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Fellowship application tips from UCL Research Facilitators

SophiaDonaldson10 June 2019

Money is crucial in research, and fellowships are a great mechanism to secure the money to pursue your own research ideas. In May four of UCL’s research facilitators kindly came to UCL Careers to deliver a workshop on “Writing a Successful Fellowship Application”. All three of UCL’s Schools were covered by Dr Jen Hazelton, Jacob Leveridge, Dr Melanie Bradnam, and Pascale Fanning-Tichborne, who also brought in two current fellowship holders, Dr Miranda Sheild Johansson (Leverhulme fellow) and Dr Lluís Masanes (EPSRC Early Career Research fellow). If you missed the event, they plan to run a similar workshop with us once a term – so check out our website for updates. But in the meantime, here are 5 top tips I took away from the session:

1) Know your funders

Perhaps it sounds obvious, but you need be aware of everyone who might be keen to give you money, whether they be Research Councils, charities, trusts, societies, the EU, your home country’s government etc. You should also know how they and their various funding streams differ in their focus, their reviewers, and their approach. Some may require very scientific applications, others may prefer a lay style. If you don’t do your homework, you risk missing opportunities and pitching your project ineffectually.

To help you, UCL subscribes to GrantFinder (https://search.grantfinder.co.uk/education), which you can use to research possible funding sources. And the research facilitation offices offer one-to-one appointments where you can chat through your options (as well as get feedback on your applications – see contacts for your school here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/research/about/contact), and newsletters to which you can sign-up to ensure you don’t miss deadlines.

2) Know the deadlines. ALL the deadlines.

Some funding streams have limits on the number of applications that can be sent per institution. For these, UCL operates an internal triage system where applications are first sent to research facilitation offices who will oversee a process to determine which applications get developed for submission to the funder. The internal deadline is (obviously) before the funder deadline – so if you don’t investigate this and only work to the funder deadline, you may find you’re too late. To avoid disappointment, sign up to research facilitator newsletters, check their websites and ask around your department to see which schemes operate an internal triage system.

3) Seek collaborations, partnerships, and support BEFORE you apply

The majority of funding applications will be rejected, so it can be tempting not to approach potential academic collaborators and industry partners until you know you’ve secured the money. But this is NOT the most sensible plan. Your applications have to seem well researched and doable to convince funders to hand over their cash – if you don’t actually have collaborators on board yet, your project may not happen. And just as importantly, your collaborators may offer valuable insights and advice to strengthen your applications. Rest assured, people understand funding may not come through first time, so aim to convince people that you and your project are worthwhile, and build good working relationships that can last through more than one funding call.

4) Be specific

About everything. We all know research methods and ideas can evolve over the course of a project, but funders want to know exactly how you’re going to be spending your time and their money. It makes you seem like a good bet. Those collaborators and partners you’ve already secured (a la point 3)? What exactly will they offer you? Support? Training? Expertise? Access to equipment? Why do you need it? And why are they the right people to offer it? Which methods will you use exactly, and why? What are your key outputs? And when will they be completed? And if you really don’t know yet, then be clear how you will decide and what will influence your decision. This doesn’t mean being overly technical (unless the funder requires it). It means showing you have a clear plan.

5) Interviews really count

If a funding application process involves an interview, said interview really counts. Applications will likely be given scores/ranked in the first round, but the message from the workshop was that the scores are almost reset for the interview. So everyone is on an equal footing and in with a shot. If reviewers have highlighted weaknesses in your application, be ready to address these in your interview (and always address them in writing too if given the chance). If progress has been made in your research/plan since you first submitted the application (and these processes can take a while, so interviewers might expect progress!), this is your chance to update the panel. And practice! We offer practice interviews, and even more importantly when it comes to funding interviews, so do the research facilitators, and your supervisors/departments may well do too if you ask!

Best of luck with your applications!

Many thanks for the workshop go to:

Dr Jen Hazelton, Senior School Research Facilitator, for The Bartlett, Engineering, and Mathematical & Physical Sciences, Jacob Leveridge, Deputy Director of Research Facilitation for UCL Arts & Humanities, UCL Laws, UCL Social & Historical Sciences, the UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, and Dr Melanie Bradnam and Pascale Fanning-Tichborne, Strategic Research Facilitators for the School of Life and Medical Sciences.

How to tackle psychometric tests

SophiaDonaldson9 December 2015

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Psychometric tests are one of the hoops some of you will have to jump through to get a job. Large employers often use these tests as a quick and easy way of cutting down the huge volume of applications they receive. So how should you tackle them? Well, firstly, don’t panic. Secondly, do prepare. And thirdly, don’t panic some more.

1) DON’T Panic

Easier said than done, right? Employers tell us that lots of people do panic. They assume they’ll fail and so they opt out of the recruitment process at the psychometric test stage without even sitting the test. And a few employers have told us that women self-select out a lot more than men. So stop doing that people! Especially female people! If you take the test you may pass and get through to the next application stage, or you may fail and not progress to the next stage. If you don’t take the test you’re certain not to progress. So give yourself a chance and take that test.

It’s quite common for employers to test verbal and numerical abilities (though not all will test both), and sometimes logical thinking too. The numerical tests can seem scary, especially if you’ve been studying a humanities degree for the past few years. But if employers are accepting applicants from all academic disciplines (and many are) then they’re clearly not looking only for maths geniuses. And some tests are designed to be extremely difficult, with too many questions for the assigned time. So people can often think they didn’t do very well and then find they passed.

2) DO Prepare

Saying that, you should probably panic a bit…but just enough to make sure you put appropriate time into preparing. Psychometric tests aren’t a walk in the park. If you’re out of practice working with graphs and numbers then you’re likely to be slow and perhaps even bad at numerical reasoning tests when you first look at them. Similarly, even if you think you’re good with words, verbal reasoning tests aren’t always straightforward, and may be harder than you expect.

But with practice you can improve. Check out your university careers service for resources, and try the range of free sample tests available online – just google ‘practice psychometric tests’. These websites provide feedback on how you compare to others in terms of speed and accuracy, helping you to gauge your ability and see if you’re improving. Always tap the free resources first, but if you’ve exhausted them and still aren’t confident, the same websites offer the option to buy more sample tests.

Another way to ensure you’re prepared is to find out as much as possible about your target employers’ tests. Psychometric tests can vary greatly, so it’s worth finding out which provider your target employer is using, and then focusing your practice on the same types of tests. It’s also useful to know whether your potential employer negatively marks their tests for incorrect answers. This information isn’t always readily available, but if you can find it, it will help you work out how to balance speed versus accuracy in your answers.

3) DON’T Panic….again

Preparation and practice will bring your performance up to its optimum level. But of course there is a peak point for every individual, past which they’re unlikely to improve. If you’ve put in the work and still not made the grade, don’t feel dejected. Different employers use different tests and different cut-off points – some much harder and higher than others – so one rejection shouldn’t put you off all employers with psychometric tests. And not all employers and roles require the completion of these tests, so think about other routes into your chosen career or employer. Another bit of good news is that there may well be a trend emerging of employers moving away from psychometric tests; this year Barclays scrapped theirs completely in order to make the recruitment process faster and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Image from Boaz Arad

Leaving academia? 5 CV don’ts

SophiaDonaldson2 November 2015

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Image adapted from Nicolas Raymond

Academics live in their own special world when it comes to CVs. So it’s no surprise that many researchers are baffled when they try to leave the ivory tower. Here are five mistakes to avoid in your non-academic CV.

Don’t…

 

…be too subject-focused

When you’re going for a post-doc or fellowship your subject of study may be all important. But when you move out of academia people will start to care more about the skills you’ve used and concrete things you’ve achieved. If you’re moving into an industry research role where your research subject is relevant, great, but for everything else a very simple PhD title should suffice.

…use too much technical jargon

If you’re moving into a job that has very little to do with your research area then using lots of technical terms risks 1) confusing recruiters and 2) painting you as someone who only cares about this very specific subject – i.e. the wrong person for the job.

…assume employers understand the value of your PhD years

Some employers actively target PhD graduates and are willing to pay a premium for them. This could be because they’re looking for particular subject expertise, but often it’s because of the skills developed during a PhD.

But a lot of employers may not immediately see the value of the extra qualification. Try to think of your PhD years as a job, and tell recruiters about the relevant tasks you took on and what you achieved. Maybe it’s about the multiple projects you managed through to completion, the research budgets you handled, the international collaborations you were involved with, or the writing skills you displayed.

…use the same CV for every application

A great CV is tailored to a specific role, so it should change slightly with each application. Think about which experiences, skills and achievements are most relevant to each role; These should be the ones you emphasise the most.

…waffle on

Academic CVs can often run very long. But outside of academia we don’t usually want to see anything longer than two pages, and some industries will expect a one page CV.

It pays to tailor your application

SophiaDonaldson24 April 2015

One piece of advice I give to jobhunting researchers time and again is to tailor. Always to tailor. If you want an employer to understand what you’ll bring to their team, you have to tell them. And you have to be specific. If after a quick name-change, you could send the exact same application off to another similar organisation, then you’re not being specific enough.

For lecturer applications, this means detailing with whom in the department you hope to collaborate, and the new modules or teaching methods you want to introduce. For non-academic positions, you’ll want to show you’re familiar with a company’s recent projects, future goals, and ways of working.

Of course tailoring your application will take more time and effort, but that’s part of the value. Employers want to know that you’re committed enough to do your research – that you’ve found out all about them, imagined yourself in the role, and you know exactly how you’ll contribute.

ninaresume.png

A fantastic (and admittedly rather extreme) example of creative application tailoring was reported in Business Insider earlier this week. Nina Mufleh wanted to work for AirBnB, so she put together an online CV (screenshot above) and tweeted it to Air BnB bigwigs. But this was no ordinary CV. With a format very similar to an AirBnB profile, the CV showcased Nina’s knowledge and understanding of the travel industry, and her vision for the future of AirBnB. It took her a week to put together, but it was well worth it, because it secured her an interview.

You can see Nina’s full CV here. If you’re a UCL researcher unsure about how to tailor an application, book a place on our applications workshop or a one-to-one session with a careers consultant. See our website for further details.