On Circles

No, not a boring mathematics post. More circles sensu how you buy something, it goes out of fashion, you wait 10 years, it's back in fashion. Likewise, you work on something, you put that skill set to bed for a while and it wakes up again daisy-fresh years later.

Over the summer my group worked hard to support me in submitting a number of grant applications to Research Councils and gained significant industry input, along with being invited to undertake several pieces of consultancy. Straight after that (which amounted to 28 days working solidly, 16h per day, non-stop), I had a little rest for a couple of days then got seconded into the Digital Team at the University for the UCAS Clearing period to steer and manage an aspect of digital marketing - this roughly coincided with the marketing and recruitment roles I have performed for several years now (and, in fact, before that on and off for many years, managing lab websites and those of other departments I've worked in) finally crystallising into a tangible role, when I was made Recruitment & Marketing Coordinator for the School of Biological Sciences - more on that below. Straight after working around the clock for several days (Clearing starts at 0001h, after all - so one has to be ready), it was straight into manuscript writing and a few last-minute experiments and one of my Ph.D students, Lee, and I managed to get a couple of big manuscripts off of my desk by early Sept with more to follow. We're in that unfortunate situation in which Journal X has us Under Review but the paper I want to sent to Journal Y hangs on the Journal X paper and Journal Y has small-print viz. not reviewing manuscripts that hang on the unpublished - fair enough but a little irksome. 

As the new academic year is about to begin tomorrow, my coming week is mostly filled with the pastoral - seeing my tutees from all 3 years, my M.Sc and Res.M and Ph.D students, interns and staff and ensuring all is as it should be - I've worked in a pastoral role with undergraduates now for almost 15 years since managing Halls of Residence - many of those students are still in touch, I've allocated rooms that have lead to friends-for-life 10 years later, marriages and babies - I've given Cilla Black a run for her money! A lot of academics seem to fear or dismiss this part of the role but I see our role as a blend of 6 key areas these days - Research, Teaching, Consultancy, Pastoral, Outreach, Administration. In reality, the latter 3 are integrated into the former 3 and aren't separate activities. I don't mind it at all - in fact, I feel it is my duty to ensure my staff and students are adequately supported and happy - that's not a chore, it's a duty and one we should be proud of - and perhaps better trained? I have years of training from my residential days but few of my colleagues around the UK do, obviously.

I've been a bit cunning with my Timetable this year and managed to essentially teach alternate weeks - so whilst this coming week is a 0900-1800h solid Mon-Fri week of timetabled stuff (followed by a few hours of research each day), the following week is ALMOST empty!!! BLISS! THAT is where the skillset thing I mentioned comes in - I've been in the lab for the last month or so doing some protein purification so that I can give Lee a big blob of each of our pet enzymes to characterise properly - I've not done some of these methods for 7-8 years but it has all settled into place and I'm oddly enjoying it. I don't think a PI should really be doing lab work - I see us more as queen termites - we get fed data and shit out papers and grant proposals and steer the ship - we're the architects, not the builders. When I stopped doing labwork completely in late 2011, I didn't miss it. I no longer wanted to follow, I was ready to lead, and after several years of that, I'm sufficiently ready to "dabble" now and again and do odd "bits" here and there.

What is this marketing role? Simply put, I conduit in/out from my School all matters PR, Ext Rel and recruitment - I'm not the Admissions Tutor and have nothing to do with picking students, but I do get the wonderful task of sitting with the graphic designer creating a bold and vibrant suite of marketing banners and brochures for each of our degrees and I get to dig through photos to find the right ones for press releases - it's hellishly good fun and a welcome distraction from science - I'm learning a lot of interesting new things too, like how to translate Scientist-ese to Designer-ese and vice versa