Things researchers/academics ought to be trained for...but AREN'T — R Voice

Things researchers/academics ought to be trained for...but AREN'T

Andrea Hayward
Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
edited August 2021 in Academic Careers

Over the past couple of months, I've seen a theme emerge across several conversation threads here on R Voice. It's something to the effect of "Sure, that's something researchers should receive training for. But lets not get into that because it would be a whole other conversation for another day." I've also seen this come up on academic Twitter too many times for it to be a coincidence. So I decided it's time we had this conversation.

Let's talk about training in academia (or the lack thereof) - In your opinion and from your own experiences, what are some of the things researchers/academics ought to trained for, but don't necessarily receive any training in?

Comments

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    Shoutout to @Raj sundaram and @Shruti Turner for making me think about this actively and for inspiring this post 🙂

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2021

    Oh gosh, this feels like it could be a long list....ready...just for the ones that come to my mind right now? I have no doubt that there will be others I have missed.

    1. Mentoring/Supervision
    2. How to teach
    3. How to mark fairly
    4. How to write a publication
    5. How to write ethics applications
    6. How to find appropriate funding
    7. How to write a grant/funding application
    8. How to initiate a collaboration/network with academics
    9. What to do at a conference to get the most out of it
    10. What a research career is actually like/what's required
    11. How to establish links abroad
    12. Statistics/How to find the right way to analyse your data
    13. Nuances between qualitative and quantitative work and how they complement each other, and avoiding faux pas!
    14. How to look after your mental health
    15. How to research sustainably (maybe a bit out there, but in this day and age I think it's important...and I mean sustainably for the longevity of research and for the good of the planet!)

    I feel like these are all things that as communities we can help address (whether we should have to or not is a different question) but I think it's great to see the range of webinars coming through the R platform that address various of these already!

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @Shruti Turner thank you so much for spending time listing these out. You've covered so many important ones. It's terrifying to think how many of these are imperative to success in academia, and no one is thinking about streamlining training around them.

    "I think it's great to see the range of webinars coming through the R platform that address various of these already!" - ❤️

    We're surely trying to increase the breadth of topics we're able to cover and keep these webinars coming. I think hearing from the community in terms of what kind of help and support they need is always helpful and we're very grateful to you and the other Founding Members for constantly sharing your thoughts and feedback to this end.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
    edited July 2021
  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I am sure there are ones I have missed out, unfortunately. It feels like a hefty list already! I agree with you, that it is terrifying that these things that are integral to a positive work environment, future success and promoting mental health are sort of just forgotten about/expected that you'll know them.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing the upcoming webinars, I'm sure I will be able to learn much from them! There are things that come up that I don't realise I need until they are there. I love that. Everyday is a learning day for sure.

    Together I feel we all work together to make R Voice a success, seeing the growth of the whole R platform shows this. Without the tech team, administrators, members, founding members, contributors on all levels I don't think we would have the community we do.

  • Asli Telli
    Asli Telli Member Posts: 42 ✭✭✭

    Thanks or the question and curiosity dear @Andrea Hayward : we do come to think of this often, but mostly do not have the guts to admit! @Shruti Turner what an admirable list; I have come to terms with many colleagues who believe they do not need training for most of these items and won‘t take any advice. Such a struggle we are facing in academia within our comfort zones. Especially with mental health care and sharing challenges, we do feel half paralysed when real issues are at stake. I feel this is genuinely because we do not care about the initial implications for things going gradually wrong with our mental state. We think as long as we can study, research, teach and publish, the essentials are there to save us. Sooo wrong and unsustainable. We should discuss further on the stigma as well as the needs not recognized or even denied.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Your insight into this topic is really interesting, @Asli Telli - I think I do agree with you that there is some ego getting in the way of admitting that there are areas of training that we (as an academic population) could benefit from. I know that I've seen/heard anecdotes about heads of department/supervisors etc who could do with various of these trainings themselves.

    RE the mental health aspect, I agree - I feel we are conditioned to believe that the longer/harder we work the more successful we will be. When in reality, I think most of the time it's not hard work alone that will make us successful, especially when we are tired and our mental (and sometimes physical) health is not being considered. I feel a change in widespread attitude is what's needed...what I see on Twitter/R Voice gives me faith that may be happening. But, that might be my social media echo chamber!

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2021

    Impressive list, @Shruti Turner and thank you to @Asli Telli for pointing out that academics "who believe they do not need training for most of these items and won‘t take any advice" exist.

    In my observation, this is more common than we might want the way things to be. 

    Also, @Shruti Turner - "that might be my social media echo chamber!" Yep, sorry. still there is light and hope, I guess its better to believe so than slip into nihilism. 😂

    More seriously, think it's important to take the hope, while seeing other dimensions of reality.

    Sorry, chipping in late - here is my list. Thanks for pulling me into this discussion, @Andrea Hayward

    (1) Financial management + ethics [for various types of funds - from industry, government, collaborations, etc.]

    (2) Ethics in research, publications, inventions (credit assignments, etc.)

    (3) Data management and sharing, Data security

    (4) Related to (2) and (3) - intellectual property and management

    (5) Human resource management, emotional intelligence and awareness (of self and others), conflict management, aspects of empathy, how human beings work, team management, power/sexual harassment (what constitutes these things).

    (6) And the most important training - for today's leaders and those to come - the simple lesson "humans are not tools or robots". Ethical treatment of subordinates including aspects of individual mental health, maternity/paternity circumstances...(work-life balance for all hierarchies). Basically, how to create helpful work environments. With clear definitions of what constitutes toxic work environment and what to avoid. Training in how to play in the VAST middle ground between free-range/law of jungle and tenuous micromanagement.

    (7) Bias (racial/cultural differences) training - including microagressions.

    (8) Training on how to be an advisor, that starts with making leaders aware that advisors have the power to break or make a person's life and career.

    (9) How to negotiate and allow negotiations in discussions.

    (10) Team building and team management, and how to recruit.

    And providing training to actually improve and not just check boxes in some sheet of paper that will be preserved for 100 years by the HR department. 😋

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
    edited August 2021

    Very interesting discussion @Asli Telli and @Shruti Turner. I agree with you both that there is a lot of hesitation in academia for admitting that you need training in a certain area. As frustrating as this might be, I don't think it has to do with ego, but rather with a lack of normalization for admitting that you don't know something. Seems like a toxic cycle to me really - People might not know something or may lack a certain skill because they haven't received training --> they're expected to know and might even be ridiculed by others who had to rough it out and/or teach themselves --> they develop a fear around admitting they're wrong or don't know something --> and then because of the "I suffered so you must to and this is the way we've done things for years" mentality, the cycle just perpetuates itself with no one really recognizing the real need for training or admitting that they need it. What do you guys think?

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
    edited August 2021

    @Raj sundaram thanks so much for adding to this conversation! So many great insights coming in from the community. I'm starting to feel like a large-scale survey on this topic should be rolled out across academia now. Think of the kind of insights that would generate! And then there's that glimmer of hope that if the call for change came from enough researchers, people in charge might actually consider doing something 🙄

    The pointers from your list that really got me thinking are training in financial management, publication and research ethics, leadership training, and training on how to be an advisor. Just the other day I was reading an article on how this one university in India (specifically Haryana) included a mandatory course on publication ethics into their doctoral program across research areas. It was their attempt to address concerns about Indian researchers engaging in unethical publication practices on account on not having received any instruction or training in this area. The course not only included theory and reading material but students were also required to do practical "homework" such as identifying predatory journals, identifying instances of publication misconduct in case studies, etc. They reported that students quite enjoyed the course and even performed well. Wondering how many other universities might consider adopting something similar. Only time will tell, I suppose.

    Sharing the article below, in case you're interested --


  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2021

    I find it interesting that you separate the ego from the environment of admitting that we don't know something, @Andrea Hayward. I think perhaps a fairer and less cynical way of looking at it! I think as I was writing I had specific people in mind, but as I read your post I have thought about the wider picture. Individuals can't always be blamed for things that the environment doesn't allow. Definitely, I agree it is a toxic cycle!

    I have found there are a lot of grad school/post doc courses available for training in some of these different things mentioned. So, I guess there is an awareness that these things are necessary. However, I am one of the only people I know who has attended more than the compulsory number which we need to pass a PhD. I attended various of them for my own benefit and learning, which others don't seem to want to. I feel like this approach comes perhaps from the supervisors/other researchers in the lab. Whilst it is technically compulsory to do the teaching/marking grad school courses before taking up a graduate teaching assistant role, many people don't and the departments don't seem to enforce it. I have even heard of supervisors asking when their PhD students will "make up the time on their research" because they have done a morning at a training course. These things I think highlighting your point about the toxic cycle rather than entirely the fault of the individual.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    Yep. The course sounds awesome and more such initiatives carried out with seriousness are needed.

    Oh...the toxic cycle of being shamed for admitting one doesn't know something is extremely common in academia. Besides "training lists", the attitude affects research itself. Because it so happens that actual research needs us researchers to admit that we don't know stuff and from time to time, we even need to admit that we are wrong. Oh my god! And the system makes zero space for this.

    And that's why every paper needs to be ground breaking and every author needs to pretend that they have discovered the wheel for the first time. 🤣

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    "Individuals can't always be blamed for things that the environment doesn't allow."

    I wish we as societies were more aware of this. Academia as a system certainly doesn't even take this into consideration in its game of selection and elimination, sadly. Quite in the contrary, most societies at ground and practical level blame and punish their weakest and most vulnerable.

    Thats our era of rugged individualism with its facade of "choices" and misplaced individual responsibility, unmindful of power dynamics...

    In this context, your logically reasonable statement needs to be somewhat chiseled into psyches of entire populations, political and social systems as well as several institutions. 🙂

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    @andrea Hayward. One more point in the list I forgot to add explicitly in terms of ethics (financial or otherwise) are...training on aspects of conflicts of interest

    and education about power, effects of power dynamics. (Power thing...implied in the "make or break" point I suppose). 🙂

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2021

    Agreed on so many levels! I have to remind myself when things other people do bother me, because they're not okay in "my world". We are a product of the society we have grown up in, which we don't all have a choice about. I am sure there are naive things that I do, because I don't know any better. I just hope that there are people around me who will tell me so I can learn from those things and grow as a person.

    What really bothers me, is when people are made aware but they choose not to do anything about it because they can't be bothered/don't care/doesn't bother them etc. This is where I believe individual responsibility really lies, to be honest. I think due to my researcher mindset I go out and find answers, so I find it difficult that there are people out there who just don't do this, which ties into my belief that the people being undermined/targeted etc shouldn't have to hold the burden of teaching others. BUT, putting that gripe aside...I feel the least people can do, in and out of academia, is to act on information they are handed.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Ooh, I'm glad you added another one, @Raj sundaram as I have another one too...something that came to mind last night when I was trying to sleep (and clearly worrying about my work!) was how to do a literature review..and what the different strategies are. I never got taught, a scoping review, a narrative review, a systematic review, a meta analysis....etcetc

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭


    "What really bothers me, is when people are made aware but they choose not to do anything about it because they can't be bothered/don't care/doesn't bother them etc. This is where I believe individual responsibility really lies, to be honest. "

    hmmm....I agree with your concept of personal responsibility - partly. Because that is the ideal case scenario. People are made aware of consequences/choices, then people make the a choice that is constructive. But unfortunately, we humans dont work that way. Because if this was the case, we would have started taking active action against global warming at the least 50 years ago. We would have CHOSEN to end war, end nuclear arms race, etc. We would have chose to not make a million other OBVIOUSLY stupid choices as an entire civilization/entire societies/countries right down to local communities/individuals sitting on the kind of information/data/technology/power we have.

    From my observation, lack of change in behavior tends to be because there are NO incentives to change and/or there is insufficient discouragement for choosing status quo. Both come from the environment, which looks away, silently encourages or even openly rewards lack of change.

    I am not saying this to absolve personal responsibility (that is a different philosophical debate on the existence of free will).

    But, in general, most of us (humans) are conditioned to take short-cuts - our brains automatically default to spending least effort for most outcome. A lot of us (most of the time) work on a Pavlovian basis - whatever that will get us rewards (it could be social recognition, more resources, whatever...) and least amount of punishment/pain. Unless required behaviours are strongly incentivized and disincentivized and there is pressure from the environment to change, I dont think it is realistic for people to choose change.

    This is what history teaches us actively. As a collective, with the right nudges, we have immense power to effect change. For the good AND the bad.

    This is so because for most practical purposes, psychologically and physiologically we are still just a bunch of monkeys (I am probably insulting monkeys here) with fancy gadgets and technologies. No amount of philosophizing on ethics will do unless there are real life consequences for behaviors, me thinks. 😂

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    As always, @Raj sundaram , I totally see your point. I think you are kinder to people that I am in terms of forgiving lack of action. In my mind there should be no incentive to fix wrongs and make the world a better place. Do I believe that will actually happen? No. I'm not naive enough to think that, but it doesn't stop me being frustrated that people don't take personal responsibility or choose short cuts when there are clearly "better" (whatever is deemed better in the instance) ways.

    This monkey is fed up with the monkeying around!

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2021

    Haha, @Shruti Turner ....

    I am not forgiving at all. People who know me IRL know that a bit too well. 😅

    I'm more about placing the responsibility in the right place.

    My point is more like...I am angry with not individuals mostly, but collectives of people who have the power to and who's job it is to influence environments constructively, but refuse to do their damn job. They are the ones who are making excuses...to not do their job...in the name of "individual responsibility" or even "preserving" "freedom" (whatever the hell that means). It stinks that collectives and the more powerful shift blame and responsibility to individuals.

    I think the responsibility lies on everyone. We can probably agree on this. But...the proportion should be in accordance to level of power to effect change. And our era of individualism propagandizes the opposite. For one that individuals have power, which is BS.

    (Not one of our systems is made to have ACTUALLY give real power and choice to individuals. If we logically trace the root of any of our so-called choices, it's dead apparent. We operate behind the facade of freedom, choice, etc. And I'd argue, indeed, it's not good to have too much individual power or even choice. )

    And then, it all devolves into gaslighting of those individuals with the least power and influence (with most sense of responsibility), and party time for those individuals who happen to understand and pick up on the tabs that there are incentives or no punishment for bad behaviour. Few can resist the temptation or even the pressure/necessity to conform (to cheat, not change, "succeed" or whatever else). WW II history is all that one needs to read and understand to see this. I don't think this is an active choice. It is human nature.

    Quoting/paraphrasing Adam Curtis: "Politicians became managers" not those who make the hard decisions to effect positive change.

    One example is politics, which has become more about pleasing a vote bank and the vote bank is brainwashed into stupidity by privilege or bad education or poverty or a carrot on the stick....or other environmental factors.

    And that is what has become of ALL collectives with power in most institutions. And that is why not much changes. Not much will change...unless a massive thing happens (like the pandemic)....even then...😅

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Ah yes, I see your point more clearly now. Thank you for clarifying, @Raj sundaram. I can only hope (without much conviction) that we can move forward to a new way of thinking which yield a change of behaviour and actions.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @Raj sundaram @Shruti Turner excellent examples about how the system and the academic environment doesn't leave room for admitting you don't know something or that you're wrong. Seems very ironic when the nature of scientific inquiry is based on the hope of a new discovery or a new way of doing something we already know about, as Raj said.

    @Shruti Turner I'm glad you brought up the issue of being encouraged to take up training courses sometimes, but with a "do it on your own time" attitude. If it's necessary for an essential skill as a researcher, it makes absolutely no sense for you to have to "make up" for time spent on it. Such a contradictory situation. No wonder, most people prefer attending only those training sessions which are mandatory 😓

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @Shruti Turner I think I can relate to what you're saying here and even this comment - "What really bothers me, is when people are made aware but they choose not to do anything about it because they can't be bothered/don't care/doesn't bother them etc."

    When I read this, I thought of the thousands of people here in India who were refusing to wear masks even when we were in the middle of one of the ugliest second waves of COVID-19 in the world and we were adding almost 500,000 new cases a day. I was constantly frustrated and even angry with people I didn't know and would probably never meet, simply because they didn't seem bothered by the consequences their actions were having. And even though the "best" option was made very clear to them. The fact that they were ignoring all pleas and even instruction and showing no empathy for others was just beyond me at the time.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Agreed about the irony! I feel like academia is full of examples that seem so contradictory...exactly as you mention the one about training courses too. I feel like there really needs to be a change in mentality. I'm grateful that my supervisor is pro-training and has even suggested ones that she thinks I would benefit from, but has never questioned me on my work output. More people like this in positions of responsibility/power would be great.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I am sorry you have to deal with this frustration on such a large scale, especially for something as vitally important as public health! I feel the same way, and get frustrated about the selfishness of the actions during the pandemic. Particularly when people have the approach of "I'm young/healthy it won't affect me" and there are many people out there who are not in that position they could protect.

    The only way I have found to cope with this, especially when it's people I know/am close to, is to compartmentalize. I channel some of the things that @Raj sundaram has outlined in this and other posts...people are selfish naturally (because biology) and there's nothing I can do about it. These people are good in my life for X, Y and Z but that doesn't mean I have to meet up with them or have certain conversations multiple times which will just make me (and them maybe) uncomfortable. We can influence our own feelings by choosing to accept and doing everything in our power to live the life to the standards we in which we believe.

    I say this and I worry I make it sound so easy. This is my rational brain, rather than my emotional one. I personally find it a really difficult thing to accept, it's something that has been impacting my mood a lot over the past year or so in particular. I wish I had a solution for you that was easy to implement and fool-proof. I'm sending so many hugs and wishes x

  • Gayatri Ramachandran
    Gayatri Ramachandran Member Posts: 237 ✭✭✭

    A very pertinent question that you have put forward @Andrea Hayward. In fact, this is exactly what I have heard many of my colleagues in their doctoral study discuss, in their 2nd or 3rd year, and they discuss this with frustration/irritation livid on their faces, which I empathise with, totally.

    Here I would like to draw your attention to something which needs change at the policy level from UGC. All institutes/universities that offer PhD programmes in India conduct Pre-PhD courses that offer research methodology, statistics, data analysis and some other specialised papers. Sadly, the bitter truth here is that, in universities at least, these are not at all given any importance (just a course to be completed and passed, that is all that the admin aims for). In my opinion, probably as part of revised NEP, major revisions and additions/deletions need to be conducted on the prevailing pre-PhD courses nationwide with an urgent need to implement the pointers which @Shruti Turner and @Raj sundaram have listed above.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
    edited January 14

    @Gayatri Ramachandran I completely agree with what you've said and have even experienced it myself during my Master's. I remember my friends and I being so frustrated and annoyed that something as important as statistics and research methodology was not being given enough importance and that most of the classes were being treated as a box-ticking exercise. We need change and quick!

  • Gayatri Ramachandran
    Gayatri Ramachandran Member Posts: 237 ✭✭✭

    @Andrea Hayward Right! "We need change and quick!" But is there a way Editage can propose this to the policy makers? Any such ideas or projects in the offing? If not, it could be considered (?)

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin
    edited January 17

    @Gayatri Ramachandran that's an interesting suggestion! I'm not aware of CACTUS' connections with Indian universities or those involved in policy at the moment. @chris leonard might be able to share some thoughts here?

    What I can tell you is that an initiative like the CACTUS Mental Health Survey was an early step in trying to understand what researchers are actually going through, what kind of struggles and challenges they're experiencing, and what kind of support and changes they expect. I'm not sure about the breadth of other initiatives and projects that will come out of this survey, but we're certainly continuing our efforts. :)

  • Gayatri Ramachandran
    Gayatri Ramachandran Member Posts: 237 ✭✭✭

    Sure @Andrea Hayward, the mental health survey is definitely one of THE best initiatives of Cactus-Editage as a brand, truly projecting service to researchers👏.

    @chris leonard Secretly wish that you affirm in the positive ;D

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 943 admin

    @Gayatri Ramachandran you're too kind! It's only because passionate researchers like you have supported the CACTUS Mental Health Survey and given us your time, that we were able to make so much progress on this front 🙂

    If you're on Twitter, please join us @CactusMHS