Reflections – My Parliamentary Internship Experience

Daniel AmundFinding a placement can often be challenging however the opportunity to embark on a placement is one we always recommend. In our opinion, if you are a student or early career graduate seeking that dream job, if you get the chance to embark on a placement, grab it with both hands! In today’s post, Dr Daniel Amund, Academic Mentor at London Metropolitan University, London, UK shares his internship experience at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) highlighting the benefits of an internship.

During the third year of my PhD, I applied for and was awarded a POST fellowship. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is the UK Parliament’s in-house source of scientific advice, providing parliamentarians with balanced and accessible analysis of policy issues related to science and technology. POST runs several fellowship schemes funded by various Research Councils, charities and learned societies, which allow PhD students to spend three months working as POST fellows. Most fellows research, write and publish POSTnotes, which are four-page briefing papers summarising public policy issues, based on reviews of literature and interviews with academic, government and industry stakeholders.

My experience of working in Parliament during my PhD was very enjoyable and rewarding. It was refreshing to be able to take a step back from my PhD research, and focus on researching a different topic, using different methods in a different environment. That ‘break’ was beneficial because when I went back to writing my thesis, I had a fresh perspective and was able to utilise the skills I had developed to improve my thesis. Having to condense a lot of information into a four-page document that had to be accessible to non-scientists helped me develop my writing and communication skills, which helped in communicating my ideas better in my doctoral thesis.

Aside from the renewed vigour, clarity and focus that can be derived from an internship, there are added benefits such as CV development and networking opportunities. These may sound like a cliché, but they are rather important. My fellowship at POST was the most significant piece of work experience I had on my CV while I was a student, as the other jobs on my CV had been mainly casual student jobs at University, as well as some voluntary work. I should mention that these were by no means a waste of time, as my interview for the POST fellowship demonstrated as some of the questions were focused around my casual and voluntary roles.

However, having the POST fellowship on my CV has meant that I can use the range of transferable skills I gained in demonstrating how I meet the person specification when applying for jobs. Furthermore, the POSTnote counts for me as a publication which is not only satisfying and something to be pleased about, it is also a good career plus! Keep in mind that internships also serve as a point of discussion in job interviews as my experience shows.

During my fellowship, I interacted with various people, including other POST fellows and staff, and got to take part in various events within and outside Parliament, all of which served to broaden my horizons and expand my networks. As a POST alumnus, I have been invited to attend POST events, and I get informed of job opportunities within the field of science policy. My experience at POST has also directly or indirectly availed me of opportunities to attend other events in Parliament, such as Parliamentary Links Day, Voice of the Future, and SET for Britain. Networking at one of such events has led to me being involved in an annual international youth science conference, as a speaker and as a poster judge!

The networks built during internships could turn out to be the most significant networks for the early stages of your career after graduation. Employers often write references for interns in support of job applications, or may inform interns of vacancies within their companies or in other companies. Networking is definitely not just about who you know, but about who knows you.

Internships provide opportunities for students to put themselves out there, in professional environments, so that they get noticed by those who matter, in addition to gaining valuable knowledge and experience. Doing an internship could also inform students of the various career options available to them in their subject disciplines. In my case, the POST fellowship revealed other career options for scientists, outside of academia and industry.

Internships and work placements are a great way to enhance employability upon graduation. I highly recommend students to take up such opportunities, be they short-term or year-long (sandwich) placements.

Finally, how did I find out about my internship? I got to know about the POST fellowship as a result of being a member of the society that sponsored my fellowship! Thus, membership of relevant professional bodies or learned societies can be useful in securing an internship or placement. This I highly recommend as professional bodies and learned societies are a great source of incredibly useful resources, information and support.

If you would like to find out more about internships and how to take advantage of them, please contact us. In addition, if you have questions for Dr Amund about the POST fellowship, you can email us for details or better still, find him on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and follow! We would love to share your stories in The Hub as well so do get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.  

Reflections: The Emotional stages of a Research Journey

EmotionsReflection can be defined as the act of giving serious thought or consideration to something. It is amazing how many powerful lessons we can learn from ‘reflection on action.’ Sharing these lessons can help others currently going through what we have deal with the situations they find themselves in. We are so grateful to our guest writers for sharing their stories with us.  In this ‘Reflections’ article, Nadia Anwar discusses emotions associated with the different stages of a research journey.

Every research project passes through eight important phases: Euphoria, Realisation, Shock, Disillusionment, Acceptance, Depression, Revival, and Completion. The following narrative is dedicated to all my friends, colleagues, and students who are currently engaged with some kind of research – be it an MPhil dissertation, PhD thesis or monograph writing and are struggling to comprehend the volatility and psychological diversity of changing scenarios which come natural to any research process.

Euphoria is characterised by passionate involvement of a researcher with his/her research. This stage presents an idealistic vision of what one can achieve with hard work and commitment. At this initial stage all ideas seem original, all propositions unprecedented, and all perspectives fool proof. Very soon, however, it dawns upon the researcher that despite his or her unquestionable trust in the quality and potential of his/her research and supervisors’ initial approbation, there are fault lines which if not bridged in time can create serious obstacles in the research process. More often than not, students associate this problem with a lack of understanding on the part of their supervisors or with issues that exempt them of any fault on their part. However, the burden of this realization – of faults in the perfect proposal – can be too heavy and leads to a state of shock. In cases where the researcher possesses prior expertise or/and experience in teaching or guiding other people, the realisation of one’s deficiencies and ignorance can sometimes be extremely intolerable and emotionally painful.

At this stage disillusion sets in. The initial euphoria evaporates in the air like steam and the researcher is left with plenty of work, no sense of direction, anger, and annoying fear of failure and subsequent embarrassment. These feelings continue to haunt the researcher for some time, triggering eonian internal dialogues, which if ever come to an end makes the researcher blame everything and everyone else associated with the research rather than one’s self. John Burroughs thoughts neatly sum up implications of such scapegoating: ‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody’. Human mind, nevertheless, cannot nurture the same feeling for long. Besides, the critic that sits inside the researcher’s mind soon begins to argue about the practicality and reality of his/her narcissist thought processes, compelling him/her to conduct a thorough self-analysis.

At this stage, the researcher realises that s/he has been overly and unduly justifying her/himself. This is termed as the acceptance stage.  It is important to note that by this time the researcher should have already integrated him/herself in the dynamic research environment, establishing useful links with peers and imbibing the subtle but helpful suggestions coming from senior researchers. Therefore, the feeling of being an active member of a research community infuses a new spirit and taking full advantage of this new state of awareness the researcher formulates new research strategies, revise ideas, and starts working with overhauled vigour.

This newly conceived exuberance helps the researcher achieve plenty in terms of research and writing up – preliminary drafts are made, previous notes are updated, and fresh perspectives are formulated. As a general rule, every emotionally elevated stage, however, heralds a period of depression. After some productive and useful time the researcher too starts feeling low, unable to figure out how and when his words will become mature enough to go straight into the final draft. This is a crucial and emotionally dangerous stage. The researcher may also experience psycho-somatic symptoms such as palpitations, fluctuating blood pressure, and sinking heart along with feelings of futility, inadequacy and worthlessness of all s/he has remained involved with during her/his research journey. I would strongly advise my friends not to get upset by the appearance of these symptoms for there is nothing physiologically wrong with them. These are actually auspicious signs helping a researcher regain lost energy levels and boost creative thinking. Besides, in a more general sense this state is an ostensible evidence of how far and with how much effort you have covered your research journey. These apparently negative feelings are blessings in disguise for they emotionally prepare you to experience a wonderful sense of achievement in the times to come.

Struggling with one’s emotions is hard but after each effort one becomes stronger than before. The autoimmune capacity of the researcher gradually works to revive passion in research that helps the researcher swim through the troubled waters of psychological depression. Coming back to active and engaging research life has its own benefits as it sheds new light on the meaning and vicissitudes of life per se. This revival stage is imbued with fear, nervous expectations and excitement all at the same time. I used to get butterflies in my stomach during the final wrapping up of my thesis. Perhaps I was in love with my research the way people fall in love with human beings.

That feeling when you see yourself printing out the final draft or sending the final email to your supervisors or reviewers! The very act of submission gives you a fresh lease of life, a new hope for future and a wonderful sense of completion. The final count-down that entails waiting for viva after submission or for feedback on research is hard and demands plenty of patience. However, all hard times are forgotten once results are announced and glory is achieved.

Kudos to all my friends who have remained steadfast during all the stages of their respective research journeys. All the best.

About our writer – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Sciences. Her primary areas of interest are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.

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Reflections – Attending my first international conference

I have always loved attending conferences because they provide opportunities to network with other scholars, publicise my research activities, as well as build my research profile. I have attended some conferences in the UK and when I got the email that my paper has been accepted for presentation at the American Marketing Association (AMA) Winter Education Conference, I was excited and started looking forward to it.

Attending an international conference requires good preparation. The conference organiser was very helpful with providing travel information, especially regarding obtaining a visa. All that was required by the American Embassy was my invitation letter in addition to a student confirmation letter from my University. I was amazed at how simple the process was.

Before I knew it, I was off to San Antonio, Texas. The immigration officials seemed surprised that I was only visiting for a few days for a conference. The Conference had a very different atmosphere to conferences I had attended in the UK – this could be due to the fact that Americans were by far the biggest nationality present!

There are some things I found particularly interesting:

Early Riser – I am used to the first session of each day starting between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning but sessions started as early as 8:00 am! Each day was fully packed with events but it was great to have the opportunity to explore different sessions and meet lots of people.

Networking – Though I was quite reserved in my networking approach, I used every opportunity to network. I chatted to people I sat with in sessions or met during lunch. In relaxed atmospheres, it is easier to start conversations and get to know people. Interestingly too, I was able to network with people I had met on Twitter before the conference.

The PhD Process: US vs. UK – I learnt about the differences between how PhDs are structured in the US and the UK. In the US, PhD candidates can spend at least 5 years working towards their PhD. A lot of work (and time) is spent grooming candidates for research and academia, which I find to be very different from how the PhD process occurs in the UK. There were also indications that a large proportion of American Marketing research is quantitative – developing and testing models – this means researchers heavily rely on statistical packages and tools. Candidates are taught to use these tools as an integral part of their PhD.

The Job market – I learnt that you can use ‘one stone to kill two birds’ while attending the AMA Conference.  Apart from presenting your research and networking, you could probably leave with a new job and start preparing for life as an Assistant Professor! This requires a lot of planning though as you would need to have applied long before the conference. The point to note however, is the fact that it has been incorporated into the conference. Universities know they can recruit at the conference and students are well prepared for the fact that they could be interviewed during the conference.

The Socials – Unfortunately, there was no social event as I would have expected. Typically, UK conferences are for three days; Wednesday to Friday; with socials being held on the penultimate night. Socials provide a good opportunity for conference delegates to ‘let their hair down’ and socialise in an informal atmosphere. I decided to entertain myself by visiting some key landmark sites in San Antonio.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience, I did enjoy myself, meet nice people and develop some productive relationships. Most importantly, it was a challenging, thought provoking opportunity to see how I could best improve myself, in terms of developing my research skills, publications and getting ready for the job market. I plan to attend the Summer AMA in 2016 as I will be more than ready to explore opportunities USA has got to offer.

Emmanuel Mogaji is a member of the Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. His research interests are on the design and development of marketing communication for service providers, universities and charity organisations. He is currently working on his PhD, focusing on advertising strategies by UK financial service providers. He tweets @e_mogaji.

Please share your stories with us, we would love to hear from you. Contact us @ aspiringprofessionalshub@gmail.com or @AspProfHub

A Master Chef at Work – A Culinary Take on the PhD Process

CookingI have heard many metaphors for the PhD process – ‘a dark tunnel’, ‘a lonely path’, ‘skating like an octopus on wheels’ but I had never thought about doing a PhD using culinary terms. In this ‘Reflections’ article, Dr Nadia Anwar shares an interesting take on her PhD journey.

Doing a PhD is like cooking a very complicated but worthwhile dish on a steady and consistent heat. One needs to be extra careful right from the beginning, keeping in mind all the logistic and practical issues involved in creating one’s delicacy. For instance, how much will the whole dish cost? What kind of hob will be good? Which cooking pot will be best to use? A non-stick pan is highly recommended as you need something that can take the heat and not burn too easily. Do you have all the ingredients? What if one of the ingredients is unavailable? Where will you find it, when…, how…? Who will be the people helping you in your preparation and then in the process itself? These and many other questions will be your preliminary guide to a wonderful cooking experience. You do not need to worry about who is going to share the dish with you for there will be many to lick their fingers once it is cooked.

You will need three types of people according to the function they will perform in your cooking process: Dish sponsors (the ones who are financially supporting you – they can either be your family members or external sponsors), tasters (supervisors), and judges (external examiners). Although all these people are somehow mandatory, in this project, a very significant part is played by the tasters. Once you have got all the ingredients, you start putting them in one at a time at the appropriate stages of the cooking process. Check the fire, is it low, medium or high? If it is low, the dish may never get cooked. If it is very high it may burn the whole thing before it is cooked. So use the proper heat it requires. Sometimes, though, you may need to increase or lower the heat in order to evaporate the extra water or otherwise to retain the proper amount of moisture. You must be flexible.

Now, the tough part (yes! it’s still easy until now); start putting the spices into your pan which although are not your main ingredients, have a crucial role to play in the final texture and taste of your dish. Have you got the right measuring spoon and are you using a non-sticking ladle and moving it only when really needed? Good. A difficult situation can sometimes occur when by dint of bad luck or while busy in cherishing an unavoidably inspirational moment you put a particular spice more than it is needed and there is no way you can undo the act. Do not panic, it may be several times that you make this mistake. The only thing you can do is to save as many ingredients as you can, throw the rest in the sink and start over again. It is advised that you keep extra calm in such dire situations as panicking will only aggravate the situation. Your senior fellow researchers can be of some help as they can listen to your kitchen tragedies and relate their horrible failed experiences to empathise with you. Since their noses are very sensitive to smells, they may even tell you if something is burning.

ChefBe patient with your plans. By this time you may already be performing as a creative and expert cook.  Just keep cooking and adding into your dish all those relevant new spices that have recently been introduced in the market. You will soon realise that your dish has attained a particular texture of its own. Let me tell you the most difficult part is to know when it is cooked or how much time it still requires for the final dish to be ready. Do not worry. Your tasters will tell you when to turn the heat off, decorate your dish and serve. Once out there in front of the judges, even they cannot do anything to save the day if you have made a last moment mistake.

It is time now for the judges to comment. They may reject it altogether, they may make funny faces, they may spit it out or they may ask you to keep cooking it on the same heat for a tad bit longer. If you have really put your energies into making your dish a success and you are lucky then it is highly likely that they find your dish very tasty and start licking their fingers (yes, and even in front of you). I know the whole process is tiring and many a times may test your nerves but be patient. If it is done properly, you will become a master chef!

Nadia Anwar recently completed her PhD in Nigerian drama from The University of Northampton, UK. She is a lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and visiting faculty member at University of Management and Sciences. Her primary areas of interest are African literature in general and Nigerian theatre and drama in particular.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

Reflections – My journey towards global relevance

Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.

Finding your feet in the murky waters of global relevance.’ I recently read this article again on The Aspiring Professionals’ Hub. I will refrain from rehashing the entire message of the article because I want to concentrate on these particular points;

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.

What is my point?

I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.

So, how did I crack on?

I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’  I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.

Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.
Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.

So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way –  resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.

There were some critical control steps in my plan;

Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.

Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.

My candid recommendation

Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.

Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.

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