Sofia Jaho’s experience of the RAMP “Professional Development and Leadership Training” in UK

What did you learn during the workshop?

Recently, I participated at the RAMP’s workshop held in UK, concerning professional development and leadership. The courses for Professional Development were organized by the Graduate School at Imperial College London and the training on Leadership skills was implemented by the Doctoral College of the University of Surrey. Almost 2 weeks of intense training on what is known as “soft skills”. Many scientists (myself included!) consider that scientific skills or lab skills, as for example methods, techniques, protocols, etc, are adequate to ensure a good career after doctoral studies. The more you know about your field the better chances you have for the position that you want, right? Scientific skills and deep knowledge on your field are very important. However, it is also important to know how to promote these skills and how to make the best use of them. The latest RAMP workshop (and my whole experience as a RAMP ESR so far) helped me to recognize and start using more my “soft skills”.

During the week at Imperial College in London, we were trained on writing publications (papers/reports/thesis) and understanding the process of manuscript review. We spent time on discussing the importance of a career planning, the preparation of effective CV’s, the application procedure and interviews. Finally, we were trained on public engagement and the significance of communicating research in general public and schools. During the week at the University of Surrey, we had the opportunity to find out what kind of leaders we are or we can be, how we can lead within teams and how we can follow other leaders and influence the general public. Overall, this workshop provided a lot of tips that I believe that sooner or later will be useful for all of us, no matter the career choice that we will make.

What method did you prefer learning about? Why?

The workshop enabled me to acknowledge the importance of “soft skills” not only from a theoretical point of view, but in practice. Personally, I really appreciated the role playing that we had to implement during the team activities at University of Surrey. I had the opportunity to lead one of the activities and find out what kind of leader I can be under time pressure or when I have to supervise multiple tasks. I could recognize my strong points and my weaknesses, but I could also identify the skill sets of my fellow team players which is very important while being part of a team. When not leading, I could also understand how I behave as a team member and what improvements/adjustments I should consider.

Another part of the workshop that personally I found extremely useful was the process of manuscript review. While being at Imperial College in London, we were given a manuscript (not related to our scientific background) and we were asked to be the panel of reviewers that would accept/decline the manuscript. This process makes you realize why the comments of reviewers are very important for the improvement of your work. At the same time you learn that while writing a research article, you should always consider the final receptor, i.e. the person who reads it.    

What did you enjoy most (apart from the science!)?

I enjoyed greatly the friendly atmosphere among all ESRs and the active participation that we had in some activities. It was fun and didactic at the same time.

Put yourself in a trainer’s shoes!
– What part of the workshop would you have preferred to teach/to demonstrate? Why?

As I explained previously, I found really useful all the parts of the workshop that made us engage in team activities. I think that being part of a team and understanding our role, our behavior, our potentials and our limits within an interactive environment, is of paramount importance for our professional and personal evolvement. We achieve more and we do better as part of a team. And this statement also applies in research.

– As a trainer, is there something you have done differently? If yes, how?

The whole workshop was organized and implemented very well, and our tutors at both Imperial College and University of Surrey are professionals with a huge experience in their expertise. I don’t think I would change much. The only suggestion I have to propose is to reduce as much as possible the parts where there were only powerpoint presentations and replace them with more activities or interactive conversations.

What can you do differently as an ESR to contribute to a successful workshop?

As an ESR, I would be very interested to participate in the organization of a workshop. I strongly believe that organizing events like these provides to someone a valuable skill set, probably as valuable as attending the workshop. Another main point that I realized by participating in many workshops, is asking questions! Workshops/seminars/conferences (scientific or not) are our best opportunity as ESRs to ask questions from experts and get an answer immediately.

What will you remember most from this experience?

I will remember that I “forced” myself to think out of the box. As researches, sometimes we are so focused on our experiments and getting the results and we forget who the receptors of our findings are: the society, the public, the other humans. So, it is important to have a reminder of this concept once in a while and to learn how to communicate your research to the public.