Month: May 2018

Springboard course: is it for me?

In this guest post, Anna Cupani, who is the Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Imperial’s Data Science Institute, writes about her experience of the Springboard Women’s Development Programme

Anna Cupani

I first heard about Springboard from a friend who had taken the course back in 2015. She was coming to the end of her post-doc and figuring out what to do afterwards. In our chats she mentioned how the course helped her to reconsider her career and to look at her values and strengths in a new light. So, when another colleague forwarded a reminder about the course last September, encouraging me to apply, I did not need much convincing.

Then, a week or so before the first training day, an article appeared in the Times Higher which contained some serious criticism of the course. It reported how some academics had dropped out of the training, put off by inappropriate the advice that women had to smarten up to boost their careers.

The last thing I needed was to be told that the way to a fulfilling career was paved with expensive shoes to make me look more authoritative, or a chic handbag so my manager knows that I mean business. It sounded bizarre that a development course would encourage women to conform to the most hackneyed of stereotypes. With this article at the back of my mind, I approached the first day of training with a critical mind. But I was also very curious and I hadn’t forgotten what my friend had told me. I am a scientist after all: so let’s look at the evidence!

And the evidence is that there was no significant discussion of shoes or handbags. Instead I am glad to report that the course is well worth attending! But you need to know why you’re there to make the most of it.

You will spend four days over four months in group activities with women from departments all around College – women of different ages, backgrounds and education. You will also be encouraged to undertake some activities on your own in between the training sessions, either to prepare for them or to mull over what’s been discussed during the training. How much time you dedicate to this ‘homework’ is up to you. You may set aside a few hours every week for self-reflection or just rush through the chapters of the training book the evening before because you forgot it under a pile of documents when you moved to your new flat (true story!).

If you expect Springboard to tell you how to get a tenure track job, or how to increase your success in grant applications, or how to get a pay rise, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. It’s not there to give you a precise set of instructions to complete your next project.

What the course does deliver (if you do the work) is an opportunity for reflection on your career and on your life through discussion with others in a structured way. You’ll be guided to look at your past choices, how they shaped your present situation, how they reflect your values and goals, and how to make the changes you feel you’re ready to make. You’ll practice giving and receiving advice and feedback, and you’ll get the opportunity to be a mentor and a mentee. Enacting simple real-life situations like a difficult conversation with your manager can be much more challenging than you imagine, and it’s incredible how helpful such a rehearsal can be. Half way through the course you may realise that you do not want to become an academic after all; or you may understand how to make your grant applications more impactful; or you may just go and ask for that pay rise because you can now talk more confidently about your achievements.

You will not learn the secret recipe to tackle gender inequality in the workplace, but you might come out of Springboard with a stronger determination to do something about it and a good network to help you. Which is a great starting point.

Pirate the Code of Conduct…

There are hundreds of research groups at Imperial College and hundreds of different ways of running a research group. But how many of those groups have a code of conduct?

One that does is run by Professor Chris Jackson from the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering. Chris is perhaps better known as the guy who abseils into active volcanoes, but not only has he developed a code of conduct for his group, he has also posted it online.

You can see the document here – and comment if you wish (Chris would be glad of the feedback).

Since it’s published under a CC-BY license, you are free to adopt and adapt it for your own group. Indeed, as Chris readily acknowledges, his group’s code of conduct is based on similar documents from other universities and other labs at Imperial – including those run by Sam Krevor and Ben Britton.

This seems to me an excellent way for groups to start a conversation about the standards of performance and behaviour that they want to have when working at Imperial. Chris’s document covers inclusivity, mental health, open science, conference attendance, working hours, email etiquette and advice on engaging with social media.

Of course many groups work well without needing to have a code written down. But the advantage of an open published document is that it empowers all group members to be engaged in setting standards of conduct. It’s also a good way of advertising the values of your group to the outside world – and to anyone thinking of applying to join it.

Although the code is written for a research group, there is no good reason elements couldn’t be adapted for groups that are doing things other than research.

It’s great to find such initiatives happening at Imperial – and, like any good researcher, I’m glad to be able to share the discovery.


Our strategy for including you

Update (12 oct 2018): the EDI Strategy is now published and can be downloaded from here.

Over the past several months, I have been drafting Imperial’s first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

In this work I have benefitted enormously from discussions with many people at the College and from debate within the EDI Strategy Group and the EDI Forum. The draft strategy has improved significantly from the rough framework that I first sketched out at the beginning of the year. It has a more coherent form, even if it is still unfinished. The latest version is now being circulated to various committees, but I wanted also to open it up for comment and criticism by everyone at the College.

I would therefore invite you to download the draft document (available here as a PDF) and let me have your comments or suggestions. Please feel free to contact me by email – you are not obliged to comment in public here! The plan is to have a final version ready for approval by the Provost’s Board by the end of June so I would be grateful to receive any feedback by Friday 18th May.

The aim of developing a strategy is to identify the College’s priorities and define how we – staff and students – will set about achieving them. The strategy has to be ambitious but it will only succeed if it is grounded in reality and earns widespread support within the institution. Ambition and reality can be hard things to balance, not least because equality, diversity and inclusion raise matters that are sometimes contested. But I hope that by opening up the conversation we will be able to plot a more optimal course to a more diverse and inclusive future.