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You’d think researchers might be linear people. We see a challenge and head straight for it. Something needs fixing and we’re here to help. We are totally focussed on the task in hand and drill down to the detail, because that’s what we do, we dine on data, gorge on fact. Then, on a good day, we emerge triumphant. Noble Prize. Job done!
If only life were that easy. The truth is, life is chaotic and throws a whole barrage of challenges at you, all at once: funding, families, fatigue, the Wi-Fi is down and oh no, we’re out of milk. For many a researcher, it can all seem a bit overwhelming. Our straight-line thinking has now become a bowl of spaghetti.
So how do we get back on track? If our track has turned into noodles?
What we need is resilience – that strange mythical quality that cool people have and most of us don’t. Or at least, that’s the myth…The truth is, resilience can be learnt and it comes in many forms. In a way it is nothing more than a series of coping strategies so that when things do go wrong (and they will) you’ll be prepped. At another level it’s a way of living in relation to the challenges you face.
Resilience is a big thing in the NHS right now. ‘Adapt and survive; is no longer just a phrase, it is how we live our lives. Our contracts are shorter, our funding more elusive and our careers far more fluid. We live on shifting sands where the only constant is change. So, before we embark on the next stage of our journey, doesn’t it make sense to learn how to navigate? To fine-tune our emotional Sat-Nav for the winding road ahead? The “Building your Resilience as a Researcher” programme is designed to do just that.
The format of the sessions was based on structured workshops and individual and group coaching and mentoring sessions. The outcomes for participants were:
The programme started with a foundations workshop which formed a bedrock from which the coaching could start. During the day attendees were invited to take a step back, to take stock, and to explore alternative perspectives that could help sustain their resilience as a researcher. Through a combination of whole group activity, paired work and personal reflection we explored balance, values, the inner critic, the value of perspective, and linking your goals and aspirations to everyday habits.
The group coaching continued to build on the foundations workshop, harness the wisdom of shared learning, while also providing a context in which attendees reported back on their learning, achievements and issues they were facing. The format of group coaching was designed so that they would work on their priorities while also explore shared themes, for example being assertive, relationships, creativity, time management, listening, working from strengths, conflict, maintaining focus.
5 group Zoom calls were scheduled approximately every 4 weeks and lasted for 1 hour. Between calls attendees were also prompted to communicate with their group to provide additional support and challenge.
A final closing workshop then brought together our shared learning, explored further perspectives and identified next steps for the future. The content was responsive to themes identified during the group calls.
The initial foundation workshop was a full day and the final closing workshop was a half day.
The starting point of the coaching Will brought is captured in the following definition: ‘Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance’ (Timothy Gallwey, cited by John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance, 2009 p.10). The problem is researchers often focus all their energy on ‘performing’ and this can raise the pressure and cause anxiety, in turn undermining performance. Instead, the coaching invites you to explore what’s possible for you, that is your potential, and to get creative about the things that get in the way. At one level this means focusing on the particular challenges of the job – all the things you have to do as part of your research – and at another level if means focusing on key themes that impact on your personal resilience, including self-confidence, motivation, focus, procrastination, creativity, relationships, balance and balance.
Key principles Will brought to the programme as a professional coach:
“My coaching draws on a range of traditions and the common thread to my approach is challenging and provoking individuals to become more aware of the choices they are making in what they are doing, thinking and being, to realise there are alternative choices they could make, and to have the self-belief, confidence and trust to make changes they see as important. This often means offering perspectives that break strongly forged habits of approaching tasks and challenges. At one level this can be about asking ‘powerful’ questions i.e. questions that challenge assumption and are transformative for the individual. At another, it can be about seeing things from a different perspective, so creating ways of seeing things differently. Crucially this can also be embodied, engaging in the physical and emotional resonance of particular choices of strategies.” – Will Medd.
Will has been offering coaching based activities for health based researchers as an associate with NHS R&D NW since 2013.
Will has a PhD in Sociology (Lancaster University, 2000), worked as a contract researcher for 6 years (University of Salford and Lancaster University) and was a Lecturer in Human Geography at Lancaster University between 2006 and 2013, leaving to focus on developing his coaching work.
An established researcher, well versed in the challenges of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research, Will had a reputation for developing high-impact research involving strong stakeholder involvement. Funding bodies have included European Commission, National Research Councils (ESRC and EPSRC), UKWIR, Government Departments, Private Sector Companies, and Local Authorities (see below). Two of his projects as Principal Investigator were evaluated as ‘Outstanding’ by the ESRC, one being awarded second place in the ESRC Celebrating Impact Awards, May 2013. Recognising the importance of tracking impact, his work on the 2007 Hull Floods has been used as an Impact Case Study by Lancaster University in the 2013 REF return.
Through his teaching and research he has gained extensive experience of workshop facilitation with small and large groups, including academic and business leaders. As a facilitator Will is passionate to ensure participants gain personal value from the experience of programmes in ways that lead to taking actions that will make a difference over time. Participants have described him as ‘flawless’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘inspiring’, ‘attentive’, ‘excellent’ and ‘challenging’.
Will is also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CTI), Professional Credentialed Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Mindfulness Teacher (TeachMindfulness). He has been coaching for over 7 years working with people from all kinds of backgrounds across the UK and beyond, including students, PhD students, researchers and academics.
As well as developing coaching materials for VITAE and co-writing with Jeff Gill ‘Your PhD Coach’ (published with Open University Press, 2013) and Get Sorted! How to make the most of your student experience (Palgrave, 2015), he runs coaching programmes for PhD students, contract researchers and established academics. He has also produced an online programmes for building undergraduate resilience.
All in all, Will brings an intimate experience of the research world and the challenges of being a researcher.