Monday, 22 July 2013

The Welsh Crucible

This year I applied for a place on the Welsh Crucible, and my application was accepted. The Welsh Crucible is a yearly scheme for researchers in Wales. It takes 30 researchers from different institutions and different disciplines and puts us all together for 3 workshops ("labs") over the summer, to see what interesting ideas and collaborations can be forged.

So I'm now talking about grant applications to a plant biologist in Cardiff, an environmental chemist in Bangor and a physical geographer in Aberystwyth, and I have a new network of future collaborators spanning a huge range of subjects.

Here are a few other thoughts about the experience, in no particular order:

It's a fantastic networking opportunity, a great way to make contacts for subjects outside your immediate area.

Over the course of the 3 labs I became better at introducing my research in a short and presentable manner. At the start I found this very difficult. At the end it's still hard, but I'm making progress. As a researcher I often feel that I can't really describe my research, full of its day-to-day technical details, in a way that anyone else will understand. One of the exercises they asked us to do was to write 100 words about our research, for a lay person. Another was speed-networking (just 3 minutes per person and then move on). My description of my work still varies, depending on who I'm talking to, but I'm much more happy to attempt it now. Doing these exercises not only helps us communicate with other researchers, but also makes us introspect and see if we're actually doing what we want to be doing.

Speed networking
Speed networking. Photo by Keith Morris.

The best interdisciplinary work is likely to come from a real working friendship where we already trust each other. So build these, and the rest will follow. The Crucible has actually made me take more of an interest in other disciplines and it allows me to feel that it is okay to do so. It's good to be interested in other disciplines, even if the REF assessment says otherwise. In fact its generally made me think about the longer term, about putting good foundations in place and not worrying about short term measurements, and individual wins and losses. From Crucible people I've learned about gallium teaspoons, arthritis inflammation and bone chomping, the placebo effect, dating rocks by luminescence under big black sheets, Jews in Scotland, and the problems of conducting health studies across populations of people.  I'll definitely go to more seminars from other departments now. And maybe I'll wander into some other departments' coffee rooms too...

The wants and offers wall
The wants and offers wall. Photo by Keith Morris.
We were asked to start off by introducing ourselves with a 9-slide pecha kucha presentation. Far more of the male participants than the female participants included a picture of their children in this introduction (about 8/19 male vs about 0/11 female).

Several of the Crucible participants were promoted or took on new positions of responsibility between lab two and lab three. One participant described it as a useful benchmarking experience. We look at others around us and see what can be achieved. 

We have some very talented and enthusiastic researchers across Wales. As a group, we cover a lot of research expertise, and we have the whole range of skills (people management, media engagement, conference organising, book writing, schools outreach, grant writing, presenting, teaching, etc). I look forward to meeting everyone again at the reunion.

All the 2013 Crucible attendees
All the Crucible 2013 attendees. Photo by Keith Morris.