Friday, 15 February 2013

It's Good to Talk

Bob: it's good to talk
To some, getting feedback is a no-brainer. To others, it's as alien as the moons of Jupiter. Wednesday's Early Career Researcher Network meeting looked at the reason why feedback was essential, and how applicants should seek and use it.

Prof Paul Allain kicked off by outlining why feedback was important:

  • It's a chance to test ideas, even if it's just a 'corridor chat' with a colleague;
  • It 'depersonalises' your research. Whilst your work is personal to you, it also plays a part in the wellbeing of the department and the University. Sharing your ideas with others helps to move it from the personal to a more objective 'commodity.'
  • It's an opportunity to consider other, unimagined options for your research;
  • It gives you a chance to benefit from more experienced colleagues;
  • It allows you to hone and clarify your ideas before it's too late.
However, feedback should be sought in good time. Paul suggested that the whole process could take up to two months, and longer if there was a need for more discussion and redrafting. 

He finished by highlighting some of the reasons why people avoid seeking feedback. These included a fear of criticism and of IP theft, and a desire for perfectionism. Ultimately you need to develop a thick skin; your research will be improved as a result of external comment, and the chances of someone stealing your ideas is actually very slim.

Prof Darren Griffin took over. Your research, he suggested, was like your children: to you its fabulous clever and handsome, devastatingly interesting and packed full of potential. However, to others it's a snotty-nosed, ill-mannered, incoherent mess. 

Unfortunately perception is reality. It doesn't make a difference how good you think you are, or even how good - objectively - your research is. It's about the presentation of that research, of selling it to the reviewers and panellists. If they can't understand it or can't see its worth, they won't be interested. Darren was quite frank: the process of selecting applications to be funded was 'shallower and more formulaic than you think.' 

He finished by drawing a Darwinian analogy. Feedback allows people to see how they should change, and those who adapt to take on board the comments are the ones who get funding. They are the ones who 'survive'.

The slides and notes from the talks are available on the Kent SharePoint site

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