Responding to change or setbacks | The Careers Service Responding to change or setbacks – Oxford University Careers Service
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Opening the conversation

Creating change in your work patterns, or setting, can help you move on in your thinking and create new, unforeseen openings.

At some point in your life, perhaps while you’re at Oxford, you will need to do something that feels quite radical in order to step off a familiar track that is no longer good for you. Sometimes change is forced upon you: a supervisor moves to a different university, funding runs out or your research group is re-configured.

While there is truth in the familiar saying “be the change you want to see”, it requires courage and a willingness to bear some less comfortable experiences along the way.

The Careers Service is here to support you in planning for change, and going about it.

We recommend reading how others have responded to the particular challenges that exist in academia. You will see the weaknesses in professional systems more clearly, put your motivations in context, and, quite possibly, be inspired to try new directions or even fashion a role that fits your talents and priorities. You may then want to book an appointment with a Careers Adviser to discuss these.

Ibarra’s book ‘Working Identity’ is useful for anyone thinking about moving on from academia after a post-doc, or similar mid-career transitions. It contains case studies and a framework to evaluate your experiences when trying out new directions. Reference copies are available in the Careers Service resource room.

Other helpful sources include pieces by PhD students and postdocs: An experienced Oxford DPhil student shares tips on exploring your work preferences and options beyond academia in a Nature article. And one Canadian postdoc recounts what she learns about academia through her attempts to get a permanent position and why she decided to become an independent professor and consultant researcher, as well as her life story.

Senior academics are also starting to identify the structural problems within academia and make clear strategic suggestions to PhD students and postdocs.

Talk to your peers, departmental administrators and faculty to see what you can do together to create an open conversation about change and build a culture of support.

Overcoming a sense of academic failure: Podcasts & Workbook

Many of us have phases where we have no idea what we’re doing, or everything feels like it’s going wrong: that we are failing, or even that we are failures. Sometimes such phases feel less like phases than a permanent default. And often we assume – wrongly – that no one else ever feels the same.

This is an initiative intended to help make it OK to think and talk about failure. It grew out of an event held in June 2016 which brought together DPhil students, early-career academics, and researchers at later stages of their careers in academia or beyond, for a frank conversation about academic failure and success. The event made clear how powerful it can be to acknowledge perceived failures, talk about them, reframe them, and learn from them, rather than bottling them up and pretending they never happened.

The resulting resources currently include a series of five audio podcasts and a workbook.

The workbook offers prompts to reflect on your experiences, alter your perspective on them, and take action to continue learning in the future. It also includes CVs of failure from some of the event speakers.

The podcasts explore things in a little more depth, with the help of contributions from some of our speakers plus other people at different career stages. The podcasts are not short (around half an hour each) and will reward focused engagement. We recommend that you take some quiet time to listen, perhaps with a pen and paper to hand.

The Workbook

You can download the workbook here.

This initiative was developed jointly by: 

Podcasts on experiences of failure

Podcast 1: The Feeling of Failure

What does failure feel like, and what happens when you sit with it?

Podcast 2: Failure and other people

Other people (or our idea of them) can induce feelings of failure and alleviate or transform them.

Podcast 3: Failure and the farewell to academia

Why does the idea of leaving academia so often feel like professional failure?

Podcast 4: What to do about it all: Personal attitudes

How to change your own attitudes to failure and success, and how failure relates to regret.

Podcast 5: What to do about it all: Personal actions

How to take action to change the role failure plays in your life.

  • Susan Blackmore: psychologist, lecturer, and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences; Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth
  • Julia Bray: A.S. AlBabtain Laudian Professorial Fellow in Arabic, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford; Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford
  • Rachel Bray: Careers Adviser for Postgraduate Research Students and Research Staff, Careers Service, University of Oxford; Research Associate, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford
  • Chiara Cappellaro: Research Fellow in Linguistics, University of Oxford; Knowledge Exchange Fellow, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), University of Oxford)
  • Barbara Gabrys: Academic Visitor, Department of Materials, University of Oxford
  • Adam Hart-Davis: photographer, writer, and broadcaster
  • Jaz Hill-Valler: DPhil student, Department of Physics, University of Oxford
  • Leanne Hodson: Associate Professor of Diabetes and Metabolism, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Dan Holloway: Head of Administration and Finance, Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford; founder of Mycelium
  • Ritchie Robertson: Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford; Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford.
  • Chris Wickham: Chichele Professor of Medieval History (emeritus); Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

We thank all our contributors for talking so openly about their experiences and what they have learned from them.

Give us your views on our sense of failure resources
Do you need more help?

New to Oxford?

Join the Oxford Research Staff Society (OxRSS) to meet other researchers, join in on social activities in and around the city, and ensure your voice is heard in university decision-making.

Your partner or family will find a warm welcome at Oxford’s Newcomers Club, an organisation, run by volunteers and hosting regular gatherings. The club’s aim is to help those accompanying newly-arrived visiting scholars, graduate students or newly-appointed academic and administrative members of the University to settle in and to give them the opportunity to meet people in Oxford

Facing redundancy?

Your first line of advice and support is the staff-member in your department responsible for Human Resources (HR). If you are unsure who this is, or want advice from someone with a wider perspective, we recommend talking to the HR team in your Division. More details on how to get advice plus University policies and procedures are on the OU Personnel Services site.

Need more support?

The Counselling Service is here to help all Oxford students gain understanding and insight into any difficulties they may be experiencing, to develop emotional resilience and put into effect real change, enabling the fulfilment of academic and personal potential. The Service offers free and confidential support, but it is not an emergency service.

Research staff members can call on the support of the Occupational Health Service (OHS). This team comprises specialist clinical staff that provide independent advice to employers and employees concerning the relationship between health and work, and the effects one has on the other.

This information was last updated on 17 September 2018.
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Recent blogs about Responding to change or setbacks

Communication Skills for Researchers: Improv Workshop

Blogged by Rachel Bray on 22/11/2018.

Looking to be a more confident communicator?

There are still a few places left on this 2-hour masterclass led by an expert facilitator. Book your place now to avoid disappointment!

When: Tuesday 27 November, 16:00 – 18:00
Where: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road, Oxford

The session introduces improvisation techniques to:

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Keen to work in policy? Book your spot now

Blogged by Rachel Bray on 22/11/2018.

Leveraging your PhD or Postdoc for Policy Roles is an expertly-resourced, interactive session focused on what it takes to move from research training into policy roles, and how to understand – then make the most –  of emerging opportunities in sectors of interest to you.

Please book your place using your CareerConnect account.

When: Tuesday, 4 December 2018, 13:00 – 16:00
Where: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road
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Events for Researchers in Weeks 7 and 8

Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 15/11/2018.

Closing soon: Win £5,000 to carry out a research project next summer!

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Posted on behalf of Anna Tankel. Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 02/11/2018.

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Where: Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road.

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