Protected: Week 9: your vision

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Week 9: Creating and activating your vision

By the end of this week you should be able to:


  • identify your values with respect to returning to work in SET
  • set clear and achievable goals and objectives
  • identify your own strategy for returning to a SET career, either by finding employment, undertaking further study or becoming self employed
  • articulate your goals in the form of an action plan with SMART objectives.

Identify your values:


Defining Values are six or eight key principles that define who you are and represent the essence of your character and what you stand for.

Heart’s Purpose is the expression of your passion, your inner drive and doing what is most fulfilling for you.

Activating Vision is the ‘broad accomplishment that you want to achieve with your careeer. It is not merely a goal: it is your endgame…. It is a dream of being, rather than simply doing.’


The language makes me squirm, but the ideas are good, and similar to several exercises I’ve done in the past. However, having spoken to a few good friends, I’m becoming more aware of how little use these exercises can be to someone who isn’t particularly self-aware.

If you haven’t spent time thinking about who you are, how can you answer this type of question?

Even the personality tests offered earlier won’t give a meaningful answer to someone who hasn’t tried to work out what makes them tick. Now, perhaps I’m being a bit biased, but from my interviewing experience, I would say that this is more likely to describe a man than a woman. When asked “How would your friends describe you?” a disconcerting number of male applicants clam up and simply don’t know the answer. They’ve never thought about it before.


As is common with many of these activities, we are instructed to ‘be brave and think big’ when it comes to our vision. I’m sorry, but for a lot of people that is simply setting the stage for apparent failure and a resulting loss of confidence which is in no way helpful. By all means dream big, but if you can’t turn your dreams into a plan, then they will always stay as dreams and you won’t benefit other than by having a fantasy escape.


Setting goals

The SWOT analysis technique is introduced (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) in this stage of the exercise, but the technique is not explained at all.


For a short explanation, try here.


Goals should be positive (I want, rather than I don’t want) and should have measures of progress built into them.


Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).


An alternative to Achievable is Agreed (not mentioned on the course) as none of us will be able to achieve our goals alone. Any changes we make are bound to affect those around us, and unless we have their agreement and support, we’re unlikely to make much progress.


Creating an action plan

We are supposed to use the OUs software (Profile) to do this. Not going there! It requires me to run a windows computer, is painfully clanky, and won’t be accessible once this course is over (the only windows machine we have was set up for this course, and will return to Linux just as soon as it’s over – I want my computer back!).


A good action plan should include:


  • Description of goal
  • What it will involve
  • Exactly how you will do this
  • Resources needed
  • When you are going to do it
  • Possible consequences for yourself and others
  • Any barriers that need to be overcome

More on that later.


Week 8: Communication and negotiation

By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • understand the importance and relevance of communication skills
  • understand the concept of Emotional Intelligence and how this relates to communication in the workplace
  • find out more about your own Emotional Intelligence and identify further development if necessary
  • apply the concepts of Emotional Intelligence to an interview situation and in negotiations
  • identify good practice in negotiations
  • understand your own behaviour within negotiations and improve on it.

Uncomfortable stuff, most of this….


The concept of Emotional Intelligence is explored:

Mayer and Salovey (1993) organised EI into four branches:

Identifying emotions – the ability to recognise one’s own feelings and the feelings of those around them.

Using emotions – the ability to access an emotion and reason with it.

Understanding emotions – emotional knowledge, the ability to identify and comprehend the emotional chain – the transition of one emotion to another.

Managing emotions – the ability to self-regulate emotions and manage them in others.


These skills are looked at in the context of interviews and Negotiation.

Interestingly, both examples for successful negotiation given on the course were women who were negiotiating conditions prior to taking a career break. We were not provided with any examples of women who had successfully negotiated a return to a new position in SET after a break with unusual conditions (part-time or whatever).

Week 7: Finding the opportunity you want

By the end of the week you should:

  • be familiar with a range of online job search resources
  • know how to find the hidden job market
  • be able to adapt your CV for a specific purpose
  • understand how assessment tests are used by employers
  • know where to locate further training and education.

Again, all very useful skills.

Jobhunting generally starts with newspapers and the internet (The Jobhunter’s Bible is a good starting point), although we’re reminded that most vacancies are never advertised.
The Windmills Virtual Career Coach website is provided by the University of Liverpool’s careers department and has a good section on the hidden job market.

Psychometric tests are commonly used by recruiters, and information on these can be found on the following websites:

Prospects web page on Exercises used at assessment centres – a basic version of Briggs–Myers personality types from the BBC – quite fun and free! explains the Myers–Briggs philosophy – free online personality test (although you do have to pay to get a full report)

Other options mentioned briefly are teaching, further training, and becoming self-employed.

(Reference sources are Prowess,Women’s Business Development Agency, Aurora Women’s Network,Everywoman, and Mumpreneurs )

Week 6: What’s going on in your industry?

By the end of this week you should be able to:


  • identify useful resources specific to your industrial sector
  • be aware of the latest trends and issues
  • refresh your study skills (by reading and taking notes from a journal article)
  • consider career options relevant to your background and experience.


All good points, and useful skills, and I’ve done as much as I can. I’m feeling a bit of a fraud though, as I’m becoming more and more convinced (as, it seems, are lots of senior women in the UK) that a career in SET isn’t compatible with the kind of life, and quality of life, that I want.


Points of reference for career paths provided by the OU are:

Week 5: Women and SET – your ideal job

Imagine what you would like to do and the sort of environment you would ideally like to work in.

Obviously a very good idea, as before you can find your job, you need to know what you’re looking for. However, the overall result of the course so far has been to convince me that if I stay in SET I have two choices, neither of them good.

  1. To fight my way back into SET and focus on my career to the exclusion of family/personal life.
  2. To fight my way back into SET and accept that I will miss out on promotion, leadership and other ‘markers of success’ if we as a couple decide to have a family.

As I said, neither prospect is particularly appealing.

I’m ambitious, focussed and driven: I would hate to be passed over and seen as less-committed just because I was known to have a child. Sadly, the examples on the course confirm that this attitude is still incredibly common. I’m also not ambitious or driven enough to be willing to sacrifice the very good relationship I have with my partner in order to be a success in any career. He’s the same, so it’s not that I’m going to be a traditional wife sitting at home to make sure that darling hubby can be a big cheese either!

To return to the question….

My ideal job will include the following (not in order of priority):

  • the opportunity to increase my knowledge/experience
  • the opportunity to use and/or share my knowledge/experience
  • the potential for progression to a leadership role
  • a high level of autonomy and personal responsibility
  • a pleasant, supportive working environment (and yes, I consider a lab to be a pleasant place, even if you are working with thiols!)
  • flexible holiday provision (I’m not one to enjoy an enforced 2-week break)
  • a level of reward which I consider shows that I am valued, including the possibility of a pension scheme and other non-financial benefits if appropriate
  • a commute of no more than 45 minutes in each direction each day!

Things I need in my life which may or may not be part of a job:

  • creativity
  • social interaction
  • thinking space

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (III)

Other things to think of when networking:

The Royal Society of Chemistry has specific advice on networking for women in the members only section of its website. This covers topics such as ‘Why should I network’, ‘Where do I start’, ‘Making an impression’ and ‘Personal safety and responsibilities’.

You should network because:

  • You are a better advertisement for yourself than any CV, no matter how good
  • Most jobs aren’t advertised at all
  • You will have the opportunity to share and receive useful information and to raise your profile
  • You will almost certainly gain new perspective and ideas, and widen your professional interests

If you want to start networking:

  • Make sure you’re getting the maximum value from any professional or trade organisation that you belong to.
  • Are there meetings, conferences, local groups, or other opportunities to meet people outwith your normal working environment
  • Remember that family and friends can be part of your network too: if they don’t know what you are looking for, they won’t be able to tell you when they bump into it.

Before attending your first networking opportunity:

  • Research the event and the people who are likely to be there
  • Think about the questions you would like to ask, and who you would like to meet
  • Think about what you have to offer: prepare a short explanation of what you are doing to avoid nerves robbing you of your eloquence
  • Think about body language and how to convey interest, enthusiasm, and confidence
  • Be professional: using your employers facilities (email, telephone, meeting rooms) without permission is unwise, and discussing matters which may be confidential or commercially sensitive may be career suicide. If you are willing to share confidential information with this person, they may well conclude that any information you have about them will be treated in a similar manner.
  • Plan to be safe: if you treat a networking opportunity as a blind date, and follow the same rules, you reduce the chances of something going wrong.
  • If you are setting up a meeting, remember that a neutral venue such as a coffee shop is more generally acceptable than a pub or other place where alcohol is served.

After the event:

    • Keep careful records of names, contact details and information
    • Follow up useful leads
    • Keep in touch
    • Always do what you promised to do for others!

For an unconvential approach to networking….

You might want to visit The Ripple Effect, which is a blog set up by Steve Harper.

And if you’re considering setting up on your own….

Escape from cubicle nation, and in particular the Open letter to CEOs is as good a place as any to start.

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (II)

Formal networks are organisations that bring together people with a common interest. There are a number of networking organisations which have been set up to support women in building formal networks.

The reasoning behind developing women-only networks appears to be:

  • Women need to be encouraged to make time for themselves and to invest in both their personal and business development.
  • Women often feel more comfortable and safer in a women-only environment; it can be the only option for some cultural groups
  • Women’s networks can act as a stepping stone, developing networking confidence and leading to the eventual introduction to other networks.
  • Networks run by women for women are more likely to consider the demands of life’s wider commitments.
  • Group dynamics are key and women often provide a nurturing and educating environment.

In practise:

I attended an excellent networking event run by Dinah Bennet of Women into the Network. Titled ‘I hate Networking’ it was a chance for a group of women to learn and practice networking skills and develop the self-confidence to take those skills into a less ‘safe’ environment.

Women Into the Network is an initiative which assists the integration of women entrepreneurs, both aspiring and practising, into existing business networks. There is a clear opportunity for women to take advantage of the broad range of support available to them, but many are unable to overcome the barriers that arise. Open to men and women, WIN supports the creation and management of businesses by women, through addressing & overcoming these barriers.

Women into the Network offers their 20 top networking tips as a starting point.

Probably the most useful tip I received was from another delegate: groups of three or more, or people on their own, are far more likely to be open to your approach.

Other networking opportunities:

The OU suggests a number of other starting points:

For further tips, the OU suggests:

Timperley, J. (2002) Network Your Way to Success. London, Piatkus Books (ISBN 0 7499 2283 4)

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – networking (I)

Networking has been defined as:

“the building and nurturing of personal and professional relationships to create a system or chain of information, contacts and support”

On the basis that up to 70% of jobs are never advertised, your network can be one of your most valuable resources when you are jobseeking.

I have investigated my own networks in the past: the advice is usually to start with your area of ‘need’ in the middle of the page, and then note down all the people or organisations you have links to who might be able to help.

The OU adds a refinement to this:

  • Next to each name, draw a line and make this into a scale of 0 to 10 by noting the numbers 0 and 10 at each end of your line (0s should be in the centre of your diagram and 10s round the edge).
  • Now, for each person, place an X on this scale of 0–10 (where 0 = highly unlikely and 10 = extremely likely) at the point which you believe reflects that person’s willingness to help you, or the likelihood that they will give you the support you need.
  • Join up all the Xs, and look at the space that you have created around your problem. This space represents an area of opportunity and resource that you can tap into. Look at areas where there is little space around your problem. This is where your personal support network is weak.
  • Think about any weak parts of your personal support network and how you might strengthen them. Write a short list of actions that will help you to strengthen your contacts. Your actions might include making a phone call, attending a meeting, or offering to help someone else out.

T160 course notes, the Open University, 2007

Networking is a vital resource, but it needs to be two-way: if you network only for what you can get, your network will shut you out very quickly indeed.

Week 5: Women and SET – Finding support – mentoring

In an effort to explain what mentoring is, we are directed to a number of websites:

UK Resource Centre for Women in SET
The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation
South Yorkshire Female Entrepreneurs’ Network and Mentoring Programme
Clutterbuck Associates

Definitions of mentoring:

“to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.”

Eric Parsloe of The Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring

“a practical way of helping you get to where you want to go. To explore issues to come to a different understanding and different thinking.”

Bob Garvey of Sheffield Hallam University

  • showing people the ropes – and helping them to climb them
  • passing on knowledge and/or skills, formally or informally
  • looking after people
  • acting as a sounding board
  • helping people put learning into practice
  • being a role model
  • being a guide
  • being a champion
  • talking to people about their careers
  • coaching
  • a guide not a guru.

Julie Hay in her book Transformational Mentoring (Hay. J., 1999, Transformational Mentoring: creating developmental alliances for changing organisational cultures. Sherwood Publishing, Watford)

A mentor is a listener, adviser and guide; a person with a flexible approach, prepared to deal with the opportunities of progress and change. They must be prepared to support, constructively challenge and advise their ‘mentee’ on their studies and their longer-term objectives.

A mentor is someone who is a few steps further down the path you want to travel.
And whose background is close enough to be able to say:
‘I was where you are now …
You can be where I am now.’

Andy Forbes, Oldham College

The UKRC operates a RETURN mentoring scheme: at the moment I would feel a bit of a fraud for making use of it, as I’m coming to the conclusion that my life choices and working in science are incompatible.