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Some of the TRAIN ESRs at the Workshop Venue

 

We decided to hold the fourth TRAIN ESR workshop in Sheffield for a number of reasons, not least because it was a lot easier to coordinate a packed schedule in the center of TRAIN operations, but  primarily because we were drawing on the excellent resources of the University’s Think Ahead team to provide our ESRs with their award winning complementary skills training. The timing of the workshop was carefully chosen to allow those visiting the UK from our European centers to escape from the country ahead of the looming Brexit deadline of 28th March, something that was on everybodies’ minds but fortunately never came to pass. The complete failure of the country to understand the value of close cooperation with our nearest neighbours was starkly contrasted with the excellent and vital collaborative efforts that the ITN programme promotes and this gave us much to think about and discuss through the week.

 

With most people arriving in Sheffield at various times through the  weekend, an informal evening was planned in the very trendy Kelham Island area, which gave us an opportunity to catch up with news and outline plans for the week. It was an early night for everyone though, as the schedule for the first day of the workshop was quite a demanding one.

Day 1 of the proceedings started off with a short journal club hour where selected ESRs were asked to review and present two recent publications in the field of TRIB proteins and cancer. This was a good exercise in small group discussion and presentation, something that extended the experience of presenting individual journal items in the regular ESR journal clubs held by teleconference. Immediately following this we were treated to an excellent seminar by Dr Munitta Muthana from the University of Sheffield who not only provided an exceelent overview of her group’s innovative cell-based methods to target anticancer therapies to tumours but also gave a very useful personal account of her career profile to date, highlighting how balancing home and work life correctly is extremely important, especially for female academics. A valuable message to  ESRs everywhere.

After a DIY lunch in the many local restaurants and coffee bars in the area, proceedings moved to the main venue for the workshop, the excellent ICOSS Center at the heart of the University campus. Here it was head down for the next day and a half with ESR presentations on project progress mixed with discussions on the common approaches and new directions for research. To do this, the sessions were structured by Work Package theme so that the original context of the individual projects was recalled  and each session was preceded by a short introduction by the WP leads who outlined the aims of the WP and some of the emerging themes around the topics.  Importantly this time, considering the stage of their PhD research for most ESRs, time was also spent considering the structure and potential outputs for the individual theses. All in all it proved to be an exhasting but valuable set of discussion sessions for all of the ESRs.

 

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Day 2 concluded with a variant on the Workshop Dinner, with the whole group invited to enjoy an informal gathering at Graham’s house which was  refreshingly different to the usual visit to a restaurant. Great to be able to see ESRs and PIs mixing with each other for an evening.

With the project updates completed Day 3 was given over to a number of sessions on complementary skills that had been developed  by the University Think Ahead team. The main part of the day concentrated on a seminar entitled “CommercialAwareness” and consisted of several interactive and practical modules on; creativity/innovation/commercialisation; mapping research progress (thinking about possible future careers); Creative problem solving; intellectual property rights and visual business planning.

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Hard at work in the interactive Commercial Awareness workshop

After this it was time to turn to some more practical aspects of career progression with a fun and very practical session on interview styles and techniques in both the academic and non-academic environments. The ESRs had a great couple of hours interviewing each other for potential positions they had seen advertised recently.

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Interviewing in full swing

Day 4  The final morning of the workshop was given over fully to a very important subject that the ESRs had requested to feature in their training, that being the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. This session was delivered by Lesley Aicheson from Cerulean Training and was very enthusiastically received by all of those present. There was much food for thought and the highly diverse nature of our ESR group made for some very honest and revealing discussions. All in all a great way to finish what had been a very busy and informative week.

 

Brexit never happened either. Maybe we will get away without its malign complications impacting us?