Friday, 26 June 2015

3 Minute Thesis 2015

2 years ago I competed in the University's "3 Minute Thesis" competition. This involves PhD researchers explaining their thesis to a general audience in 3 minutes with no props and using only one stationary slide.

Last time I made it through to the university final, but no further. I really enjoyed the experience: so much so, that I managed to persuade my Mum (who is studying for a DBA at Henley Business School) to enter the heats at her university! After she made it through to her university's final, I knew there was no way I wasn't going to be able to give it another go...

Last time, I started with the basic chemistry, building up to the topic of my research and then finishing with the applications. The video is here. After attending a 3MT training session put on by the graduate school before the heats, I decided to change the order a bit: starting with the motivation and application of hydrogen fuel cell technology and then going into more detail. 

After a hectic week prior to the heat, and the timer having technical issues during my presentation, I wasn't sure how it had gone, but was pleased to find out that I had made it through to the final (phew - at least Mum hadn't beaten me yet!!). We then had a morning of training from Lucy Vernall from @ideaslabproject where we analysed previous 3MT presentations and discussed ways to improve our own. 

I came away buzzing with ideas, and had a bit of a re-write. I then did quite a lot of practice: in my room; in the car; even out running along the canal! I made some changes to my slide: coming up with the final version below illustrating the different way that hydrogen is stored in the two vehicles. 

The day of the final began with filming in the media centre - instructed not to wear green so that we didn't disappear into our slide, we headed to the studio underneath the great hall. I was first up, having been randomly selected to present first both for filming and for the event in the afternoon. I stood on my piece of tape while the camera and lights were lined up, and I was "powdered" to remove any shine. And.... action! 

I managed it in one take! I found it hard to not move around and keep my focus on the camera, but I think it went OK. Even though I began calm, by the end I was shaking like a leaf, so I'm glad there had been no major problems because there was no way I would have been able to do that again. 

Now followed a few hours back in the office preparing a conference presentation (with very different slides!) before the live final in the afternoon. 

The final was put on as part of the graduate school's awards ceremony: we presented at the start and then after all the other awards were given out, the winner would be announced. Up first, I gave my presentation to the audience, who were really open and welcoming. It felt much less nerve-wracking than either the heat or the filming! Although I did finish and I was shaking like a leaf! The finalists were all based in a different room, so I didn't get to hear anyone else present. But everyone seemed to come back feeling confident that they had done well.

After a drinks reception we returned to the main room for the prize giving. One of my fellow School of Chemistry researchers won the publication prize, so Chemistry was already doing well! They announced the prizes for the runners up for the people's choice and the judges choice first and then, to my complete shock, they announced me as the winner! 

I am so pleased to have got through to the next round - thanks to everyone who helped with the organisation and the training, and apologies to those who saw me talking to myself on the canal! The next round is judged based on the videos, and then the national final is in September in Manchester. So watch this space....

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Leading Academics: Prof. Jennifer Tann

I knew the second session of Leading Academics (see here for the first session) was going to be good when the speaker was introduced as having "laughter" on her list of interests on LinkedIn. And I was not disappointed. Professor Jennifer Tann was a very engaging speaker and was there to talk us through how to recognise (and make the most of) personality traits in both ourselves and other people. 

Before the class, I completed a Myers-Briggs test on "Type Dynamics", which told me that I fitted the "ESTJ" profile. This means that:
  • I am more Extroverted than Introverted (E vs I)
  • I pay more attention to things I have directly Sensed than by iNtuition (S vs N)
  • I make decisions based on Thinking rather than Feeling (T vs F)
  • I make Judgements based on action plans, rather than Perception: letting things happen. (J vs P)
Some people had only vague preferences for one of the two options, but for the last 3 points I was pretty much off the scale! I wasn't very surprised by the results, but I was looking forward to learning what this really meant. 

In groups of similar temperaments (all the SJs were together) we discussed leadership practices: which would come most naturally for us, and which we would struggle to be good at. It was interesting considering how much more comfortable we all felt "leading by example" when compared to "encouraging from the heart".

So, as an extrovert, I show everyone my strongest personality trait: my judgement. However, introverts display their 2nd strongest, making them more difficult to get to know. It was intriguing to hear how illness or stress can change this: exposing your more hidden personality traits. I guess this is why people say "you're not yourself" when you're feeling unwell. 

After another session on the Leading Academics course, again I went away wanting to spend more time on self-assessment. I have been sent away with the "Strengthsfinder" book which also profiles you based on a series of strengths. We were advised to learn what we are good at, and what we enjoy doing, but not to use it as an excuse! Carrying out tasks which are not covered by your strengths may be exhausting, but they are often necessary. Discovering what kind of environment you need to be in to compete them is also key: as they are against your normal habits, they may need to be done in a similarly contrasting environment. 

Thanks to Jennifer for such an interesting session, and again to the careers network for running the course. It was great to be a part of it, even if only for a small while!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Leading academics: Adair Richards

The University of Birmingham enterprise unit run a course called "Leading Academics". The description is as follows:
In June 2015 we will be hosting a six-session series which gives doctoral students the opportunity to engage with guest speakers on how they have made it to the top and the issues they face and have overcome, as well as acquiring frameworks and toolkits for their future careers.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend all 6 of the sessions, as lab work for me is reaching its peak, but I had spotted the phrase "Science communicator" in the description of one of the speakers, so I spoke to the organisers and managed to arrange to come along for just one session: the one Adair Richards was presenting. 
(To hear more about Adair's work: go to his TEDx talk - well worth a watch:

Arriving halfway through a course is never ideal, but the first exercise was to discuss the most intriguing ideas that had come up from the previous sessions, so I was able to catch up with the key points. The course is about learning what key attributes leaders have, how to recognise the skills that you have, and how to develop yourself to become a successful leader. 

We spent some time in groups discussing the definition of leadership, with most coming up with the same key words: influence, inspire, understanding, enabling, integrate, common goal. 

Adair then took us through some leadership theories, and I found myself thinking of examples of both good (and not so good) people I had been working with in the past, and how those theories applied to them and the group we had been working in. All the characteristics painted a picture of someone worth respecting, and who you desire to work for. The key point for me was that it became about how you act in a way that means people want to do what you are asking them, and go ahead with their task without feeling directly influenced. 

We heard about Adair's background: of opportunities seized; failures; successes and learning how to be lucky. It was interesting to see how he has guided his career path not by making a goal and working towards it, but more short term decision making based on his basic values. It made me realise the importance of self-assessment, and knowing your own definition of success. 

The session ended with his "Top 10 leadership lessons learnt". From the importance of a good attitude, to the need to keep on learning, all the points made me want to sit down and spend some time thinking more about myself and what I want, rather than my work and where it is taking itself. 

A very interesting and engaging session! To the extent that I'm coming back for the next speaker tomorrow... 
Thanks to Adair for delivering it, and to the careers network for letting me come along.