Efficiency savings add up

This post was written by Dr Bruce Sinclair, Director of Teaching in the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Our degrees in physics and astronomy are accredited by the UK Institute of Physics (IOP). The IOP requires paperwork and an inspection visit every five years to determine that the degrees remain acceptable for accreditation. This fits with a similar timescale to University-led Reviews of Learning and Teaching in Academic Schools.

Our School was pleased that CAPOD was willing to accept the documentation required by the IOP to be the main input for the University-led Review, and for the University-led Review visit to happen shortly after the IOP visit. This meant that a great deal of the preparatory effort for the inspections could be used for both. This was a useful increase in operational efficiency.

The School gained from our additional reflection on our activities that was catalysed by the preparation for the two reviews, as well as from the comments of the two sets of assessors. We are happy that both teams determined that learning and teaching was generally going well here, and we were pleased to receive suggestions about how we may wish to consider taking some things forward. Some actions have already been taken, and other actions are scheduled for the weeks ahead.

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Career Launch Conference – mission accomplished

January 2014 saw St Andrews’ first Career Launch Conference lift off. The three-day event was a mixture of employability workshops, inspirational speakers and networking opportunities, plus mock interviews and assessment centre exercises. Run by CAPOD, the Careers Centre and the Students’ Association, with support from TeachFirst and Accenture, the event pulled in some fifty delegates, several of whom have since met with career success. Kim Stehling is one of them:

career launch

“By the time I saw the Career Launch employability conference poster for the first time, I was already worrying about interviews and assessment centres I might soon be asked to attend. I signed up, realising that I could not miss out on the opportunity to increase my chances of success in the selection process by getting professional advice and learning about the experiences of others.

Initially I felt a little shy as I had signed up by myself, but the atmosphere soon made me feel like I was back in Freshers’ week of my first year, where it was perfectly acceptable to turn to a stranger and introduce yourself.

I found that extending my network by meeting new people and speaking to them about their career-related experiences was the best part of the conference. Especially when given the chance to speak to graduates who have had very promising starts to their careers. Although hearing about their impressive success stories might have seemed a little intimidating at first, they did a fantastic job in encouraging all delegates to be confident in your own abilities and to seek out career and networking opportunities.

The most valuable component of the conference agenda to me was the assessment centre challenges. In small groups we were set problems that could be part of a real assessment day. I was surprised at how enjoyable it was to tackle and solve the set problems in a group of people I had not previously known. The detailed feedback provided also made me realise how important supposedly small things such as eye-contact and nodding are to the assessor when judging your ability to work as a team player.

Apart from the insight into parts of the selection process, the main thing I took away from the conference was the confidence that I can achieve my career aspirations. I learned that especially when dealing with career set-backs, it is worth getting back up on your feet and seeking out the next development opportunity. I realised that with extensive preparation, I had a real chance of being offered a job at one of my dream employers.

This newly-gained confidence allowed me to fully enjoy the two assessment centres I was invited to a short while after. Benefiting from the pleasant atmosphere created by the companies, I was able to present myself as a strong candidate for the internships I had applied to. Exceeding my expectations, I was offered both positions and after a tough decision on which offer to accept, I can’t wait to start the summer internship I had barely even dared to dream about getting only two months ago.”

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Professional development in learning and teaching

As Educational and Postgraduate Researcher Developer, I (Dr Heather McKiggan-Fee) am responsible for the mandatory training that the University requires all PhD students to undertake before they are allowed to teach within their Schools.  This is a valuable opportunity to get a grounding in good practice before working with students for the first time, but these internal professional development workshops would not necessarily be recognised by other institutions.

Some years ago, in response to feedback from participants on my workshops, I decided to develop two optional 10-credit Masters modules (ID5101, ID5102), so that postgraduate tutors and demonstrators keen to pursue a career in academia could leave St Andrews with development that would be universally recognised in the HE sector.  The modules are also accredited by the Higher Education Academy, such that graduates become Associate Fellows of the HEA.

St Andrews is fairly unusual in having modules such as these designed with postgraduate student teachers in mind, so much so that an article on the modules was recently published in the online journal Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

McKiggan-Fee, H et al (2013) Postgraduates who teach: a forgotten tribe?  Not here!, Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 8(2).

Students on the modules have found them to be valuable preparation for an academic career, as indicated by this quote from a graduate of both modules (and co-author of the article mentioned above), Dr Gavin Ballantyne:

“Nearing the end of my PhD I became more interested in higher education teaching and so attended the courses run by CAPOD to improve my teaching practice. As a biologist I initially found the techniques used a little alienating. The pedagogic terminology and practice seemed at first insubstantial and simplistic, although it was clearly useful to learn which bodies and policies were responsible for shaping the current organisation of higher education in the UK. From the start of the course, it was interesting to meet and talk with postgraduate teachers from very different disciplines and compare our experiences. I quickly discovered that we shared many of the same challenges and difficulties engaging and encouraging students.

As the course progressed we were asked to reflect on our teaching through the use of a reflective log and final reflective essay. Although I was sceptical of recording anecdotes from my day when I had other work to get done, I ultimately found this to be a useful exercise. It made me stop and take the time to think about what went well and where there was room for improvement. As a consequence I approached my teaching preparation in a more structured manner. It also encouraged me to connect the abstract ideas I had been struggling with in the pedagogic literature with solid examples from my own practice. Techniques like this helped to prepare me for and learn from my subsequent post as a teaching fellow.

In higher education we are lucky to have the freedom to teach however we see fit, cover the topics that we find fascinating ourselves and experiment with a wide range of techniques. This non-dictatorial approach really excels when backed up by a solid framework of training that helps us to develop as educators.”

For more information on these modules (including previous module handbooks) see the Support for Postgraduate Researchers who teach page (and scroll to the bottom).

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Time to change

Most of us would quietly, if not openly, admit that we could likely do critical tasks better in some way. Whether that remedial action be a few tweaks to update a current skill set or instituting an entire culture and behavioral change (as evidenced in the previous post), it generally comes down to

  1.  identifying the need and then
  2. –and this is the biggy– finding the time to do something about it.

The end game with many computer and IT related tasks is “I just want it to work”,  but this approach will quickly prove to be a black-hole of lost time if you shelve a need to develop skills in deference to a bulging Outlook calendar. Our post this week comes from a teaching fellow (and having been one, they’re not known for copious amounts of spare time) who, despite already being a proficient user of IT,  did make the time and found the rewards paid unimagined dividends:

“I was recruited in early September and enjoyed the diversity of the different trainings offered by CAPOD. I already had a fair knowledge of Office but decided to refresh my memory and get started with Office 2010 as I had only used Office 2007 in the past.  I decided therefore to enrol on most of the Word, Powerpoint and Excel workshops. It might look like it was a lot of time spent but I would now ascertain that I have got this time back as I am using the software.
Overall, the workshops are excellent. The examples are very well chosen and we work on real documents. [The instructor] starts with basic fundamentals and raises the level progressively while being very attentive to the audience.  The “hands-on” workshops are a very efficient way to learn and remember how to do things in practice.
When I used Office, I used to say ‘I am pretty sure this can be done easily but I do not know how!’ or ‘Where is this button? I am sure it was there last time but I cannot find it now’ or ‘it would be good to have a shortcut to do that’. When I attended the Office workshops, I appreciated all the methods, as well as tips and tricks [the instructor] gave us. I even learnt things I couldn’t imagine Office is able to do. So even with a preliminarily good knowledge of Office, I didn’t have the feeling that I lost time at the workshops.
A couple of weeks later I decided to give a seminar to my colleagues about some of my teaching duties. I had to extract data from students’ marks (use of functions in Excel) and then I plotted graphs and finally I made my presentation using PowerPoint via a Word document. This is when I realised how beneficial the workshops had been, since I was able to do all what I aimed to and saved a huge amount of time. Without having attended the workshops I wouldn’t have been able to produce such high quality work in a reasonable time.
Thus, in my experience, these workshops help you to really master Office and become able to manage things you were not even aware of before. They are a sensible investment, no matter how broad your level of knowledge when you attend them.”

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This post is contributed by Dr. Christiane Helling & Dr. Peter Woitke

Being part of your research team

The change from a sole, ingenious, curiosity driven researcher to being a group leader of several postdocs, PhD students, summer and final year students, or even a research project manager for several European universities, is quite a leap. It might go unnoticed for the outside world, but such a change of tasks imposes a stress level that we weren’t prepared for. Being an excellent researcher and getting this certified by the ERC and by the EU/FP7 is something, but by no means the whole story. And this is where CAPOD comes in.

Our Head of School was our first port of call and he pointed us in the right direction: Erwin Lai as part of the CAPOD team stepped in equipping us with knowledge about team dynamics and team management. We would sit down with Erwin during a first session to discuss what our day-to-day life as a research team leader was and what it meant to lead an ERC/FP7 project. It became quite clear that this did not fit into any of the classical ‘team leader’ categories, and also that we did not have the time for week-long courses. We needed the knowledge now.

Erwin returned to CAPOD and came back with a one-day workshop tailored to our needs (i.e. knowledge gaps). It was a real eye-opener!

Meanwhile, many more young research group leaders have benefited from this course which was newly introduced by CAPOD and tailored to our needs by Erwin Lai. Since our first meeting with Erwin, we kept in contact. He was a constant support in our team management exercises. Erwin moderated a team retreat day in MUSA’s fantastic Learning Loft, and team building activities in preparation of a FP7 review meeting. Both events were prepared in close interaction between the project PIs and Erwin. Both meetings were a great success, scientifically and group-support wise. All of us walked out feeling so much more energized. We all were part of that team we were trying to build. (A small side effect was that the FP7 referees were really enchanted.) The project PIs owe a big thanks to CAPOD and, in particular, to Erwin Lai!

PIs, go and talk to CAPOD, they are a great port of knowledge if it comes to being part of your team and leading it at the same time!

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Winning the war by small victories.

The level of demand for CAPOD’s Assertiveness courses indicates that this is something a lot of us struggle with. CAPOD addresses this issue by offering a short introductory course , and also two Dealing with Difficult Behaviour courses which go into more depth on the topic. Learning Assertiveness skills is something that can really have an impact on how people behave, both within and outwith the workplace, and can really be life changing.

It is therefore, always encouraging to hear from participants who have put some of the learning into action. Below is a quote from a participant two months after attending the two-hour introductory session (reproduced with permission):

A follow up email to report a small ‘victory’ with regard to the situation we discussed at the Assertiveness Skills course a while back! The ‘Fact/Feeling/Need’ approach has also helped in dealing with another recent very difficult situation this time in writing and I’m feeling quite chuffed with myself. Such a simple approach but I can see how it is really effective. I think in both instances I’ve managed to stay calm throughout though there are still some ‘comebacks’ that I find very difficult to handle so I look forward to the Dealing with Difficult Behaviour course in a few weeks.

Thanks again for taking the time to give me extra tuition on that day, it really made a difference to me and you didn’t have to do that. A short but worthwhile CAPOD course that I would have no hesitation in endorsing.

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Understanding thinking styles – another step

The CAPOD staff development programme includes an ‘Understanding Thinking Styles’ workshop, which provides an opportunity for participants to undertake the JTI (Jung Type Indicator) questionnaire, to explore their own ‘thinking style’ and to gain an insight into the thinking styles of others.

During team development events and one-to-one sessions CAPOD has also offered the MBTI (Myers- Briggs Type Indicator) questionnaire which is based on the same personality typology.

However, the JTI/MBTI ‘type’ which is reported by the questionnaire and explored during the associated development activities, is really just a starting point in the process of developing self-awareness. The questionnaires identify psychological preferences, and categorises each participant into one of 16 possible types.

While this is an excellent place to begin the exploration of personality and thinking styles, it is also obvious that there are more than 16 types of personality.

In order to help explain the many permutations of personality within each of the 16 defined types and to understand the possible inconsistencies that exist within types, CAPOD is now able to use the more detailed MBTI Step II questionnaire.

This looks at a range of ‘facets’ within each psychological preference (or preferred ‘function’) that makes up the overall defined personality type. The questionnaire identifies where each facet is ‘in preference’ (conforms with preferred function), is ‘out of preference’ (is the opposite of preferred function) or is mid-range (equally balanced between the individual’s preferred function and its’ opposite).

This additional granularity in the definition of type often helps participants to resolve lack of clarity from their MBTI/JTI questionnaire and explains inconsistencies between their own sense of their psychological preferences and the descriptions of type resulting from the initial MBTI/JTI questionnaire. In this blog we provide three case studies in the words of the participants themselves.

Case 1

One recent participant in the MBTI Step II process offers this account of the experience and the value obtained from it:

“Having done MBTI in previous workplaces I was very pleased to see that CAPOD had this capacity and expertise to offer in-house here at St Andrews. In August 2013 CAPOD facilitated a day with my team, which includes a range of staff from academic experts to marketing and support positions. The whole team thought that the MBTI feedback was really useful on both a personal and team level – helping us to understand how we function, what communication styles and processes work for us and how to move towards working more smoothly with our colleagues. We even had the option of getting the report in German for our international colleagues – really important when interpretation of words can be a key factor. I was given the option of participating in a pilot of the next stage – MBTI Step II – an offer I accepted.

The process was similar to Step I– fill in a straightforward online questionnaire. Wait for CAPOD to let you know the report is ready and then a 1:1 session with specific feedback on the results. I was hoping that it would give me a greater insight into the nuances of how I function and certainly the scientist in me wasn’t disappointed to delve into some of the detail to show that there are more than 16 types out there………

Jos (the qualified MBTI practitioner from CAPOD) explained the process and the report structure before moving onto the content. He gave me examples to help my understanding and was happy to travel along all the tangents that the report findings threw up. Although I fit relatively clearly into one of the standard personality types there were a couple of surprises which were really useful to explore. Two examples are:
• my innate need to have things planned (reflected in the ‘J’ – or Judging preference) but the situations where I thrive under pressure seemed to be an anomaly that was really useful to explore and one that I am hoping to be more aware of
• how someone who is generally looking at the big picture (the ‘N’ – or Intuiting preference) can communicate more effectively with colleagues who focus on the detail.
Both are situations pertinent directly to me but also really important to know for my interactions within the company. It was a revelation in many ways and Jos and I are now busy planning how the rest of the team could benefit from this greater personal insight – after all, the more you know yourself the more you can find better ways of working.”

Case 2

Another participant commented on the way in which MBTI Step II helped to explain ambiguity in the JTI profile and also on the way in which this greater understanding could be applied to different aspects of working life:

“I originally decided to attend the course ‘Understanding thinking styles’ because the course description highlighted that “Our ‘thinking style’ can be different from those around us, leading to potential communication and team-working issues if we cannot adapt to the styles and needs of others.” This is important in all roles but particularly in the project work I am generally involved with where my ‘team’ can change regularly.

After completing a Jung Type Indicator (JTI) questionnaire I attended the workshop, where the presenter gave an overview of the of Jung’s psychological types. We were also given our JTI reports which indicated our JTI type or types, based on our preferences for the way we interact with the world. The presenter indicated that it was possible to look at preferences in more detail using the MBTI Step II and, as in my case the there was some ambiguity in the type, I decided to follow it up.

The MTBI Step II questionnaire was more detailed than the JTI and a one-to-one feedback session was organised to discuss the results.

At this session the trainer explained how JTI and MBTI are related and went through the Step II report looking in detail at the ‘facets’ of personality. These results provided a plausible explanation for the areas in the JTI report where I felt that the description didn’t fit with my own experience.

The report also detailed areas for enhancement in Communicating, Making decisions, Managing change and Managing conflict, all areas vital in my day to day work.

I’m going to study my report in more detail and try and take forward some of the suggested enhancements. I hope also that I’ll be more aware of different personality types and try and adapt when working with colleagues.”

Case 3

A third recent participant in the Step II process found that the JTI report left her unclear about her ‘best fit’ type – the type which she felt best described her own preferences, and hoped that step II would provide greater clarity and explain the inconsistencies in the JTI report. In her own words, her reasons for taking part in Step II were:

“…..so that I could take a relatively short period of time to sit and assess my psychological preferences and look at these as analytically as possible to gain greater awareness of my natural thought processes and reactions to situations. I wanted to do this to improve myself and gain perspective on how others see me. I felt by gaining awareness it would help me to achieve even better working relations.

I found this to be an enriching experience. I attained a greater awareness of the preferences that I automatically have in everyday situations, the benefits of this and also the drawbacks. The awareness of different preferences in individuals can be illuminating, thus giving insight in to why you can work so well with some but with others it can be difficult to comprehend their thinking style.

This awareness can be developed so that you can approach situations in a way that is empowering for you and an improved approach for others.

I found this to be an empowering, constructive process.”

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Wellbeing by numbers



Measuring impact is not always easy to do, but having hard metrics can help by shedding some light on where our impact is greatest in terms of web information.

Google analytics offers a useful mechanism to help me keep track of the impact of some our engagement and wellbeing activities for staff. The wellbeing and engagement pages were created in May last year and have been steadily developed since with content from members of the University’s wellbeing and engagement group.

Data from google analytics has allowed us to track which pages are the most well visited (and arguably make the greatest impact on staff). I can see at a glance that the pages were viewed approximately 12% more this November than last November, with 12,531 views. Within the wellbeing section, the pages on ‘Health’ are best used, followed by ‘Involve yourself’ and ‘Supporting students.’ The biggest change has been the increase in the ‘involve yourself’ section, up 250% from the same time last year.

Using data like this to help us assess the impact of our online wellbeing resources helps CAPOD, through the wellbeing and engagement group, know where to target our resources and where the demand from staff lies.



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A little funding can go a long way..

This week’s blog comes from Dr Helen Rawson, Co-Director, Museum Collections Unit, who received CAPOD funding to help her attend an international conference in relation to her collections work.

In September 2011 I attended the XI Annual Meeting of UMAC (the International Committee of ICOM for University Museums and Collections) and the associated University Museums and Collections Conference on ‘University History and Identity’, held in Lisbon, Portugal.  This was the first time I had attended a UMAC conference.  The host institution, the University of Lisbon, was marking its 100th anniversary, and as a conference delegate I was able to learn about and participate in events and activities associated with this.

I presented a paper, based on my doctoral thesis (completed 2010) entitled Six Centuries of Artefacts as Reflections of Identity in Scotland’s Oldest University.  This was well received and prompted much discussion, both in formal questions in session, and informally afterwards.

The many interesting conference papers on varied aspects of how collections relate to, and can be used to promote, University History and Identity, were of great relevance to my professional role as Senior Curator (now Co-Director) of the University’s Museum Collections, and to my research interests.  A significant part of my role recently has been considering how we can, through the museum venues and collections of the University of St Andrews, mark the University’s 600th anniversary and make our long history accessible to a wide range of user groups and visitors, from staff and students to members of other universities, researchers, tourists, school and community groups and the general public.  Following the conference, in 2012 my colleagues and I created a new permanent display in the outer area of the Gateway Galleries marking the 600th anniversary.  This year, I curated an exhibition of medieval maces of early European universities, as part of the 600th events programme.  This runs at MUSA until 8 December 2013, and is our first exhibition drawing on international loans.  Meeting curators of other university museums at the UMAC conference encouraged me to make the approaches which ultimately led to the loan of these iconic objects.

In October 2013 I organized and hosted the 2013 UMIS (University Museums in Scotland) conference in Parliament Hall, on the theme ‘Research in Museums:  Museums in Research’.  This attracted 91 delegates from across the UK and Europe, including many with whom I had forged links at the UMAC meeting.

The support which CAPOD provided for me to attend the UMAC meeting therefore had many direct and indirect benefits.



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Training in Good Academic Practice (TGAP)

The fundamental values promoted by the University of St Andrews for academic work are: honesty, responsibility, fairness, justice, (self) respect for your work, learning and ultimately your degree.  These values have been written into our Good Academic Practice Policy (GAP). To enable every student to be aware of our principles, practice and policy an online course was developed: Training in Good Academic Practice (TGAP).

TGAP was introduced by the University this year to all students, regardless of year of course or degree.  The main objective was to help improve students’ understanding of the values expected in their academic writing.  During the development of this online course, available via Moodle, we had to consider what was needed by staff and students.

Staff were looking for a tool that would inform students of the Good Academic Practice Policy and enhance the skills that students already have about good academic practice.  The ‘Policy’ covers 8 main areas, where our knowledge of academic practice may fall down, not only because of plagiarism but other areas that the University adhere to, these are: multiple submission, falsification of data, false citation, cheating in exams, aiding and abetting, coercion and contract cheating.

Students were looking for a tool that would enable them to understand Good Academic Practice (GAP), what are the effects and the impact of the Policy upon students.


As yet it is too soon to gauge the impact; however; from my point of view less students are attending 1:1 sessions (and drop-ins) for general referencing issues. The queries that now arise are more specific to individual course-works.

Students’ feedback indicates that they view TGAP as a valuable resource; especially in regard to its impact upon the major areas of GAP. Below are some of the comments I have received (there are many more):

  • ‘wish I had this available in 1st year … valuable…’ – 3rd year student
  • ‘excellent – I now know why I have to reference’ – 2nd year student
  • ‘really good … at my last [school] we did not have anything like this … we didn’t reference and could use our own work over and over again. I would have been guilty of misconduct here at St Andrews’ – 1st year student

I am sure there will be another blog on the impact of TGAP, when it is possible to evaluate the growing amount of data more clearly.

Watch this space!

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