LDC Development Support for PhD researchers during Covid19

How solid are your plans for coping with the coming period of isolation due to COVID19? Are you confident of continuing with PhD work? What support would you like to receive from LDC Development over the coming period?

The University has recently announced the cancellation of all face to face workshops as part of the University’s response to COVID-19. In consequence, all face-to-face workshops in the LDC development programme are cancelled for the remainder of the Academic year.

Working at home for long periods can be a challenge, especially for those students who are used working on campus. The University encourages students to use Microsoft Teams to maintain formal meetings. Social contacts with peers and colleagues should be maintained online, too, to help us all retain the motivation and general well-being. Have you already arranged your support system? We would love to hear from you about different approaches, and to discuss them with other researchers, enabling everybody to stay engaged.

We are currently looking at how we can enhance our online programme. We would be very interested to hear your thoughts too! What kind of online programme would you like to see? Are there any topics we could add to our programme that would ensure further skills development? Please do get in touch and let us know what we can do to support you in this period.

Meanwhile, we are making significant changes to our programme as an immediate response to COVID-19 situation, which will include a greater range of online sessions as outlined below:

  1. Discussion-based webinars.

Webinar: Managing your PhD work during Covid-19’ 31 March 2020 12:30-13:30

This is a first in a series of webinars on maintaining research activities and social engagement throughout this unusual period. The focus will be on sharing problems and finding solutions. The idea is to move beyond just a presentation format and to encourage wider participation. There will be ample opportunities to ask questions and to share and discuss each other’s needs and experiences.

The webinars in this series will always take place around lunchtime, to give you enough time in the morning to focus on work but also to encourage you to take a well-deserved break!

2. Online careers events

Webinar: Developing effective CVs and applications 2 April 13:30 – 14:30

We are replacing the Workshop on Career Networking on the 26th March with a longer version of the webinar ‘Promoting yourself through networking’ and this will include additional exercises. The presenter, Sally Beyer is exploring options to provide additional online advice on career. More details will be announced soon.

3. Further online workshops

Many of our external presenters are offering to produce online versions to replace the longer workshops in our timetable for this summer that will no longer take place. We hope to announce further details soon.

4. Online writing retreats

Online Mini Writing Retreat 1 April 2020 09:45 – 12:00

During the period of Covid-19, we are moving our meeting online. We still hope that, by setting out specific and protected time for writing, the session can provide structure to your working day and a degree of community support. Please register for further details.

5. Online presentations

Many of you will be missing out on essential opportunities to give early presentations. Perhaps you were hoping to give a first talk at the ‘Your Voice’ PGR conference? The online environment is different, but we may be able to help you to deliver your talk, with accompanying slides and possibly an audience! Don’t forget that some people have to deliver their conference presentations online and that some job interviews are also done online.

We are looking to offer two forms of events:

  1. Practice session – similarly to ‘Academic Presentation’ workshops, the aim would be to give each participant 5 minutes to present their research. After the presentation, the participant would receive friendly comments on the communication, slides, voice etc. 2.
  2. Lunchtime short conferences with each talk lasts 10-15 minutes followed by questions from audience (other participants).

We understand that many conferences have been cancelled, therefore, if you have already prepared your presentation or paper maybe this is a good opportunity to share it. We are also exploring the possibility of organising mini-online conferences for different Faculties, or different field should there be wider interest. If you were wondering about your friends’ research maybe this is the right time to encourage them to apply and share their findings with you and others.

For these sessions you need to be able to access your microphone and send us your slides in advance. The session could be recorded, but with the recordings shared privately.

If you are interested in either of the above options, please email me, Shirley Cooper, shirley.cooper@liverpool.ac.uk with your proposed talk and any questions (NB Please use your University email as I need to know who you are!)

More details about all the proposed activities will be available soon. But should you have more questions please get in touch.

Similarly, should you have any other ideas or needs, please let us know! We can provide further support and discuss your ideas! Follow us on twitter, read our blog and keep an eye on our webpage (to be updated soon). All changes and new activities will be announced through these channels.

Shirley Cooper, shirley.cooper@liverpool.ac.uk

Research Writing – how to overcome challenges?

Empty Notebook

Most PhDs often have concerns when it comes to writing. What is a good writing? How to maintain the writing pace? How to structure, edit or revise your paper or thesis? It is hard to give definite answers – writing is a personal process.

Each individual will need to approach writing differently, as you may have found when discussing writing with your peers. It is important to find out what suits you best. So, it is important to seek out advice to help you feel comfortable about your writing. Here are a few tips to begin:

  • Check the institutional requirements. These are formally defined in the University’s PGR Code of Practice, Appendix 7, which includes advice on the formatting and presentation of the thesis. The editing process might take much longer if you do not consult this early. However, you should also check out any departmental advice for your subject area, for example they may have recommended minimum word count and advice on publishing your data. You could also view previously submitted thesis within your Faculty, School, or Department and see how their thesis and the arguments are structured!
  • Write as much as possible, as often as possible. Writing is not just about the thesis! Try to practice your writing when, for example, taking notes or preparing a presentation. Write down your thoughts occasionally. It will help you structure your sentences and arguments. Good writing comes with extensive practice.
  • Don’t be afraid of feedback, ask for it, and accept the need for revision. Article or thesis editing is a continuous process, and it will follow you from the start of the thesis until the submission moment (and possibly throughout the whole career). 

LDC Team has developed a webinar series to support your writing. The timetable for these sessions follows common challenges as they appear throughout the writing process.

Research Writing – Finding motivation and making a start  09 March 12:30-13:30 

The focus of this webinar is on the initial stage of writing. Topics include overcoming procrastination and different approaches to starting the process of writing. 

Research Writing – Producing an academic document      16 March 12:30-13:30, 

The focus of this webinar is on the construction of academic document and the ways you can build a strong and convincing, yet easy to read, arguments. 

Research Writing – Managing the editing process         23 March 12:30-13:30

The focus of this webinar is on improving clarity and fluency of writing. The topics will include the development of effective editing system and different approaches to reviewing the whole document. 

Writing retreats

LDC Development hosts regular retreats for postgraduate researchers, both two hour mini-writing retreats and full day writing retreats. Together we bring our laptops and collectively write together to accomplish our writing goals. It’s a great way to avoid procrastination and gain writing confidence. Many PGRs have attended the retreats previously, with positive feedback

‘I found that without interruptions, my productivity went up.’

‘I have had trouble focussing on my work recently and feel that attending the workshops would make me set aside time for writing/planning my project.’

‘It enabled me to work better on my writing tasks as I had peers around me doing the same thing in a quiet and conducive environment.’

There are still available places for the Mini writing retreats in March and April:

Mini writing retreat                              18 Mar, 10:00-12:00

 Mini writing retreat                        27-Apr 10:00 – 12:00

The LDC Development also offers   full-day writing retreats in May/June, with full refreshments provided for those who want an intensive day to make progress with their writing, whether you are working on the final thesis write-up, on publications, or your annual reports. The communal process also provides a chance to exchange practice and learn techniques from each other.

 One-day writing retreat                27-May 10:00 – 16:00

 One-day writing retreat              02-Jun 10:00 – 16:00 

 One-day writing retreat               09-Jun 10:00 – 16:00

Check our full programme timetable for details of all upcoming workshops.

LDC Development Team 

Project Management and Academic Success!

Have you ever wondered if you could plan your PhD process better? Would it be easier if you knew how much time is needed to develop lab skills, or to prepare for data collection, or to get into the writing mode?

Would the PhD process be less stressful if you had a good plan? Proper planning is one part of Project Management practice, which represents a useful skill for research. Ultimately, the PhD may be the first project in a longer professional career, regardless of the career choice, within or outside academia.

There are many ways how you can improve your project management skills. Examples include:

  • Breaking your research goals into small tasks and setting clear goals to finish each task. For example, collecting data can entail several tasks that need to be well planned: getting your ethics approved, preparing questions for surveys, preparing for travel, or visiting the library, and so on.
  • Start using tools that help you schedule the activities. Once you break down your research project into small tasks, you will need to set priorities and time management is vital. Time is essential for any successful project.
  • Small tasks can reduce the level of stress for several reasons. First, you can always go back to your plan and revisit your priorities – the best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the whole process. Secondly, a good plan can provide a good confidence boost. By reminding yourself of the boxes that you have already ticked, you will gain a great source of, sometimes much needed, motivation!

Project management is something you probably do in your mind automatically. But to improve your skills, the LDC Development team has prepared a resource offering tips about apps that can improve research productivity.

There is also an opportunity to learn more about project management and how to use project management skills through the interactive workshop:

Introduction to Project Management, Tools and Techniques. 10 March 9:30-12:30.

Do join us to gain ideas on how to manage a project well, make life easier for yourself and to boost your career prospects!

Of further interest, with booking to open 02 March:

Introduction to Project Management (by Fistral training) 8th June 09:15-16:00

To find about other ways to boost your career prospects, join us for other webinars and workshop focused on a different aspect of career planning:

PGR ‘Career Ready’ bootcamp 05 March 09:15-16:00

Webinar: Developing your interview skills 19 March 13:30-14:30

Also of interest this week is:

Webinar: Managing and Facilitating Meetings 26 February 12:30-13:30

Check the full list of available workshops and webinars see here.

Mate Subašić, LDC Development Communications Officer

New to PhD Research at Liverpool?

  • Are you feeling confused and disorientated at the start of your PhD?
  • Are you seeking opportunities to connect with other researchers in similar positions?
  • Are you aware of what the LDC Development programme has to offer?

Starting the PhD can often be a bewildering process as you try to find a structure and make sense of what you need to do, not just to start your research, but to manage all those various administrative processes. Unfortunately, there is no generic roadmap for the PhD.

I liken the start of the PhD to setting out on a sea voyage in an unfamiliar boat, to an unknown destination and with limited charts. You might have some guidance from your supervisor, some supervisor can be very helpful but others may have limited time. Your first trip out usually involves considerable trial and error; you will need to learn many general skills and gain new knowledge, how to handle your ‘boat/research’ , how to communicate with the ‘shore/work with collaborators’ as well learning the navigation/research skills. The first destination may not be where you expected, as research is about exploring the unknown, but, the first voyage will give you a much better idea of how to approach the next trip.

Remember; Many other PhD researchers do feel  ‘in the same boat’ !

The Liverpool Doctoral College provides a range of induction material for new starters, including the LDC Handbook, and your School or Institute should also provide an induction.  The PGR Toolbox includes the Record of Supervisory Meetings, a tool that all PhD researchers must use. There is a range of online help for this tool.

For more information see Essential University Links and a video Introduction to the LDC Development Programme

LDC Development programme

The LDC Development programme also offers sessions with opportunities to network with  researchers from across the  University and share experiences. In particular, we offer two events of specific interest to those just starting the PhD at Liverpool:

  • Webinar: Effectively Using the PGR Toolbox  5 Feb  12:30 – 13:30 – learn more about this essential tool and an opportunity for questions.
  • Taking Ownership of your PhD 11 Mar         09:15 – 16:30  – a day of activities and discussions to help you understand the processes and milestones in the PhD, working with your supervisor, planning your own professional development and starting networking.

The programme includes a range of further workshops and  webinars to help new researchers develop the wider skills, particularly in communication and productivity to succeed as a researcher. See our programme timetable for details.

Peer Support – PostGrad Society and the Peers for PhDs group

Finding support from your peers can be valuable early on in the PhD, so that you build on their experiences. You will probably find it useful to both seek both communities within your department/school or subject area and with mixed communities from other areas.

There are a couple of University PhD student groups that offer frequent meetings on campus and are open to all PhD researchers; look out for events run by the PostGrad Society and also the Peers for PhDs group, who offer facilitated discussions to share  experiences and plan to move forward.

What development are you planning for 2020?

Welcome to 2020!  The LDC Development Programme is now open for Jan – March 2020

What might you achieve in the coming year? Have you made any New year resolutions? Or have you awakened to new ambitions?

The New Year is a time to revisit your personal ambitions and set new goals.  What might be possible in the coming year? And then, what can you do to  achieve these goals? Managing your project and eventually writing up on time will be important, but, what else do you need to start doing now?  Are there new activities you can join to enhance long-term prospects, and your personal life, or are there new skills you need to develop to gain these wider opportunities?

Our programme includes an early webinar, ‘Creating your own plan of professional development’ to help you start this planning process, The programme also includes range of workshops and webinars to help your development in other research related areas as follows:

Webinar and workshops to support your planning and time management:

20 Jan 12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Creating your own plan of professional
development
27 Jan  12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Time-management for PhD researchers
3 Feb   12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Project Management for PhD Researchers
– an Introduction
5 Feb  12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Effectively Using the PGR Toolbox
Date to be
confirmed
09:30 – 12:30 Introduction to Project Management Tools and
Techniques
25 Feb 09:15 – 16:30 Getting Organised for Research (and Life)
by Company of Mind

Sessions to support your conference preparation, including conference posters:

10 Feb  12:30 – 13:30    Webinar: Preparing a Conference Poster
17 Feb  12:30 – 13:30   Webinar: Preparing an ‘Elevator pitch’
19 Feb 12:30 – 13:30    Webinar: Making the Most of Academic Conferences
3 Mar  13:00 – 16:00  Effective Networking at Conferences

Sessions to improve your presentation techniques. See our December blog for further information.

21 Jan 09:30 – 12:30 Delivering Academic Presentations
4 Feb     09:30 – 12:30 Delivering Academic Presentations
11 Feb  09:30 – 12:30   Planning and Preparing an Effective Research
Presentation
18 Feb   09:30 – 12:30   Delivering Academic Presentations
24 Feb   09:30 – 12:30 Webinar: Enhancing your Research Presentations
1 – defining your message
2 Mar  09:30 – 12:30 Webinar: Enhancing your Research Presentations
2 – delivery

Sessions to support your  writing, including the Mini-writing retreats to maintain that writing:

22 Jan 14:00 – 15:00 LJMU: How to write well: some tips for PGRs
29 Jan 10:00 – 12:00 Mini Writing Retreat
26 Feb 10:00 – 12:00 Mini Writing Retreat
9 Mar  12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Research Writing: Finding Motivation
and making a Start
12 Mar 09:30 – 12:30 Get going on your thesis

In addition, we will also be repeating our regular careers   sessions in March. For full list of all upcoming events view  our programme Timetable, and watch out for further blogs that highlight specific events.

November is Academic Writing Month!

Join us for WriteFest19

WriteFest is an annual event established as a way to support academic writing via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter.  As part of our contribution to this global event, the LDC Development Team will be running writing events throughout the month of November, with the aim of bringing people together to raise awareness and celebrate academic writing.

The programme of events will consist of a series of workshops and webinars to help you write and four writing retreats to provide you with the time and space to write. We encourage all academics, research staff, and research students to join in the write-a-thon.

WriteFest19 is a collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Bristol, Kings College London, Keele, Sheffield Hallam, Newcastle, Derby and Adelaide.  The festival aims to provide protected time and space for writing to help you work on:

How to Get Involved

  1. Start by searching for #AcWriMo on Twitter for inspiration and tips from fellow contributors.
  2. Use the #AcWriFest19 hashtag to share your progress with other researchers at Liverpool and across other UK Universities.
  3. Book onto one of our workshops or webinars to learn new skills and gain advice.
  4. Join us during our WriteFest Writing Retreats to put your learning into practice and keep yourself motivated through peer support.

Writing Retreats

To attend a writing retreat, choose the ones(s) that best suit your schedule and book your place through Eventbrite. Then, simply bring your laptop, or a pen and some paper, and get writing! This one-minute video outlines what the retreat sessions will, and won’t involve.

This year, we are hosting four weekly two-hour writing retreats for up to 24 people.  The retreats provides protected writing time for you to accomplish your academic writing goals. We sit together in a room and use peer accountability to help us avoid the distractions of email, social media, the internet, impending meetings, tea making, paperclip sorting, desk cleaning, lab work, or any other procrastination techniques you’ve been employing in your everyday working practice.

Please arrive in plenty of time, and stay for the full session.

Don’t forget to bring cables, chargers, adaptors and any other accessories to help keep you writing without disruptions.

**BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL**

WriteFest19 programme of events

Date & Time Event
04 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Finding Motivation and making a Start
05 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat
11 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Producing an Academic Document
12 November
14:00-16:00
WriteFest Retreat
18 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Managing the Editing Process
20 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat
26 November
9:30-12:30
Writing a Scientific Article
26 November
13:30-16:30
Get going on your thesis
29 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat

Resources

Our website has a wide range of guides and resources to explore.  You may wish to start with our Communication: Writing theme webpage: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/pgr-development/themes/writing/

Writing retreat facilitator’s guide: You may also be interested in running your own writing retreats, and to help with this the Think Ahead team at Sheffield University have put together a guide to give you an idea of how to structure and facilitate the event. If you run a retreat during November, please let us know!

Articles about Academic Writing: WriteFest founder Dr. Kay Guccione has also collected articles and blogs about writing on Scoop It!

Our Development Programme for 2019-20

New events, new themes and a new teaching placement scheme

We, in the Liverpool Doctoral College Development team, have now launched our programme for the coming academic year, 2019-20. The workshops and webinars offered in Autumn are now open for registration and a full list of dates for our core programme for the year, organised by our programme themes, can be downloaded below.

Themes display

Programme timetable for Autumn 2019, including links for registration [web link]
LDC Development Programme 2019-2020 [PDF]

Programme themes: A fuller introduction to all our programme themes can be found on our website together with a short video introduction to each theme. This year we have made a slight change to our themes, to separate out the topics of Writing, Presentation and Productivity, which we believe are important topics for the development of all postgraduate researchers.

New sessions: We have several new workshops and webinars in our programme for the coming year, which include:

Regional workshops – Liverpool are part of a regional group of researcher development partners, which have agreed to openly share selected programme sessions.  There are two upcoming workshops offered by LJMU (registration not yet open) which University of Liverpool PGRs may attend.

  • ‘How to be Shy or introverted in academia’ – Thu 5 December, 2-3pm
  • ‘How to write well: some tips for PGRs’ – Wed 22 January, 2-3pm

Brilliant Club: For 2019- 2020, the LDC have an agreement with the Brilliant Club to provide five paid placements for PhD researchers. Under this scheme you would deliver lessons relating to their own research area in local schools, supporting pupils to develop the academic skills, knowledge and confidence needed to progress to highly-selective universities.

To find out more, see the website information on our Careers Theme page or join Webinar: The Brilliant Club: meaningful, paid teaching experience for PhDs at 12:30 on the 13 Nov.

And now,

So what’s your development plan for 2019-20?

We were never meant to think: Upgrading your autopilot

The LDC Development Team is running a series of four masterclasses on thinking, organising and collaborating facilitated by Dr Adrian West and Dr Sophie Brown from Company of Mind.
Register now for the following face-to-face workshops in this series:
Getting Organised for Research (and Life) – Thursday, 6th June 9:15 – 16:30
Problem Solving and Decision Making – Tuesday, 18th June 9:15 – 16:30

Here are some thoughts from Company of Mind on the next masterclass on 6th June “Getting Organised for Reserach (and Life)”:

Why trains of thought derail

Thinking isn’t something the brain is meant to do – at least not “rational thought”, a relatively recent  invention. That observation might explain a lot about what goes on in our heads. What is the brain for then? What’s natural? How about sitting on the savannah feeling hungry so we look for food; feeling tired so we go to sleep; feeling scared so we run away…and a whole host of other behaviours so unthinkingly sophisticated that we have survived for untold millennia.  That’s the sort of thing our brain is adapted for, at least according to Daniel Dennet in his work “Consciousness Explained”.

By that view, “Rational thought”  –  the sequential ‘train of thought’ we call ‘thinking’  –  is an artificial activity taking place on ‘brain hardware’ that was never intended to run that kind of program. It’s why losing your ‘train of thought’ can happen so readily. It’s why you’re thrown off by emotional currents.  It’s why sometimes we don’t know what we’re going to say until we start talking, and each word leads us onto the next. Something like that.

How small creatures learn capabilities that dazzle us

Intriguing, but so what? Well it might help us understand why thinking tasks that we think should be easy (like maintaining a train of thought) can be artificially hard. And it might help us to help ourselves be more spectacular in, say, academic life, with some simple tricks or learning.  How so?

There’s a good analogy. It’s like a processor chip, which can only do simple operations – arithmetic and moving numbers from one location to another is all they can actually do.  Over recent decades we’ve taught such simple creatures to do the most astonishingly sophisticated tasks, just by giving them rich sets of procedures to follow that you could say aren’t ‘natural’ for them.

In the same way we can take our own minds and build up artificial habits that yield astonishing benefits. How valuable was if for you to ‘program yourself’ to learn the alphabet?…And on top of that foundation the habits of reading and writing.  Or to work with numbers? Those things now seem effortless to you. These skills aren’t natural, you had to put a lot of effort into learning the alphabet (if you remember that).  

Similarly, there will be habits you could learn – with some effort – that make you seem capable and clever, when in fact you’ve just learnt habits that other people haven’t. Tony Buzan, of mind-map fame, believes ‘intelligence’ isn’t as varied as we’re led to believe, but rather that some people chance across effective learning habit strategies early in life, and others less so. It’s a provocative idea that opens up new vistas of possibility.

Ways to be more fabulous

One area we can examine this way is “organising ourselves” – no-one teaches us how to do that, therefore big gains are likely to be had. The problems I have in mind are where we feel quickly overwhelmed by the pile of things we have to do, or seem somehow to be “tripping over ourselves” mentally.  Yet others appear better able to cope.  They seem able to have more baggage loaded onto them before they throw a fit and kick it all off.  

Why is that? Are there habits of mind we can learn that will transform that capacity for us as much as learning the alphabet did? There are other factors too. If you attended the “Working with Difficult People” workshop you’ll especially appreciate that there are fundamental differences for how people are, which bear on this. Some things are naturally easy for you, yet unnaturally difficult for other people. Surprisingly that doesn’t contradict what I’ve said so far.  The question becomes “For the way I am, what methods can I learn that will be most effective for me?”.  Sometimes that’s transformatively possible. As one researcher at Southampton put it regarding a particular learning:

“It is honestly the most useful thing I have learnt in the last ten years of my life … (in the decade before that I learnt the alphabets!!!)”.

Which must have been exciting.

As with the alphabet, it’s usually a small amount of learning, followed by small practice repeated frequently. Whilst we’re learning our technical skills at University what an ideal opportunity to change ourselves too, so by the time we graduate we’re “more”.

Footnote. This post is related to the workshop “Getting Organised for Research (and Life)“. It’s a provocative discussion of part of the topic, not an introduction to that workshop. For information about the workshop, see the event advertisement.

Too Close to be Recognised!

Coming up this spring is a series of four masterclasses on thinking, organising and collaborating facilitated by Adrian West and Sophie Brown from Company of Mind. We asked them to tell us a little bit about the background to these masterclasses and their motivation for developing them:

Image of the head of a man trying to see the fly sat on the tip of his nose

Too close to be recognised,
Too deep to grasp
Too easy to believe
Too amazing to be understood intellectually

So here’s a question. What could you have put more effort into at school, which if you had, would be making the biggest difference for you today?

Maybe academic subjects, though you likely worked quite hard at those. But what less obvious capacities? Creative writing – articulating yourself more clearly and compellingly? Drama and Acting? Team sports? Would it have helped if you’d become a more confident speaker? Or got more practice in social situations with people? Become more ‘organised’ and able to focus? (or whatever you think that seems right for you). People who appear good at those things who you might admire, likely learnt them almost accidentally during earlier years. It’s a mistake to think you can’t build such capacities, and are ‘fixed’ as ‘who you are’ – though it takes time. Ok, well that’s the past

Back from the future

But what if you look back 5 or 10 years from now. What might you think you could really have been learning and developing now, which will help you most in that future? To be honest, it’s not usually academic skills people will cite when they look back, important foundation though those are. It’s easy to focus on technical abilities – they’re easier to talk about and nail down. But the other stuff that in truth can make the biggest difference to your future, is almost too vague and nebulous to talk about, too obvious yet hard to actually do anything about – too close to be recognised.

How can you get some answers to that, and in a world of marketing and mis-information, with an uncertain unpredictable future? How can you know what actually works? I suppose you could ask people who are 5-10 years further down the line and see what they say. That would be interesting, especially if you could get them to take the question seriously, rather than give you some flippant reply

Discoveries

For us the story is slightly different, spending a decade or two running a research group at Manchester University, in professional environments, and teams in a start-up company. In hindsight, academic learning was a crucial foundation, but we realised it had not equipped us to deal with the next level of challenges which plagued us, and seemed to make the biggest difference above technical skill.

These next-level issues were all the usual things that are so vague and nebulous: people, conflicts, communication, organising, planning, seeing the future, and how to do “thinking”, especially together. You could say we rely on having “high quality people” to address them, which is a very real thing that sets people apart when they have similar qualifications, though it’s vague and nebulous too. And it implies these ‘qualities’ cannot be learnt or developed as capabilities, like saying some people can read and others can’t, without appreciating that we can learn the alphabet. How valuable would it be if we were much better at such ‘vague’ things? It seems to be where the biggest gains are to be made. How to know what works and what doesn’t is a key question.

The four-fold root of sufficient reason

When Schopenhauer set out to understand ‘life’, wisely he first asked “What would be a sufficient reason to believe any answer?”. That was the title of his doctoral thesis. We don’t have so big a quest, but in the end we spent more time on these capacities, than the other work we were doing, and were able to test what works by using it to help people in other companies or universities.  If we distil the central elements, there are four main areas. Two relate to how we ‘think’, one on ‘coping’ with all the information and tasks that have to be managed, and one on what we can do about ‘people’. Here’s a little more on each of those:

Thinking (1 &  2)

Strangely, we don’t get taught how to think (as evidence, listen to any discussion about politics). Yet surely how our minds think, and how to do ‘thinking’ is fundamental to us. If it isn’t taught then most other people don’t know it and there are likely huge gains to be made by studying this ourselves. There are two aspects.

One is the broad topic of thinking as a practical skill: understanding how thinking works, and finding what is effective at making a difference in practice.

Second, the specific focus on the task of “problem solving and decision making” which as the most common need deserves particular attention. There’s almost too much advice out there (too easy to believe) – but what is worth learning? and how do we develop actual capability in practice?

Organising ourselves (3)

It doesn’t matter what else we do, if we are overwhelmed by all the things calling on our attention, then progress is almost impossible – the clever ideas we have are of no value and get lost in a pile of scraps of paper. Again, easy to say ‘get organised’ but then what? Why doesn’t it usually work, and what can we actually do to change how we work? Like the artificial thing of learning the alphabet it may take some initial effort, but brings benefits almost too useful to be able to describe.

People (4)

Everyone can seem nice when there’s nothing at stake, or goals are a long way off – the ‘selfie’ world. But when we have to work together over time (or work with ourselves), the problems with ‘people’ likely dominate. It’s little to do with reason which is hard to believe and one factor in misunderstanding. What can we learn that’s useful to know about ‘people’ which provides tools that we can reach for in difficult situations? Ultimately it’s how to make life smoother and more enjoyable for all concerned.

Those principal four work together. We need to organise ourselves to make progress but we need to make good decisions about what to do. If those decisions and activities involve people, as they will, then we need to understand that world to be able to think effectively about it.

So that’s the background to the four separate events we’ll run at the University in May and June. If that’s of interest to you, we’ll look forward to seeing you. Or if you have questions, feel free to get in touch.

Dr. Adrian West & Sophie Brown, Company of Mind, www.companyofmind.com contact adrian@companyofmind.com

Register now for the first two workshops in this series:
Practical Thinking for Researchers Thursday 16th May 9:15 – 16:30
Working with Difficult People Tuesday 28 May 9:15 – 16:30

Summer writing retreats

Dates have been set for this year’s summer writing retreats. We have two retreats planned, both are two full days of dedicated writing time.

Thursday 13th – Friday 14th June & Monday 8th -Tuesday 9th July

Apply now for your place in one of the writing retreats
How much of your thesis could you get done in two days?

row of students writing
PGRs getting the thesis done at the last Summer Writing Retreat

“It got me focused with no distractions and write something down within the short time. Outside the writing retreat, I spend much more time to complete the same task”

“The pressure of other people writing and being quiet really helped me focus.”

It enabled me to work better on my writing tasks as I had peers around me doing the same in a quiet and conducive environment.

Finding time for writing can be a challenge for most writers, so many other things can take priority in the moment. The popularity of our regular mini writing retreats are evidence that PGRs are no different. The writing retreats provide protected time for writing in a supportive atmosphere, and by signing up you make yourself accountable to someone else to make sure the writing actually happens.

Our regular writing retreats are there to help you build a regular writing practice. These short sessions show you how much you can really get done in a few hours or even just a 25 minute session. Yet sometimes we really need more sustained writing time to really make progress. The occasional 25 minutes or half day here and there is great for keeping a writing project progressing, but occasionally a longer period is needed to make a big leap forward.

That is why we are hosting two 2-day writing retreats this summer: 13-14 June and 8-9 July. These will be two full days of sustained writing, with no distractions. We supply the venue, food and drink to fuel your writing and motivation to keep you going. You need to come prepared to do the writing. Think how much of your thesis you could get done in two days of solid concentration!

To apply for a place on one of these retreats, please complete the on-line application form. Spaces are limited so priority will be given to those who have a clear plan for the writing they will accomplish during the retreat.

Closing date for applications is 5pm on Monday 20th May
Please note that no late applications will be accepted!
Applicants will be notified of the outcome during week of 27 May.