"I first heard about the launch of the fellowship back in March 2016, after the CSO conference. I was initially reluctant to apply, as I was unsure how much this would benefit me"
11 April 2017
My main focus had always been ‘the science itself’ and I was worried about spending time on leadership training in particular. However, I was convinced by a colleague to go for this opportunity to develop myself as a leader, and I hoped that the fellowship would be able to help me to have greater influence in my areas of interest, in particular innovation in Healthcare Science though transnational research. I could also see the value of providing mentorship for female scientists (especially from academic research) wanting to pursue careers in healthcare science. After submitting my application I was delighted to hear a few weeks later that I had been selected for an interview, and even more so to get the call from Alex telling me that I was one of the four successful applicants!
After several months of excited anticipation the CSO/WISE Fellowship finally begins with our first trip up to Manchester for first module of the WISE Career development training Programme – ‘Confident Communication’. As I head to Euston station with my overnight bag I am so excited to meet other three fellows. I don’t have to wait long as I find myself sitting next to Michelle on the train. We leave a scorching hot summer’s day in London and enter what can only be described as a biblical storm! What should be a two-hour journey turns into a four -hour epic, as our route is blocked by floods and by the time we stagger into the Premier Inn in Manchester, somewhat bedraggled, Michelle and I know each other quite well. At dinner that evening we also get to know the other two fellows (Sandra and Charlotte) as well as Alex (CSO office) and Mhairi Crawford and Helen Wollaston (WISE).
So, with the first hurdle over with ,we are now anticipating the first training module tomorrow, where we will meet the other course participants, who are all female scientists from industry and academia. At this point I am really unsure what to expect, and I confess not sure how useful this training will actually be. I am worried that I won’t find it enjoyable or useful as I have always been one for just ‘getting on with the Science’, rather than ‘wasting time’ with this type of thing.
We are the last to arrive and the atmosphere in the room is relaxed, friendly and informal. I find this reassuring and feel pretty comfortable with the rest of the group from the start. The course is led by Jayne Little (Skills4UK). This module of the course is all about communication, tackling differences in gender-biased styles of communication, and many other aspects of communication, including body-language and other non-verbal tools that I find really fascinating. I found the whole day really insightful and it prompted me to examine my own communication styles. Since returning to work I have implemented this in one-to-one conversations and group meetings and have felt much more positive and in control, even during ‘difficult conversations’, as a result. I am already starting to see how this type of training will be of benefit to me.
By the end of the day the four fellows are best of friends, we say goodbye to Charlotte at Manchester Piccadilly station and the three London-based fellows head south. By the time we get back to London we have set up a fellows ‘WhatsApp’ group to stay in touch over the coming months.
The weeks fly by and it’s time for the second module of the training, ‘Authentic You’. I head back to Manchester, this time encountering no epic weather events. Charlotte has scoped out some local restaurants and we end up having a fun evening at a ‘Teppenyaki’’ restaurant that involves lots of dramatic flames and delicious stir-frys. We are all up bright an early for breakfast and the second module of the course, ‘Authentic You’. I enjoyed this day immensely. Getting the balance between ‘selling yourself’ and remaining genuinely productive in science is an area I have always been very interested in and I feel few people get right. Jayne has great material in this session that really gets me thinking about how I can promote my ‘brand’ better whilst keeping the science that I do at the very heart of everything. We also start thinking about the presentations we will give in module four of the course. I come up with the title ‘Yoga is for everyone’ and immediately start worrying that I don’t know enough about this subject to give a good presentation.
November is a busy month for the fellows, beginning with the third module of training in Manchester. It is fantastic to see each other again and we very much enjoy catching up over dinner (another great Manchester eatery chosen by Charlotte). It’s also great to catch up with the other women on the course – so many great stories are fed back to the group about how we have implemented the learning so far. This module is entitled ‘Future Focused’ once again a fabulous programme presented by Jayne, with a huge amount of input from the whole group. I worked very hard during this session, I haven’t truly focused on my future career with this level of intensity since I did my PhD, I end the day feeling empowered to start achieving the new goals I have set myself.
Just two days later the fellows are re-united at the WISE Conference in London. What an amazing day! Starting with a ‘People Like Me’ session, which is a WISE project aimed at helping girls find great careers in Science, technology and engineering, followed by an inspiring programme of talks from women in STEM roles, and also an incredible enlightened (male) MP who spoke with real passion about the need to recruit the ‘missing girls’ into STEM. Whilst chatting with Mhairi at tea break I am pleased to find out the fellows have been offered to opportunity to receive training to deliver the ‘People Like Me’ resource later that month.
Michelle and I go along to the WISE ‘People like Me’ training in London and it's a great afternoon. This is a fabulous outreach tool, and I can really see how this could inspire girls to study science, technology engineering and maths.
The interactive aspect of this approach (the quiz) and the use of role models (in person) make this tool standout. I’m really keen to get involved with this, and planning to organise first session at my son’s school and explore the possibility of incorporating this into existing outreach activities at GOSH.
Before long the first week of December is upon us, and its’ time to travel to Manchester for the final module of the training course. The evening before the course we manage to catch up with Mhairi and Alex over dinner and share some of our highlights from the fellowship so far and discuss the next steps. The final training day is ‘Presentation Delivery’, we all deliver the 10 minute presentations we have been planning from week one of the course. All the talks are thoroughly enjoyable and everyone has incorporated loads of the learning from the previous sessions. I present my work fairly frequently in my current role, although always in my ‘comfort zone’ which is my area of expertise. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to try something new. I followed Jayne’s 5-point plan for presentation planning and decided to try presenting with illustration-base slides rather than text. This is a style I always admire in other presenters but have never been brave enough to try. Despite my earlier concerns, my yoga talk is well received and I feel pleased with the results of all the work that I have put into it. I found the tips on body language and ‘power-posing’ especially helpful for looking and feeling confident and relaxed! The feedback from Jayne and the group was really constructive, but crucially has enabled me to see my own strengths in this area and to actually relish to opportunity to show case these more, and this in itself is a new experience for me.
Reflecting on the fellowship so far, I have found the personal leadership development extremely valuable. This WISE course stood out for me as something really special, and has started me on a journey to develop my own leadership skills. Focusing on aspects of oneself is so important before attempting to apply this to leadership of others. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the women-only group, I have never thought that this would make a difference but it really did, everyone was so open and supportive. I am very much looking forward to the next part of the fellowship when we will be assigned our external and internal mentors. I am also looking forward having the opportunity to offer mentorship to other female healthcare scientists and getting involved in outreach work using the People Like Me tool.