. Have a go!)

I’m a junior academic…get me out of here!

Slide1

Dear fellow PhD students and early career researchers,

I have had a glimpse of the other side. By which I mean I have seen what lies beyond the perimeter fence of the Ivory Tower Complex. And my, does it look exciting!

During my time at POST I liaised with lots of people who had PhDs however had pursued careers outside of academia. So, in this blog post I’m going to tell you about six jobs I’ve discovered you can go into with a PhD: three in the private and public sector and three specifically in Parliament. I’m also going to make suggestions as to how to explore further.

  1. Academic-practitioner

Who’s it for?

Okay, I confess, this job would see you based in the Ivory Tower. However, if variety is your thing, and you’re keen to engage with the wider world whilst keeping a foot in the academic world, this could well be a path for you.

What might it entail?

At POST I liaised with forensic linguists and phoneticians who were based in universities, but who were also practising experts. This meant that, as well as the teaching and research, they also did forensic casework. This entailed compiling forensic reports for the Crown Prosecution Service, police forces and solicitors. They also appeared in court as expert witnesses.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Think about how and where your expertise could contribute in the wider world.
  • What skills have you been developing that you could apply elsewhere?
  • Are there any academic-practitioners in your department or field? What do they do? If there aren’t, does that mean you’ve discovered a niche?!
  1. Practitioner/ consultant/ industry specialist

Who’s it for?

If you don’t want to stay in academia, but do want to stay in your field, this could be the path for you.

What might it entail?

During my fellowship I came across practitioners (in this case forensic consultants) who were using the expertise they’d acquired during their studies on a daily basis. As a specialist, it’s obviously important to keep up to date with developments in your chosen field. The consultants I met were members of professional bodies and also attended relevant conferences; however, they didn’t have the research and teaching pressures that come with academia.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Look into the professional bodies that exist in your specialist area.
  • Struggling with the bullet point above? Try looking at your research with a wide-angled lens (e.g. what school subject would you class it under?) Now think again about professional bodies or learned societies in your general area. Google them and dig around their websites.
  • Next time you’re led by PhD-boredom to Google academic conferences, focus on those attended not just by academics, but also practitioners (look at previous programmes). Can you attend? If not, use the info there to investigate companies and organisations in your area.
  1. ‘Public body’ specialist

Who’s it for?

It might be that you want to make use of your specialist knowledge or skills, but don’t want to work in the private sector. If this is the case, then maybe the public sector is for you.

What might it entail?

When researching my POSTnote, I talked with specialists in the Metropolitan Police Service and the College of Policing. Some of these individuals were doing jobs closely linked to their area of expertise (like industry specialists). Others had roles in which their research and communication skills were significant and their academic background less so.

Interested? Suggestion:

  • If neither the MPS nor the College of Policing are for you, have a gander at this webpage which lists all the government-affiliated agencies and public bodies, for example UK Sport, the Environment Agency, and the Met Office. By my calculations, there are 361 to look through!

Now to Parliament

Perhaps you’ve been entertaining the idea of pursuing a career in government or parliament, but don’t concretely know what that might look like. Well, now I’m going to tell you about three different jobs I came across. But before I do that, here’s a free cheat:

  • If you’re anything like I was about a year ago, you’ll know the words ‘government’, ‘parliament’, ‘cabinet’, ‘department’, ‘civil service’ and  ‘committee’ but don’t really know how they all fit together. If that’s you then look at Newton’s Apple An Introduction to Science Policy. For scientists and non-scientists, it gives a comprehensible and concise explanation of the structure of government and parliament. So useful!
  1. Committee specialist

Who’s it for?

Judging by the age of the committee specialists I met, this is a job you can do from relatively early on in your career! It entails supporting a Commons’ or Lords’ select committee. If you don’t want to pursue a career in your field, but like research and report writing, this could be your dream job!

What might it entail?

If you don’t know, select committees have the remit of scrutinising government departments so, for example, the Defence Committee scrutinises the Ministry of Defence. Committees, which are formed of backbenchers, carry out inquiries relevant to their area. Committee specialists support the committee in gathering and collating written and oral evidence and assisting in writing the reports. Crucially, committee specialists are not necessarily specialists in the areas covered by the committee. For example, I met one specialist who had worked for three completely different committees. What you’ll require, then, are brilliant report writing skills and an ability to get to grips with new areas and disciplines fairly quickly.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Have a browse around the different select committees that exist.
  • Have a look at some of the reports produced by committees; they’ll give you an idea of the kinds of research you’d be doing, people you’d be interacting with and reports you’d be pulling together.
  1. Library specialist

Who’s it for?

This is a job for those of you who are good at keeping secrets! Also for people who might want to stay in their general area of interest, and who enjoy doing shorter pieces of research with quick deadlines.

What might it entail?

Library specialists might have expertise in their area; however, this is not always the case. They work in one general area, for example ‘environment’, and compile briefings for MPs and Peers on relevant topics. If a debate is planned to take place in parliament, a specialist might also compile a debate pack including relevant policy documents, recent press articles etc. to help brief the MPs and Peers. As for the secret keeping, well, that’s because library specialists provide an ‘answers service’ for MPs’ and Peers’ questions. And that answering service is confidential! Why confidential, you may ask? Well, because they might not want others to know their game plan, nor the gaps in their knowledge!

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Read more about the commons library and its research service here.
  • Have a think about what it is you enjoy about research. Is it: a) increasing your own knowledge in a niche area; b) setting your own research agenda; c) carrying out a long piece of research; d) researching new areas; or e) finding an answer to a question, then moving on? This might help you establish if this is the job for you.
  • Maybe you didn’t know how to answer above? Why not try this challenge: find a topic of policy relevance in the headlines and, in the space of a couple of hours, see how much information you can pull together on that topic. How did you find the challenge?
  • Or what about this challenge: get a friend to ask you a question – any question. Then, go away and have a go at answering it. Do NOT rely on Wikipedia alone! How did you get on?

And finally,

  1. Parliamentary scientific adviser

Who’s it for?

Do you like finding out about new subjects within your broad area (say, for example, ‘energy’ or ‘ICT’)? What about talking to people from different backgrounds: industry, government, academia, for example? If you answered yes to both, then maybe this is for you.

What might it entail?

As you know by now, I did my fellowship in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. As well as the fellows, the office has permanent staff – scientific advisers, who cover different areas: health, biological sciences, physical sciences, ICT, energy, environment and the social sciences. Advisers produce briefings on topics in these areas and supervise fellows as they research their briefings. They liaise with parliamentarians, organisations and industry, and put on events for MPs and peers, raising awareness around topics of policy relevance.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • See if you are eligible to do a POST fellowship: if you’re Research Council-funded, you’ve got until the 28th August to apply here.
  • Have a look at the POST website and the POST briefings.
  • The remit of a POST briefing is that it is for an intelligent, non-specialist audience. When was the last time you wrote for a non-specialist audience? Challenge yourself to try writing a couple of hundred words about something from your area of research that would make sense to a non-specialist. How did you get on?

Et voilà! You have options!

In my next blog post, I’m going to talk about some of the secret skills of a PhD student. I know some of you are concerned that apart from your studies, you’ve not got much on your CVs. So I’m going to cheer you up by flagging up some of the awesome desirable skills you might not have realised you’ve got!