Learning outside the (IAD) box

I had a meeting with a post-doc this morning and we were talking about her career and the next steps to take. Earlier in the week I’d been working with another postdoc on a fellowship application which needed to include a professional development plan and in both cases the training that we offer in IAD, although extensive and tailored to postdocs, wasn’t the right fit. (I add with some haste that I’m not offering career 1:1s with all postdocs – the first was someone I had interviewed for a post recently and we were meeting so I could give her some feedback on her performance at interview and the second was a researcher who is going to be supporting me on one of the EPSRC projects which I’m a Co-Investigator – more on these on the blog soon!)

I was able to draw on the strategies I have for my own professional development. Having spent years running leadership programmes, I’m a bit of an oddity in career terms and I’ve not found a course or programme in the University yet that I think is right for me or my role. That doesn’t mean I haven’t developed since I started here 20 months ago. In fact I think that this has been one of the most intensive periods of personal development since I moved from being a postdoc to a trainee careers adviser. Much of my development has come from taking opportunities (such as the EPSRC grants and the Ingenious Women Scotland award from the Scottish Government) and from saying yes to events and projects which were different from things I’d done before, (trying not to listen to the imposter syndrome whispers in my head.) One of the highlights was last year’s trip to India to work on research for international development which I blogged about at the time, and another was running a senior (really senior) leadership consultation event for another university which was terrifying and brilliant.

Other development opportunities have come from using the networks that stretch beyond the University, particularly the learned societies. I was a member of the RSC for many years and have a “you’re a chemist – ugh-  but we’ll let you in as long as you don’t touch anything” membership of the IOP so these networks have been open, but interestingly most of my recent development has come from the British Computing Society Women Scotland group.

The link came about because of the Ingenious Women programme as we ran a series of networking events earlier in the year to raise awareness of the programme and get women in STEM roles together. At one of these I spoke alongside Sharon Moore OBE from IBM and we instantly hit it off. Sharon then asked me if I’d like to come and give a longer version of the talk from that evening at a BCS Women evening. Many of their events are open to all so I agreed and had a great evening talking about luck with a very lively group in the Informatics Forum a few months ago. (Stephanie Zhims, a postdoc at Heriot Watt was in the audience and blogged about the talk.)

Last night I was at another event run by BCS Women in the RBS headquarters in Gogarburn run jointly with the RBS Women Network. The theme of the night was “The High Potentials and Top Talent Registers” and the speaker, Gail Logan shared with us the gist of a book written with a “big corporate” perspective. Not all of the X-Factors of high potentials translate to an academic career path, but it was interesting to think about what makes people stand out and I went way with some new ideas. In other words, just what I hope our research staff get from our programmes. (I’ll write a second blog about the X-Factor model.)

Although interesting, the main learning of the night came from talking to the other women there. I had a great conversation about women who were a similar age to me about how we’d been “high potential” at points in our careers and then things had changed for us – sometimes a change in leadership, sometimes a change in our life circumstances or a feeling that you’d taken a particular set of skills and knowledge as far as you were interested in. I took along my daughter who is about to get her first leadership role at school and she found it fascinating to hear all the career stories from people across a roughly 35 year age range.

So, if you look at the programmes that we offer and you don’t see anything I’d encourage you to come and talk to us as we introduce new workshop all the time. Don’t stop there though – if you can design your own development approach and take advantage of the events that are happening all around the city and beyond, you’ll give yourself the high potential advantage. And if commitments or circumstances prevent attendance, look out for blogs and videos (there’s one of mine for example which I’ll try to track down and link from here.)

If you fancy attending a future BCS Women Scotland event, many (not all) are open to non-members – I found out about this one through twitter, but you can also join the events mailing list.


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