"At Fistral, we have structured our provision into four 'suites', each of which can be tailored to the requirements of your organisation to offer workshops, sessions or full-day or half-day training events."

Scottish CanSat Competition

Vitae 2015 Workshops

Workshops - Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2015

I participated in a lot of good workshops this year at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2015, and below are my thoughts and experiences.

A1: Empowering career transitions – approach, tools and challenges

This workshop outlined a powerful 3-month programme in Liverpool John Moores University to support researchers in next steps. The programme – developed by Dr Lynne Clark (Researcher Developer/Manager) and John Trantom (Staff Development Adviser) - was a collaboration of skills from across the university offering career mapping and modelling, a variety of tools, and optional coaching sessions, to help researchers focus on how to develop their skills and themselves to get the research position they want. Helping them to:

B4: Integrating research development and researcher development

This session explored the differences, similarities and opportunities for Research Development (e.g. funding, grants applications) and Researcher Development  (e.g. training, skills improvement). Led by Dr Kieran Fenby-Hulse (Research Development Executive, Coventry University) and Dr Anne Galliot (Research Development Adviser, University of Brighton), this was not only in terms of where these services were ‘located’ within a university structure, but also where opportunities lay for working together to improve the researcher experience and avoid duplication. If you were to solely focus on the end-user:

C1: Successful models for providing training opportunities to postdoctoral research staff

Led by Dr Katie Wheat (Training Resources Development Manager, Vitae) and Dr Emma Compton-Daw (Academic Developer at the University of Strathclyde), this workshop presented a small sample of responses to a more qualitative, free-text survey (not duplicating CROS etc) that they had developed exploring what they think “works for research staff … in terms of professional development”.

Their early findings indicated that some crucial areas for professional development were linked to:

Four “particular topics of value” for professional development were identified as:

  1. Leadership
  2. Management
  3. Teaching skills
  4. Research skills

The topics they thought “most benefitted their career” were linked to:

The role of the UK Research Staff Association (UKRSA) was discussed as a supporting mechanism that could also complement and enhance research staff opportunities for professional development. UKRSA not only provide a “voice” and representation, but can also be used as a powerful community-building and skills-building mechanism to drive forward individual and collective research staff professional development.

D3: Developing research staff: using structured programmes to increase engagement and enhance outcomes

My final workshop session was led by Michelle Paterson (Staff Developer for Research Staff) at the University of St Andrews. Michelle presented the innovative and successful university ‘Passport to Research Futures”. Setup in 2014, this provides a clearly structured programme offering research staff either:

  1. A university-recognised-and-certified ‘Passport;’ or
  2. An ILM-recognised-and-certified route (development award).

As with many universities, challenges linked to lack of the following were present, however the ‘Passport to Research Futures’ has helped overcome these for some researchers:

The passport focuses on personal development through 9 units including induction. There is no assessment or homework and training is structured around courses already delivered within the university in half-day block. In addition there is support such as: mentoring, lunchtime networking, epigeum, and a social learning group using yammer.

And this was only a small reflection of hte conference - see my Vitae 2015 Plenaries page and blog for more info.

Vitae 2015 Plenaries

DAY 1 Vitae 2015 Opening Plenary – Dr Janet Metcalfe (Vitae), Irmela Brach (ERA), Emilda Rivers (US HRS), Chris Millward (HEFCE)

Having introduced to the context and landscape for the conference and congratulating the new and re-awarded HR Excellence Framework universities, Dr Janet Metcalf, (Chair and Head of Vitae) introduced the following speakers. 

Irmela Brach (Policy Officer, European Research Area – ERA - Policy and Reform Unit, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission).

One of the main things that Irmela Brach presented was a new European political priority/strategy “OPEN”, which has three focus areas:

  1. OPEN to Innovation (linked to the European Innovation Council)
  2. OPEN to Science
  3. OPEN to the World

She also discussed the international context and supporting researchers through the HR Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) to be published mid-September. Highlighting changes in the HRS4R, and mentioning a potential Gender Equality Plan (similar to the HR Excellence Framework, linked to ATHENA Swan). noting the following areas as important for supporting researchers within the ERA:

At the end she noted that

Janet disagreed with this and was supported in saying that she thought the sector needs to learn “how to present our product” as there is a high value and skills demonstrated by the quantitiy and high quality of the researchers produced.

Emilda Rivers (Director of Human Resources Statistics Program (HRS), National Science Foundation, USA)

Emilda focused on data for all science graduates collected by the National Centre for Science Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

Since 1973, NCSES issues questionnaires every 2 years to researchers who have completed their doctorate until they are 75 years old. This means that they capture a wealth of useful data from entry into doctorate to entry - and exit from - the workplace.  The statistics can then be used, for example, to look at how different stages of researcher development are impacted, and what means for policy.

Not only is this a massive task which provides a wealth of useful data, but the response rates are truly enviable! 76.4% (for the bi-annual response rate) was by no means the highest % response for some of the data shared…

Emilda highlighted that this data – due to be published in 2016 (and given a world-exclusive premier at Vitae):

One of the key messages Emilda left with was that access to data such as this

Chris Millward (Director of Policy, Higher Education Funding Council for England - HEFCE)

Chris addressed the conference by contextualising the UK environment and highlighting the importance that a Masters route was becoming for those entering postgraduate research arena:

And with 44% of students in England indicating they are “likely” or “certain” to go on to PGR, Chris noted that the key concerns for those entering, and the barriers to those considering entering, were mainly linked to finance, e.g. the cost fees, resultant debt.

Highlighting that the UK government’s Autumn 2014 statement (supporting student loans) and the  March 2015 budget (with a commitment to 'broaden and strengthen support' for PGRs are both positive measures in support of research., and driven by the Treasury interest and acknowledgement of the value these researchers bring to the country as a whole as well as to productivity and the economy.

Chris also noted future government policies and spotlights, such as

DAY 1 - Half plenary session 2: Research staff: experiences and talent management - Indi Seerhra (LSE), Dr Robin Mellors-Bourne (CRAC), Professor Ritsert Jansen (University of Groningen), Dr Miguel Jorge (University of Strathclyde)

The second plenary was split into two group, one focusing on doctoral education, and the other on research staff. I attended plenary 2, chaired by Indi Seerhra (Director of Human Resources, London School of Economics and Political Science) who introduced the session and highlighted the EU scheme - RESAVER : a single European pensions arrangement for all researchers - due to launch in 2015, further promoting multi country and multi employer equality and mobility. See http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/index.cfm/links/singleNews/46910

Dr Robin Mellors-Bourne (Acting Chief Executive Officer, CRAC)

Robin commenced the half-plenary with a discussion on career aspiration vs career expectation. This was based on the CROS and PIRLS 2015 outcomes which indicate that circa 75% of respondents want to be an academic; something which is unrealistic given the number of posts available. Furthermore, there was a discussion regarding how these staff are supported by universities and their line managers, and how well equipped their they feel to support others.

This was important as two-thirds of research staff are getting appraisals now (an increase but not yet inline with the corporate sector), which mean that challenges exist linked to the confidence, importance and skills that line managers have in developing research staff, managing finances and managing other research staff’s performance/people management skills.

The next speaker from the University of Cambridge, Karina Presad (Head of Office, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs - OPdA) provided an inspiring vision for supporting research staff and allowing them more control and input into both the running of a posdoc community, and its’ logistics and organisation. The focus of this was for the “postdoc community … knowing they are not alone.”

Some highlights of this were:

Professor Ritsert Jansen (Dean of Talent Management, University of Groningen)

Professor Ritsert presented his views based on the Groningen models allowing researchers to:

Dr Miguel Jorge (Lecturer, University of Strathclyde)

Addressed the audience on the Voice of Researchers Conference, and suggested a few improvements to research staff support such as:

DAY 2 - Dr Janet Metcalfe (Chair and Head of Vitae), Professor Tristram Hooley (Professor of Careers Education, Head of ICeGS, University of Derby) Dr Pete Jones (Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists)

The schedule for Day 2 was just as hectic!

Day two plenary focused on “Challenging Assumptions”.  Dr Janet Metcalfe (Chair and Head of Vitae) led fascinating sessions about

  1. Image, identity and career image linked to job success (Professor Tristram Hooley, Professor of Careers Education, Head of ICeGS, University of Derby) – whether ‘halo’ or ‘beauty-is-beastly’ effects; and
  2. Unconscious bias within the research environment and how we are wired defines  (Dr Pete Jones, Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists) – understanding “what fires the brain” so we can “rewire” the brain, so that negative unconscious patterns don’t drive decisions in important or stressful situations.

Both of these raised interesting questions about understanding ourselves and others, and what projections and assumptions – consciously or unconsciously we attribute to others. Moreover they are of concern for researchers themselves as many blogs highlight, and occur within and across genders.

Understanding what drives or creates these assumptions allows us to try to control and reverse any negative or less-helpful responses in situations where we need to be - and have a duty to encourage others to be - impartial (e.g. in power dynamic fuelled relationships such as: CV-based selection, interviews, researcher selection, research evaluation, promotion).

For the remainder of the day I attended some really great workshop sessions - see my Vitae 2015 Workshops page  or Vitae 2015 blog for more thoughts.

Scottish CanSat Competition

Scottish CanSat logo

First-ever Scottish CanSat Competition 

 AND the Winners of the EUROPEAN CanSat Competition 2012 are...

 TEAM ALPHA - Congratulations!!!

See our 'Scotland Wins the CanSat Race to Space' blog for the most recent update on the Bearsden Academy European CanSat Competition winners, including links to their European CanSat blog and the Scottish CanSat Journey that let to them winning the Fistral CanSat Trophy and a place in the European Final. 

 ***N.B. There is no Scottish competition planned for 2013 - but watch this space for more information***

Congratulations to the winners of the Scottish 2012 Competition...

Team Alpha from Bearsden Academy, Glasgow!!

Bearsden Academy winners of the Scottish CanSat Competition 2012

Bearsden Academy's winning team with Fraser Robertson (Managing Director of Fistral Training and Consultancy Ltd.) who presented Team Alpha with the Fistral Scottish CanSat Trophy 2012, their teacher Richard Ford, mentors from the University of Strathclyde, Hugo Marée from the European Space Agency, and Dr Paul Lyden and Pauline Donachy from Fistral - organisers and mentors of the Scottish competition.

Hugo Marée - Head of the European Space Agency's Education and Knowledge Management Office - was among the group of eminent judges, sponsors and supporters at the final. Hugo said: 

See the Launch blog and Final blog for more details, photos and links to the coverage by BBC Radio Scotland's 'MacAulay & Co' programme.

Competition with Collaboration  

So what is a CanSat then? 

Organised by the European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education (NAROM), CanSat is a competition for teams of high school students across Europe to design, develop and build a working satellite experiment which can fit into a drinks can. See CanSat 2012 for more information.

Dr Paul Lyden is organising the first-ever Scottish national competition with the winning team launching their design at the European finals in April 2012 at Andøya Rocket Range in Norway. There, the design will be sent into space in a rocket - up to an altitude of 1 km - to conduct their experiments and (hopefully!) return safely with results. Based on the whole-project success, a European winner is selected. Last years' final can be seen on YouTube: EuroNews Space.

Fistral Training & Consultancy Ltd. will be donating time and expertise to manage the Scottish element of the project as a whole; will provide practical support to each of the Scottish schools; and is sponsoring the Scottish CanSat trophy. Additional supporters of this initiative include the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Institute of Physics Scotland, Science Connects, Irn Bru, ClydeSpace and the STEM Ambassador programme.

Hopefully many universities and other Scottish sponsors will get involved in the race to space: if you're interested just get in touch.

Support from The Scottish Government

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP says: 

"This is an exciting and innovative competition, that I am sure those taking part will finding challenging. Good luck to all of those taking part and representing Scotland."

Competition Key Dates
Date Activity Location & other info

Wed 2nd Nov 2011 

Training Day - Teachers Workshop

10:00-15:30 University of Glasgow, James Watt (South) building, room 611 on the third floor (marked A1 on the GU campus map).  Training days and tech information.

Mon 12th Dec 2011 Review 1

Hosted by each school. CDR dates for each school and timings. *Updated due to weather*

Thu 1st Mar 2012 Review 2 Email submission: see FRR details, and Training days and tech information. *Updated due to exams*
Wed 21st Mar 2012* Scottish 'Launch' 10:30-14:30 Strathaven Airfield, via microlight, details on request, email paul@fistraltraining.com
Wed 28th Mar 2012 Scottish Competition Final  09:45-15:40 Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, details on request, email paul@fistraltraining.com
Sun 22nd to Fri 27th April 2012

European Competition Launch Campaign

All week, Andøya Rocket Range in Norway

 *A reserve date of Friday 23rd March 2012 is being held as contingency for the launches. Subsequent Launch Report to be submitted Mon 26th Mar 2012.

Partners & Schools
Partners        Schools Team Name 

 - ESA

       - Bearsden Academy, Glasgow

 Team Alpha 


       - Carrick Academy, South Ayrshire*

 Team Apogee* 

 - Fistral Training & Consultancy Ltd

       - Clydebank High School, West Dunbartonshire*


 - STEMNET Ambassadors Programme

       - Dollar Academy, Clackmannanshire*

 Dollar CanSat* 

 - Royal Observatory Edinburgh

       - Greenfaulds High School, North Lanarkshire


 - Science Connects

       - Hutcheson's Grammar School, Glasgow  

 - Institute of Physics Scotland        - Kings Park Secondary School, Glasgow   Team Dynamo 
 - A.G. Barr Plc. (Irn Bru)        - Largs Academy, North Ayrshire    Orbitech

 - T-Minus Engineering

       - Lomond School, Helensburgh

 - Clyde Space

       - Vale of Leven Academy, West Dunbartonshire

 Leven Orbit

 - Amanda Hemphill Photography



 - PlasmaCow Design



 - Heaney Media


 - Renishaw      


 * These teams have withdrawn from the competition. Thanks for all their support this year, and we look forward to seeing them in the competition again next year!

Scottish and European links

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