Diversity in science communication

 

When climate science is discussed in the media, men are quoted more often than women, and few women are regularly quoted in UK media about climate change. This reinforces the impression to the public that climate scientists are largely middle class, white men.

To discuss this, we were joined by Peter Stott (@StottPeter) and Ayesha Tandon (@ayeshatandon) to talk about their experiences of climate science communication. Prof Peter Stott is an experienced climate communicator at the Met Office and University of Exeter (working at the latter 1 day per week). Peter has worked at the Met Office since 1996 and leads the Climate Attribution group. Peter gives many media interviews, including on TV, radio and to many print journalists. He also appeared in documentaries for Channel 4 and National Geographic TV about Extreme Weather and Climate Change and has written articles for New Scientist, the Guardian and Carbon Brief. Peter was a PI for the recent Climate Stories project and he is a champion for improving diversity in science communication at the Met Office.

Met Office climate communicator Ayesha Tandon graduated from the University of Exeter in 2019 (read her Career Zone blog here). Up until our discussion, Ayesha worked for the Met Office in the Knowledge Integration Team as a Science Communicator where she has played a very important role helping members of the government and general public to easily understand important aspects of climate science. Ayesha has now moved to an exciting new role at Carbon Brief as their Science Journalist.

Is there a diversity issue in climate science communication in the UK?

Yes. Peter described a turning point for the Met Office communication approach after a Guardian article in May 2020 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Met Office Hadley Centre. The four Met Office scientists quoted in the article are all senior men. Peter describes this as a failing in diversity. This article was a turning point as it brought into light the problem, which is the first step in correcting it.

How do you feel on camera?

Ayesha reflected on what it feels like to be a young, non-white female in front of a camera: “it can be hard. I am aware of how stereotypes may impact how people perceive me and I have to make sure I am seen as an authority”. Ayesha also recognises her privilege as a third generation BAME scientist (both her mother and grandmother were scientists) with an excellent private education and with English as a first language. However, Ayesha has not yet worked directly in teams with another person of colour, and like many women, experiences imposter syndrome from time to time.

The key for Ayesha is having a strong foundation of climate science and only tackling questions she feels confident answering. It’s OK to say you aren’t an expert in something – nobody can be an expert in everything. Questions asked may be useful in helping you know what to prep for next time.

Ayesha also reflected that for her to feel confident on camera, she prefers to wear professional clothing and make-up, but highlights this is a personal choice and you should do what makes you feel most confident. Others at the meeting highlighted the extra preparation time they feel they need to make if they are going to appear on video compared to their male colleagues.

Ayesha also made the point that you do not need to separate your professional self and personal self. It is encouraged to bring your natural style and communication preferences into the interview. With time, the goal is to reduce mannerisms which may be distracting, in Ayesha’s case this mean reducing her widely gesturing hands and taking pauses if she speaks too fast. Peter confirmed later in the discussion that media outlets don’t want identikit scientists but engaging and comprehensive individuals. If science organisations don’t provide a diverse range of speakers, they will lose high profile media opportunities.

Ayesha stressed that as a climate science communicator, she has had excellent training at the Met Office, has been mentored and felt well supported. Our discussion confirmed that support and training seem to be key factors that might help improve diversity in science communication (we’ve included some resources at the bottom of this blog).

Key point: Be you. The media are looking for engaging and comprehensive speakers from a range of backgrounds.

What are possible reasons for lack of diversity in the media that may disproportionately affect junior scientists and women and other minorities?

  • Confidence to volunteer and overcome imposter syndrome: you need good training and opportunities to start small and build up your skills, and senior and peer support and encouragement. It benefits us all to discuss our insecurities and find ways to help each other through them.
  • Feeling of authority: you’re speaking as a representative of your employer and you need to feel like you have authority amongst your peers. Often the senior scientists may be approached for media opportunities and the opportunities are not passed on to junior or more diverse colleagues.
  • Time for preparation: large exposure opportunities take a lot of time to prepare for, as may opportunities when you are inexperienced. Time for preparation may also take away from other science related activities which may be more likely to lead to employment opportunities and promotion – science institutions need to value the time spent on science communication to encourage more people to get involved.
  • Fear of social media: you need support from your employer and peers to manage negative media attention. Women typically fear harassment more than men and tend to minimise potential exposure to it.
  • Lack of training and institutional support. This requires investment of resources by institutions in training and communications staff.

What are some of the easier/entry level communication opportunities I should look out for?

Podcasts, Facebook Live, local radio, internally produced communications (e.g. Twitter) are all potential options to build science communication experience.

Tell people you are looking for opportunities and people will send them your way. This will also help increase the diversity of speakers. There is demand for lots of different levels of communication/engagement.

Some other reflections:

  • Being a good communicator and learning to talk to the media will likely help you present better seminars and may help you write better papers. However, we are all different and some will excel at speaking whilst others communicate better using the written word, and some will be pros at making visualisations!
  • Doing schools outreach is a great way to build up your confidence communicating to the public.
  • Media visibility can provide a positive impact to your career.
  • It’s helpful not to overthink it and worry too much. Easier said than done but be conscious to try and relax. There’s no need to rewatch/relisten to your live feature if you’d rather not (though it’s helpful to do this in training).
  • Ask someone you trust to listen/read the piece you are featured in and give you constructive feedback for next time.
  • It may help you to seize opportunities by saying yes before you have time to ruminate and talk yourself out of doing something.
  • Reach out to the press office in advance and get support for opportunities.

We have collated some resources mentioned in our discussion (thanks Ruth!)

Opportunities for media training

  • NERC recommends 2 sources:
    • Sense About Science
    • National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement
  • The Royal Society offers its own courses to those with some specific funder see more here
  • BIG stem has a list of various opportunities for communication and media training more here
  • Internal to the Met Office
    • Powerful Presentations
    • Media training
  • Via the University of Exeter Press Office
    • Courses on writing press releases
    • Limited courses on media training (attendees selected based on the likelihood of them using the skills for media interviews)

Other thoughts and confidence building suggestions:

  • Record yourself and watch it back and review what went well and what can be improved
  • Use small media opportunities to prepare for bigger ones
  • Try school outreach
  • Practice talking about topics you don’t know much about
  • Give more informal talks to clubs, e.g. WI, gardening
  • Drama or music can be ways to practice stretching your comfort zone

Picture a scientist

Science not Silence

As a woman in science it feels: the men get a play book but the women don’t.

Picture a scientists describes the empowering women who have made science more accessible to women and minorites:

  1. Challenging equality in pay and resources for women (Nancy)
  2. Reporting inappropriate behaviour & prevent future abuse (Jane)
  3. Diversity in science communication & leading by example (Raychelle)

Did you know that 50% of STEMM staff and faculty [assume in the US] have experiences sexual harassment? This statistic is not improving.

Did you know that only 10% of sexual harassment are advances, assault or coercion? The vast majority are put-downs, subtle exclusions, fewer invitations to collaborate, opinions not as valued as their male colleagues, being overlooked for promotion or opportunities, and unfortunately the list goes on and on.

The academic hierarchy (student-supervisor, postdoc-professor) creates conditions in which harassment flourishes.

Lots if people do not see sexual harassment within their institution. Does that mean it does not exist there? NO! It is invisible and there is a shocking volume of data to say unequivocally
that this is a society problem and that women are disadvantaged in science.

There is a systematic and invisible discrimination against women

In our discussion we reflected on when we first observed the gender diversity issue. For most of us, it was no obvious until we were doing our PhDs or post-docs. That is the point were you experience academic culture, start attending conferences, observe the absence of more senior women, and perhaps, start observing/experiencing gender discrimination or microaggressions. There is still a culture where many men in science do not realise these issues exist.

Stereotypes hold people back. If you don’t fit the pre-conceived notion of what a scientist looks like (a cis white man) then stereotyping likely holds you back. Raychelle: “I did not want to be perceived as the angry black women”. Nancy: “I did not want to be seen as a nasty difficult woman”.

Each of the three women featured in the film described the large amount of time they wasted fighting the system. For Nancy, this was fighting the system for better conditions for Women Professors at MIT. For Jane, this was reporting her abuser and fighting to be heard. For Raychelle it was the everyday racism and stereotyping that she needed to navigate around in her communication with colleagues and her treatment within the University. The time they spent fighting the system is a drain on their emotion and physical well-being, and it is a drain on their energy that they would rather devote to their science.

Speaking out against sexual harassment and bullying is a risk. In the past there have been many examples of abusers being protected by the University as they are a ‘big name and bring in lots of grant money’. Often who report abuse often find themselves leaving academic. There are lots of reasons why people leave but how women are treated in academic is a big one.

A key task for improving the workplace culture of women in STEM is to acknowledge and understand our unconscious biases. Our biases are not malicious but are ingrained in us from a young age. We need to actively learn about our biases and work hard to overcome them.

Science should be a-political, where the best rise to the top. But this is not true, because it is a human endeavour.

Science is subject to all of our brilliance and all of our biases.

Being a good ally

Being a good ally: How to be proactive and use your privilege for good

Blog by Freya Garry and Penny Maher

Image by Daniel Quasar

 

We were joined by Met Office BAME network founder Misha Khan (she/her, Twitter @SuperMish651), the founder of the LGBT+ PRISM-Exeter network Claire Davies (she/her, Twitter @Tuffers_c), and our Met Office Sponsor and Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre Professor Albert Klein Tank (he/his). We had excellent attendance, with 74 participants joining us for the meeting.

Being a good ally requires taking the time to self-educate about discrimination in society and understanding your own privilege. However, it’s also important to create spaces where we can discuss how best we can help work towards a fairer society in an empathetic and productive way.

Our panellists started with a few points each before opening the discussion to include everyone. Our network lead Freya Garry chaired the meeting and opened the panel.

  • To be a good ally is to take on the struggles as though they are your own, while taking care to not assume you fully understand their struggles. Never devalue someone’s experiences.
  • Stand up when you feel scared. It will motivate others too.
  • Share your platform and acknowledge your privilege.
  • If you make a mistake, acknowledge it calmly (don’t get defensive), apologise (don’t over-do it and risk making it about you instead) and learn from it. We all make mistakes. But we can learn from it and try to do better next time.
  • Take responsibility for your own education of allyship.

Misha Khan then built on this with the following points:

  • Self-reflection is important to identify where you can learn. Knowing where to start can be complicated – break it down into smaller chunks.
    • What are my unconscious biases?
    • Knowing these, how can I do better? Branch out; for example, you can follow more diverse people on social media and learn more about other perspectives.
    • Be accountable and get educated (maybe focus on one event in time this month).

Claire Davies then added to the discussion with:

  • The importance of introducing your pronouns as an ally and using them in emails – this normalises the practise. We encourage our network sponsor to join us in this!
  • Be explicit in your actions and your language:
    • It takes constant effort to overcome stereotyping and our inherent biases
    • Understand your biases and learn how to identify when your perspective is being shaped by them.
    • Use gender neutral language
    • Allow space for people to introduce themselves and their partner/partners
    • Call out bad behaviour
    • Get a rainbow lanyard to show your support.
    • Come along to events such as this and those held by other networks such as the PRISM Exeter network.

We then invited our network sponsor, Albert Klein-Tank, to say a few words:

  • Different perspectives make better decisions.
  • We need allyship to feel valued, creative, safe and welcome in the workplace and in our community.
  • Amplify ideas and voices of others. Good ideas often come up in general conversations as well as formal discussions, so make time for these.

Some examples of effective allyship that were raised in the meeting were:

  • The magic of simply asking: How can I help?
  • It is hard to keep educating and directing others on how to be a good ally. Step in and help us. This takes some of the pressure off and share the responsibility.
  • Understand different cultures and how stereotyping in different cultures works.
  • Turning down opportunities to speak on panels or talk at conferences if the diversity is low. Offer suggestions to replace you that will provide more diversity. If you would like to participate, but see a diversity problem, politely email the organisers and ask if they have considered inviting a more diverse group of people.
  • Introduce yourself with your pronouns to help normalise the practise, which helps trans folks feel that they are not outing themselves just by revealing their pronouns.
  • Correct people if they make mistakes or say something you believe is incorrect. This is always a challenge but think of this skill as a work in progress. If you receive the correction, acknowledge it, apologise and learn from it.
  • There are ways to be an ally which are more active, and some more passive, but there are also ways to intervene subtly when you feel someone may be a risk or need comfort or assistance. Seize opportunities for bystander intervention training.
  • Learn about microaggressions, how to respond to them, call them out and how to report them if appropriate.
  • Understand your privilege: education, wealth, experiences, gender, sexuality, age, race, religion, nationality, disability, and body type.
  • Make your environment as inclusive as possible in order to be more diverse and recruit more diverse people.

Other points raised in the meeting included:

  • Do not feel burdened into saying yes. Instead, celebrate saying no! There are lots of opportunities to talk as a minority (many people working in diversity or who are visually members of minority groups get pigeonholed as ‘go to’ people) so you need to say no to opportunities and, if you like, provide suggestions on who they could extend the invitation to.
  • Reach out to networks such as Women in Climate if you want to diversify your speaker list for local events as we can offer the opportunities on to our network.
  • At the University, find out who the Speak Out Guardians, and at the Met Office there are the Dignity and Respect at Work team. Call on them if you need them – they are there because they want to help you.

Carol Rosati OBE

An outside perspective from an ED&I professional on diversity in science.

Carol was a head-hunter for 20 years recruiting CFOs, CEOs and MDs in a huge variety of organisations and hadn’t really noticed they were pretty much all men until she stood up to speak at an event one evening and realised she was the only woman in the room apart from a waitress. And that’s how Inspire, her global network for senior business women came to be. Over the next decade she took it global and it connected 8,000 of the most senior women worldwide. It gave her a unique insight into the many differences between men and women and how unlevel the playing field actually was and still is. As a consequence of her introduction to gender diversity and becoming an ardent campaigner she ended up in the D&I space for the last 12 years. She also runs her own coaching business and sits on 3 Boards.

In Carol’s experience, there is a striking lack of women in top positions in all sectors, not just science. But times are changing, and she is optimistic that things will continue to steadily improve for women in leadership positions.

What is holding women back?

  1. The hierarchical structure of management. This type of management gives your manager a lot of power over your opportunities and your career advancement. It also promotes the status quo and makes it unlikely that a culture will change, will encourage group think conformist behaviour which is likely to be detrimental to anyone who challenges the norm or doesn’t fit with the accepted idea of an ideal candidate.
  2. How you communicate. Don’t ask, tell. Learn to say no effectively. Ask for what you need (in order to do X, I need Y). Don’t wait to be praised for what you have done – tell people!
  3. Promote yourself. Get comfortable with self boosting it will accelerate your career. What are you proud of? Tell people about it.
  4. Make sure you spend time investing in your network as you progress through your career. So many opportunities come from people who you meet along the way.

What is needed for positive change at work?

Improving inclusivity requires the government, organisations and individuals to work together to provide a positive work culture and opportunities for advancement. An opportunity to improve work culture is to include early career staff members in senior level meetings or to have reverse mentoring where junior members of staff explain their experiences with a senior staff member. This is typically illuminating for the senior staff member and highlights issues within the organisation, without early career members feeling like they are comprising their career by speaking out publicly.

Do I need to act more like my male colleagues?

No! Women are perfectly capable, intelligent and experienced as their male colleagues. If you feel pressure to act more like your male colleagues, this reflects a negative working environment. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking women need fixing. They don’t. What we need are people working to their strengths and training opportunities to excel in areas they enjoy. A positive thing from COVID has been the recognition of soft skills – collaboration, interpersonal skills, wellbeing have all come to the fore and finally rated as valuable skills to have – and these are often associated more with women.

Women tend to exhibit less confidence and sometimes less resilience than men in the workplace. By becoming more confident in their skill sets and abilities and actually starting to tell people about them, they are more likely to get noticed.

What do I need to get ahead?

What you really need is an advisory group. Ideally a mentor, sponsor and coach. Even more than one of each if possible. So what is the difference?

  • A mentor talks to you. They help you set goals and plans for the future.
  • A sponsor talks about you. They advocate and promote you.
  • A coach talks with you. They believe in you and help you feel positive about your choices.

These people do not need to be at your current place of employment. They may be colleagues around the world. The goal is to have several people looking out for you and helping you succeed. Don’t forget to pay it forward as you become more senior! Carol’s favourite saying is “ We need to lift as we rise”

Do you fear what will happen if you speak out about bad behaviour?

Be brave and speak out. There is safety in numbers. If more people speak out then it is harder for it to be ignored. Get your sponsor involved (if your sponsor is employed at the same location). If you find yourself getting burnt out (from always being the one speaking out) then engage others around you to help amplify your voice. Get help and don’t take everything on yourself to fix as this can be detrimental to your wellbeing.

How do I know if a missed opportunity is because of a protected characteristic?

Ask. If you don’t get an opportunity (a job, grant, talk at a conference), then ask for in-person (or digital face-to-face) feedback. Ask questions and assess their response. Interpreting their response is not just about what they say, but how they say it. You will have to judge this on a case by case basis.

Challenge your organisation. Do you have access to a women’s leadership program? Is there mentoring available? Do you have access to training? Are you being supported for advancement?

Understanding body language

Women in Climate teamed up with Women in Physics to host an interactive one-day training session on understanding body language, led by Sadie Sharp.

The focus of the training event was improving confidence by understanding ourselves better and thinking about how we may be seen by others.

We considered our:

  1. inner self,
  2. outer self,
  3. exposure, and
  4. boundaries.

During this discussion there were a few things that jumped out to me.

  • Did you know that imposter syndrome is more common in high performing women, especially in academic or technical environments? The dice is already weighted towards us feeling like an imposter.
  • Learn to listen to your inner critic. You can listen into your inner critic and use it as an opportunity to grow. The goal is to not let it dominate, and try to ignore some of the anxious baggage!
  • What you think on the inside will shape how you look from the outside. Control your thoughts and you can control your body language. Try to project confidence even when you don’t feel it.
  • Part of our outer self is about managing our reputation and our ‘personal brand’. How do you want your colleagues to see you? What can you do to change this?
  • We are not being fair to ourselves when we put other people’s needs indiscriminately ahead of our own.

We covered a lot of practical techniques for being in uncomfortable situations, how to approach difficult conversations, ways to be assertive, and influence how people perceive us in the workplace. We talked about how to be confident at conferences to help us build and develop our networks, and how to self-promote without sounding like we are bragging.

This session was possible thanks to funding from the Researcher-Led Initiate awards from the University of Exeter’s Doctoral College.

This training was featured on the University of Exeter’s news page. Sadie also creates regular content for her Linkedin profile.

Writing workshop for climate scientists

Last week Women in Climate hosted a two-day writing workshop led by Professor David Schultz. If you have not come across his excellent book Eloquent Science then we highly recommend it!

Our two-day workshop was an excellent opportunity for us to focus on improving our scientific writing. Why? Because writing improves thinking!

We spent day one talking about different aspects of writing papers.

For example:

  •   What is publishable science?
  •   Have I asked a good question? (Do I even have a question?)
  •   How can I improve my chances of getting the work published?

One thing that has stayed with me since the course is:

Scientific research is rarely 100% bulletproof. Almost all of your work will have limitations or rely on assumptions. It is the task of the author to address them in their writing.

This concept takes some pressure off the idea of what is publishable science — it does not have to be perfect!

We discussed each section of a manuscript, digging into pitfalls, things to avoid, elements to consider. We had a great discussion about defining your problem statement. If you don’t know that this is then you need to find out (here is a wikipedia page on problem statements to get you started). Without a problem statement your paper will lack focus and it is harder for your audience to follow.

We then spent day two talking about editing.

I realised that I (almost always) let my editing get in the way of my writing. When I sit down to write a paragraph, I usually make sure the reference are the right ones, the sentences are free from spelling mistakes/grammatical errors and that the writing is as good as it can be. Can you relate to this? David suggests that instead we should focus on the writing, leave comments in your text like (ref needed), find another example etc. Then when you have drafted the paper, come back in and fix these.

Another mistake I have been doing is “editing” the paper without a clear purpose. David suggests we should have a particular task in mind (e.g., checking concision, flow, or spelling) and read the paper only for that! It means you make multiple passes over the same text (lets be honest, we are already doing this anyway as we “edit” in general) but each time looking at a different aspect of the writing.

There are four parts to good writing.

  1. Unity: is your text structured correctly?
  2. Coherence: does your text flow consistently?
  3. Concision: does your text include only essential content?
  4. Precision: be qualitative and clear!

We then spent some time talking about overcoming writing barriers. There are five reasons you might not be writing. Can you relate to any of these?

  1. I don’t understand what I need to write.
  2. I can’t find the time or space to write.
  3. I am easily distracted.
  4. The words don’t come to me.
  5. I have written other parts, but I am stuck on this current text.

Once you work out which of these problems you are having you are better positioned to address the problem.

Thank you to everyone that participated. Because this training was online we were joined by people across the South West England (e.g. Exeter, Bristol, Reading) and quite a few participants from abroad. We were pleased to have almost 100 people participate in the workshop. We are grateful to the Royal Meteorological Society Legacy Fund, and the Global Systems Institute whose funding made this workshop possible.

Shut-up-and-write sessions

Following our successful writing workshop for climate scientists we have decided to hold fortnightly shut-up-and-write sessions. The schedule of the events can be found on our shut-up-and-write page.

We will be using the pomodoro technique. This will involve 25 minute writing blocks and then 5 minutes for a break/chat with the group. We will host all of out shut-up-and-write sessions on zoom. We will send out an email to our mailing list before each event. If you are not already on the mailing list and would like to join, please email Penny.

If you can’t join us for the start time, please join whenever you can. During work blocks we will not be admitting people from the waiting room (this is an important part of the technique where we remove distractions – as keeping an eye on the waiting room is one such distraction). If you do not get admitted right away then assume we are in a work block and we will let you in during the next break.

Why join in?

  • They are fun.
  • To help motivate your writing.
  • Help structure your work day.
  • You want to connect with us during the break.

We look forward to seeing you very soon. If you would like to recreate a session, here is the radial timer we use from YouTube.

Why Publish? Q and A with Mat Collins

On Friday 5th June we talked with Mat Colins about: Why Publish? Here is a summary of the most relevant questions.

Q. How do I choose between shorter page limit (eg GRL) vs long journal articles (eg J. Clim)?

Shorter page limit articles are not necessarily easier to write so do not assume shorter is easier. They require concise explanations and fewer figures. So you will spend more time editing and reformulating. The fit to the journal is more relevant than the page length of the article.

Q. When should I start writing?

When you feel the story you are trying to tell is becoming clearer. This is a personal perspective and you may want to start writing very early in the process. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Q. What do I do if I get a review back that is offensive or inappropriate?

This is not common but can happen. If it does, contact the editor directly and ask for their review to be discarded and explain why.

Q. Can I challenge an editors decision?

For example the paper is rejected and one reviewer had very negative comments. Yes you can challenge the decision but only if you feel you have a very strong reason to and do not do it regularly. Write a description of why the you the reviewer’s assessment was not correct and explain your position. Then contact the editor to explain.

Q. Do you have any tips for staying on top of the literature?

Twitter is excellent. Find the people in your area and follow them. It is common to tweet about new papers and a great way to interact with the authors and community.

Q. Should I include supplementary material?

This can be tricky and journal specific. In general, people do not read supplementary material unless their are very interested in the paper or are trying to recreate your results. So keep that in mind.

From post-doc to private secretary

Below is a summary of the discussion from Natalie’s presentation.

One of the key take home points from Natalie is this: make a plan and work towards your goal but be prepared to change your plan to take advantage of new opportunities. You will grow and change during your career. Be open to new and exciting opportunities.

Like many PhD students and post-docs, Natalie was looking for a career in academia and with the end goal of getting a professorship. It is important to acknowledge that academic career paths are affected by a lot of things outside your control. Unfortunately discrimination based on gender, sexuality and ethnicity remain ongoing issues within academic and society more generally. Acknowledging the biases that exist does not detract from the achievements of others. Everybody benefits from a fairer system.

In 2011/2012 here is how gender changes with career stage for physics and maths

On applying for jobs

Don’t wait to apply for a job until you meet all the selection criteria. Interestingly, if you match 50% or 90% of the criteria your probability of getting an interview are very similar. Women are far more likely to choose not to apply because they don’t feel they meet enough of the criteria. Forget that and just give it a go!

On applying for lectureships

Do your market research on positions, look at your long terms aims and how they are aligned with the department’s vision.

Apply for other positions at the same time. You might find something better. You might get more than one offer in which case you can use this to negotiate your contract.

On applying for fellowship

Expect to fail. A lot. While we know it is part of the process, it is very different to experience failure. One of Natalie’s inspirations is Dr Izzy Jayasinghe who showed reliance and determination to succeed when faced with repeated rejections for fellowships.

How to improve your odds

There are different ways to increase your chances for academic (and non-academic) positions and fellowships. Traditional ways include: publishing papers, applying for funding, independent research, supervising and teaching. Other less traditional ways include: participate in training opportunities, networking, entering competitions, putting yourself forward (or asking to be nominated) for awards, reviewing grants, engaging with the media and having an online presence.

Here are some hot tips

  1. Don’t wait for invited to talks to come your way. Seek them out and ask to be invited!
  2. Don’t be scared to start in a whole new area! Natalie did and loves it.
  3. Find out what motivates you and what matters to you.
  4. Be true to yourself.
  5. Be brave! Don’t let fear of failure stop you.
  6. Find a mentor (or multiple).
  7. Keep your cv updated so you can act on opportunities. Get feedback on your cv and continually workshop it.
  8. Regularly search for opportunities.
  9. In addition to having a plan, you also need an exit strategy. When will it be time to move on and to what?
  10. Be flexible in your planning and adapt as needed.

How do I get a lectureship?

From our discussion there seem to be two common pathways into lectureships.

Path one: Get your own research money

Then use your research to leverage a lectureship.  Getting your own funding helps in two ways:

  1. It shows you have a bigger picture plan for your research and why it is important. It shows you have passion for your research, else you would not have convinced a panel to fund you. It also demonstrates key skills such as grant writing, budgeting a project, and potentially managing other people. Getting your own funding also means you are more likely to be awarded future grants.
  2. You can negotiate a permanent position based on your fellowship or grant money. Our college has a good history of giving permanent lectureships to post-docs who win a fellowship. While on a fellowship you would likely be employed as a proleptic lecturer. If you bring your grant with you to Exeter from another university there is scope to negotiate a position to be created for you (you will likely have to go through formal recruitment but since the job was created for you to apply it will be well suited to your skills).

Path two: Apply for a job that has been advertised

This has the advantage that there is already a lectureship available, but has the disadvantage that you will go up against your peers and you need to demonstrate you are the best for the position. There are two stages to getting that job. The first stage is preparing yourself and your research. The second is nailing the interview and presentation.

Preparation for the lectureships before you start applying

You should be thinking about this phase before you start apply for jobs.

Mentoring: This is important at all stages but especially when your transitioning between post-doc and lecturer. One mentor can’t provide everything you need. Consider having a few different people in your corner and work out what areas they are best to help you with. Don’t overlook junior faculty, as they have gone through it more recently and can relate to what your going through. Find people who will champion for you – and don’t rule out having a senior mentor who is a different gender.

Get on other peoples grants: Being the named post-doc or a co-investigator on an awarded grant is a really important way to get started on grant funding. It also gives you insight into how grants are written and will give you useful experience in this process.

What’s your vision: You need to know what you want to research in the future and what goals you are aiming towards. Start laying out your research vision and goals. It is never too early to think about this.

Applying and interviewing

Which jobs should I apply for? Don’t wait for the perfect position before you apply. You need practice in academic interviews. Then when the right job does come along you are ready. You might even find one of the jobs you apply for is better than you thought!

Be proactive in your preparation. Work with a senior member of staff on possible interview questions and how you will answer them. Also practice your lecture with them so you pitch the content of your talk correctly. For example, should I talk about teaching, should I give a broad overview of my research or be very specific on one topic?

For those of us who feel like an imposter: If imposter phenomena is holding you back, then you need to work a little harder on how to describe your research and why you’re best for the position. Practice these with your mentor (this is why you need your mentoring relationship already strong for times like this).

Is the position new or a replacement? Do find out if the position is a new position or taking over an existing post. This will have a big impact on how you transition into the role. You may be expected to teach right away or you may get a 1-2 year transition into teaching. You really want to know which.

Apply for jobs that you do not expect to get or that you don’t fit all the criteria for. Don’t wait for the perfect position. Consider applying for jobs that don’t fit exactly in your specialist area – look out for the wording “or anyone else in a related field“. They may actually want a broad range of applicants. You goal is then to convince the hiring committee that what you do, and you specifically, are a good fit for the position. Also keep in mind that poorly written job descriptions receive less applicants than very polished ones. The polished ones will be more competitive.

Own your luck. There will likely be some element of luck to your employment. But still own your success. Sure you might have been in right place at the right time. You might have even been lucky enough to have a stronger candidate removed themselves from the application or not accept the position. It is okay to see yourself as lucky, but also see yourself as the one who was prepared and qualified, which is why you got the job!