During your research here at the UofG you have access to a plethora of opportunities to develop your research interests. You may even discover entirely new ones! Developing as a researcher doesn’t just relate to the training necessary to progress within your own field, but rather it encompasses wider experience, aptitudes, and transferable skills that you will rely on as you advance as a researcher and crucially, when you complete your thesis and move on to pastures new. While every researcher has different development priorities, this post will share some guidance on those areas that we as researchers in the Arts can all strengthen. What’s more Jennifer Boyle, Writing Advisor for Postgraduate Researchers based at the Student Learning Service, offers her advice on developing your writing skills.
It is always worth taking some time to assess what you could call your ‘development plan’. Are you confident presenting at conferences or do you struggle with this? Are you better at writing the conference paper than presenting it? This is just about seeing your strengths and how you can improve, because then you can see what practical steps you can take to achieve them. First of all, you should take a good look at the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. The Vitae Framework lists the key areas of development before breaking them down into smaller, easy to understand and much more achievable aims. For example, Domain D of the framework, which is titled Engagement, Influence and Impact, and sounds unhelpfully vague, actually includes manageable outcomes like ‘Teaching’, ‘Publication’ and ‘Mentoring’. Many of these are high on the list of researchers’ interests and priorities during their PhD years. One of the key things about the Vitae Framework is to use it in your own best interests. That is, don’t try to tick everything off the list in three or four years. Instead, do what Vitae themselves suggest and ‘identify your strengths’ before seeking out opportunities to develop them further. Here at UofG that means regularly checking MyCampus for new training courses, or signing up to newsletters from your school and the College of Arts to stay informed about events.
This is me posing next to the fabulous MS Hunter 3 in The Hunterian after my Insight Talk
One of the most rewarding ways to enhance your development as a researcher in the Arts (and in other colleges) is to get involved in public engagement. If you think it is interesting, then chances are that other people will too. Investigate local libraries, museums and community and heritage centres for opportunities to offer informal talks or demonstrations. Here at the UofG the Insight Talks series regularly seek out short presentations related to the collections held at The Hunterian. Not that you need an excuse to browse the collection, but take a good look and you will usually find something that is related – maybe only distantly – to your research. These types of events strengthen public-speaking skills and allow you to exchange knowledge and ideas with a much wider audience than most researchers get the chance to meet at formal, academic conferences. If you are really keen to build your public engagement experience, then I recommend The Hunterian Associate Programme. This programme requires more commitment since you need to create a small research project, related broadly to your own research, based on an object/objects in the collections within The Hunterian and Special Collections at Glasgow University Library. If heritage isn’t really your thing, but you are keen to get out there and share your research with a wider audience, try the Three Minute Thesis competition or take part in Explorathon which always has lots of opportunities to volunteer and share ideas.
Communication and Publication
Snapshot of writing support offered by Student Learning Service
Publication is high on the list of researchers’ priorities and while this is understandable it is important to recognise that there are ways that you can develop your skills without necessarily creating a list of published articles. By focusing on improving and strengthening your writing, you can relieve stress and anxiety while, at the same time, continuing to work towards the goal of publication. Writing Advisor Jennifer Boyle explains that: ‘While it’s often assumed that Arts PGRs are, perhaps, more comfortable with writing than their counterparts in other Colleges, the act of writing a PhD requires both the development of a new professional voice, and the ability to manage the structure and narrative of a document which can easily reach 100,000 words.’ She has the following advice for researchers keen to develop their writing at any stage: ‘On top of developing new skills, your relationship with writing will change throughout the PhD process. For example, in the early days, when ideas are tentative, and connections are still being figured out, writing may well look unstructured and lacking in focus. Drafts in second year, when you revisit old ideas with new insights, might well feel as though you are taking two steps forward to go three steps back, with drafts requiring substantial rewriting. In turn, this means that our attitude towards ourselves as writers shifts throughout the process: good writers when the ideas flow and the structure seems to need no work; bad writers when we’re faced with a blank page or paragraphs that we can’t seem to untangle.’ Finally, Jennifer offers these helpful tips and practical guidance to developing your writing skills: ‘It’s important to realise that fluctuations in your relationship with your writing are a normal part of the process. Joining a community of writers will help you see how common this is, and provide support when needed. I offer writing workshops where, as well as covering the practical skills you’ll need, you can talk to other PGRs about their writing experiences. There’s also writing boot camps, which offer a dedicated space and time for you to work alongside fellow PGRs from all four Colleges. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to reflect on and talk about your writing.’
Develop your skills by signing up to a course offered by the Research Strategy and Innovation Office
Finally, as we focus on our research it can be difficult to appreciate the breadth of valuable experience and skills that we are developing as Arts researchers. Researchers offer project and time-management skills that a multitude of roles require. Every conference paper, published article and informal talk or blog post demonstrates both your communication skills and critical and intellectual abilities. Additionally, whether you were a funded researcher or worked to support yourself, each shows financial management skills in different ways – that’s Vitae’s Domain C3, by the way. And, if you have the opportunity to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant during your PhD remember that while ‘teaching’ might not seem like a transferable skill if you decide to pursue alternative careers to academia, your aptitude for using a variety of communication media is, as is supporting colleagues and working as a team.
We can all shy away from assessing ourselves critically but hopefully this post shows that taking the time to recognise our strengths and those areas we can work to improve has its benefits.
So get inspired, sign up to one of Jennifer’s writing boot camps and share your development plans in the comments below or on Twitter @UofG_PGRblog.