Dr Michael Twigg is an independent research fellow at the School of Pharmacy, University of East Anglia
So, it is the Christmas break. Semester one has just finished and the e-mail traffic is beginning to die down and it is at this point that I can take a breather and reflect on my first year as a research fellow.
I was taken on as an independent research fellow in late 2012 and was extremely lucky in that the first six months of my post could be used to finish writing and submit my PhD. Don’t let this (or my job title) confuse you, there is no more research element to my job than that of a regular lecturer in pharmacy practice, who has to fit their research in around teaching and admin. For the remainder of the 12-13 academic year my teaching load was not insubstantial and this has continued into 13-14. I think over the year I have learnt that when it comes to my role, I don’t need to be good at everything immediately. Over the last year I have spent far too much time on my teaching and thinking of new ways to deliver my section of the course. Now, whilst this is good, I think I need to remember that I have other commitments as well as teaching and that occasionally I can leave other people to take over from me. We have a number of colleagues at UEA who are amazingly creative and constantly think of new ways to deliver the MPharm degree which means I can focus on being the delivery man and just concentrate on implementing those ideas (at least while my research is still in its infancy).
Apart from a lack of research work – which has led to me rushing to put in a fellowship application in the space of two months – something I should probably be working on now to be honest, 2013 has been a pretty amazing year. This is largely due to a couple of mentors that have guided me seamlessly through some tricky spells. I cannot emphasise enough, the value behind a good mentor. You cannot start a career like this by yourself, you need someone there to guide you and tell you when something is a ridiculous idea or put you in contact with someone who can help you out or give feedback on a particular aspect of your role. Positives and negatives – you both need to be completely honest with each other – no sugar coating. In my opinion that’s the only way you can learn and improve.
Anyway, in the spirit of the New Year celebrations, here are my five resolutions based on what I have learnt about myself over the past 12 months. Happy 2014!
1. Don’t forget the long-term goals
The teaching commitment I have is extremely enjoyable for me and is something I can sink my teeth into immediately. Whereas the research element is also enjoyable but much less immediate in terms of the impact it will have on my day-to-day interactions with colleagues and students. For this reason, I have fallen behind when it comes to the research aspect of my role.
Don’t get me wrong, my PhD was finished on time, I have been involved in the process of writing numerous papers and have already started to co-supervise two PhD students, an MSc student and five final year undergraduates. In my first year I have focussed on these jobs rather than looking at the long term goal of where funding for my research is going to come from in the years to come. Therefore, I need to start putting some time aside each week to think clearly about my research. This can be my quality time – with just my thoughts and a grant application! No papers to read, no projects to read, no e-mails to answer and no people to distract me. This latter point is my second resolution.
2. Remove the distractions
I get distracted far too easily. Whether it be by e-mails, other people in an office two floors below me or undergraduates wanting a quick word. I was talking to a fellow academic not long after my viva and he said to me that he didn’t know any good researcher that didn’t spend at least half a day a week working away from the office. He suggested swapping offices with a fellow academic – I feel I might be better working at home. So for at least half a day each week, whatever the workload, I am going to implement this practice and see what happens! I’m going to turn off my e-mails, not look at teaching work, not look at admin and just think… and write.
3. Don’t always feel the need to vocalise your thoughts!
Sometimes it is better to listen and absorb rather than jump in and speak. I am a pretty vocal person and find it nearly impossible to remain quiet at a meeting. However, sometimes this is necessary and you may learn more as a result and it may have the added bonus of not volunteering yourself for extra work!
4. Clearly state your goals and what you need to achieve them
People cannot be expected to know what it is you are doing, what you want or how you are going to achieve it just by looking at you. You need to tell people why it is you can’t help them out with teaching this time, why you can’t attend a meeting at a particular time or why you need a new office. I have learnt that people are much more accommodating if there is an actual reason for letting someone down or making a specific request.
5. Get out there!
Again, over the past year I have learnt that most people haven’t got a clue what I am working on, and why should they – we all have busy lives with our own agendas. You need to get yourself out there and in front of as many people as possible. And I’m not just talking about policy makers, I think I need to do more to communicate my science to pharmacists at large, other healthcare professionals and most importantly patients and the public – otherwise what is the point!
Now, back to the fellowship application…
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