Archive for the ‘reference’ Category

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 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 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 – the legal framework

The Equal Opportunities Commission is working to eliminate sex discrimination in Britain today. It is (or should be) the first point of reference for anyone looking for information on gender equality in the UK.


  1. Am I entitled to apply for flexible working?
    If you have a child who is under 6 or a disabled child under the age of 18 and have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks you are entitled to request flexible working arrangements from your employer.
  2. Is it legal to apply for time off to look after a dependant?
    Each parent can apply to take up to 13 weeks of parental leave up until the child’s 5th birthday. You are also entitled to take time off to care for other dependants.
  3. Can my employer make me do overtime if I don’t want to?
    Under the Working Time Regulations you can’t be forced to work more than 48 hours a week.  Well, unless you’ve signed an opt-out as part of your contract anyway….
  4. If I want to apply for a job share, do I have to find someone else to share the job with?
    Once your employer has agreed that your job is suitable for job-share then it is their responsibility to find an appropriate partner for you to work with.
  5. As a part time worker would I be entitled to the same career development and training opportunities as a full time employee?
    Yes, Regulations make it unlawful for a part-time worker to be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers.
  6. Can an employer ask me about childcare arrangements in an interview?
    Although an employer is entitled to ask questions to ensure that you are able to carry out the requirements of the job this should be in a gender neutral way and all candidates should be asked the same questions.

Week 4: Issues and strategies for managing work in SET (II)

The second source provided is:

‘Career and motherhood in engineering: cultural dimensions and individualistic solutions’ by Julia Evetts in the Journal of Gender Studies, July 1994, vol 3 issue 2, pages 177–185.

The author of this paper has used 15 specific women’s careers as a means of investigating:

“…how women reconcile being women, being in partnerships and sometimes families, being professional engineers and building careers in an industrial organization.”

That sounds like a reasonable approach, although I’d love to see a similar study on the difficulties men face in reconciling being in partnerships and families with being professional engineers!

One option, and that taken by four women in the study, was to choose to remain child-free and focus on the career.  The author noted that while successful, this was a particularly harsh choice, and one not faced (or not faced to the same extent) by career-minded men.

“…it seems that for both men and women to succeed in career terms, they must severely curtail the demands of personal and family lives.”

For the mothers in the study, the norm appeared to be that each had to negotiate her own working conditions directly with her immediate manager, and then on up the line of command.

One of the women was on a career break negotiated with her employers after the birth of her (unexpected) third child.

“It is a great responsibility in fact to see how it works.  I have felt that all along.  So few women have taken part-time working or career breaks or come back after maternity leave in the company, that if I don’t perform well they will say it doesn’t work, we won’t try it again.”

All the women commented on how difficult it was to achieve the balance they wanted between career and motherhood, and on the need to focus on what their employer needed/wanted over and above what they needed/wanted, and on how each woman would need a different solution to her own situation.

“They followed the examples set by other women engineers in the company but they did not expect company arrangements or trade union procedures to help solve their problems.”

Week 4: Issues and strategies for managing work in SET (I)

We have been asked to look at the broader perspective of the issues faced by women in SET using two sources. I will split my comments into several posts, keeping those on each paper separate:

1. ‘Women in science-based employment: what makes the difference?’ by Patricia Ellis in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, February 2003, vol. 23, no. 1.

According to this author, there are several assumptions which have been made about the nature and causes of difficulties in attracting and retaining women in scientific careers. These assumptions are:

  1. Conflict between the timetable of a research career and the biological clock:

    “…the ages of about 25 to 35 are seen as key in establishing reputation through active research productivity and are also those that are considered to be prime childbearing years.”

  2. Perceived difficulties relating to both funding and practise in part-time work:

    “…the current structure of science funding in the United Kingdom is based very heavily on external sources (Wellcome Trust, 2000) and grants allocated are normally based on fulltime posts.”

    “…managers in SET viewed part-time working as problematic to organize and stressed the difficulties rather than the possibilities.”

    “…Part-time workers are often perceived as not as committed to their work or their organization and not as eligible for advancement.”

    “…scientific work may not seem to lend itself to a fixed hour regime, where experiments need to run and be supervised during long periods, and readings have to be taken at regular and possibly odd hours. This will present further obstacles to people who need to work on a predictable timetable because of home responsibilities, and their need to leave at set times can be perceived as a lack of commitment to work.”

  3. Perceived difficulties in resuming a career where technical skills and knowledge are critical, and change rapidly:

    “With progress and change endemic to science (as well as to technology and engineering), new fields open up with ever increasing speed. Women wishing to return to the workforce, even after a few years, may find their skills and knowledge out of date.”

However, the author reminds us that most of these perceived barriers can and have been overcome, and many are specific to academic or research science. Additionally:

“because even women without demanding home responsibilities experience obstacles to advancement, these are not the only factors that have an effect on careers in science. “

Specifically, the author suggests that the retention and advancement of women in science is due to the following factors:

  1. Culture of scientific work:
    The author suggests that science is an inherently male arena, and that as a logical and objective approach is seen as culturally male, women will not be comfortable with the adjustments they have to make in order to succeed.
  2. Organisation of scientific work:
    Purely in physical terms, the author points out that in order to work in science in the UK, one must be willing and able to relocate to one of a few locations where employment can be found. This is more likely to be a problem for women who have family responsibilities, or who are expected to follow when their partner relocates in order to further his career. This kind of time- or location-related disruption can also be detrimental to the development of a professional reputation, which is so important in advancement in the sciences.In addition, the author notes that the lack of a female presence in a workplace can be intimidating to many women.

    “…women working alone are clearly quite visible, and this can operate to their disadvantage. A visible woman will be noticed and given a high profile, but her mistakes tend to be remembered.”

Historically, it was assumed that women were naturally more interested in family and childrearing than in work, and this attitude appears to continue albeit using slightly less overtly sexist language.

The author quotes previous research (published in 1995) where women are seen as either ‘committed’ or ‘not committed’ to their workplace and career, moving freely between these states over the course of a career due to conscious choice.  However, she points out that:

“These arguments could apply equally to women scientists, but it does not help further our understanding of why there seem to be fewer women in the upper echelons of SET, unless one could argue that relatively more female scientists fall into Hakim’s “not committed” category. …. She used this to explain why women remain in low-paid, low-status work, but her argument took no account of any external forces or impediments, which might affect the ability to make such choices. “

Various other authors have attempted to explain the dearth of women in high-level scientific positions using similar arguments, but again these arguments should apply equally to non-scientific careers where the gender gap is far smaller. The author of this paper therefore comes to the conclusion that:

“…the relatively disadvantaged progression of women in the scientific workplace is more likely to be due to the structures of scientific work rather than to choices women scientists are making.”

Week 4: Online database searching

The OU has an excellent tutorial known as Safari relating to finding, organising and evaluating information. Guest access is permitted, although I am not certain how much of the site is available to non-OU students.

We are supposed to search for articles of relevance to women’, ‘science’, ‘technology’, ‘careers’, ‘career break’, ‘gender’ and ‘work’ and share one with the tutor group along with our explanation of why we felt it was worth reading.

I chose to search for women* AND science AND career* which gave me 121 hits to wade through and resulted in 29 articles I thought worth further investigation. I regard this as manageable, but also refined the list by the addition of tradition* which narrowed things down to 11 articles.

The article I was most interested in isn’t available in the OU library: Chemical & Engineering News is a journal put out by the American Chemical Society, and is available online.

Marasco, C A (2005) Mentornet supports women in science Chem. Eng. News 83 v.20: 55-56, 58, 60.

There are many barriers to women’s success in traditional male-dominated careers, such as science, maths and engineering. A global electronic mentoring network, MentorNet, has been working to alleviate these issues by pairing female graduates and undergraduates in these disciplines with mentors from industry, government and academia.

Mentornet was founded in 1997 by Carol B. Muller, formerly associate dean of engineering at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. At Dartmouth College, she co-founded a Women in Science Project and was instrumental in setting up an e-mentoring scheme linking about 40 students with mentors. After leaving the college to move to California she put together a national advisory group, obtained grant money from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Intel, and created a strategic and business plan. Mentornet now has 14 000 members, and about 2/3 of the mentors are women.
Benefits to mentees include the obvious one of support from their mentor, but also:

…strategies for studying and stress and time management, as well as career management.

Mentornet appears to focus mostly on providing mentors for students, but:

…the program will continue to expand to include all underrepresented groups and increase the number of people who participate. Other plans include developing auxiliary services, such as a registry of women faculty in science and engineering to complement the existing résumé database, adding a professional résumé database, and forging mentoring programs that might serve more early-career and other professionals.

In the UK, the Resource Centre for Women in SET offers a similar scheme which appears to be more widely applicable.

Week 4: Women in SET (career breaks)

For this part of the course, we are provided with two audio programs featuring interviews with women who have taken career breaks and successfully returned to SET.

Only one features a woman in a similar situation to mine: she did several post-docs, married a cameraman and worked with him, got divorced, and returned to research through a fellowship from the Daphne Jackson Trust. As I’m not planning to go back to the bench at this stage, and have already been down the route of starting my own business, none of the suggestions for getting back into the workforce provided in these programs are likely to be of use to me.

Reading around the topic again:

From the Royal Society of Chemistry website (members only section)

Knowledge and skills

You will find returning to work after your break very difficult if you have not kept your knowledge and skills up to date. In today’s job market, even a short break can leave you out of touch and less attractive to employers unless you can demonstrate up-to-date knowledge of current practice.

  • Keep in touch with colleagues at your former workplace – meet up with them socially to discuss developments
  • Are there any opportunities for part-time or freelance work? Consider editing and proof reading papers and publications, working limited hours or covering holiday and sick leave
  • Continue to read journals, newspaper articles, books and magazines to stay with your specialist area of expertise – use the RSC’s Library and Information Centre to reduce this expense.
  • Keep up your membership of the RSC and subject groups.
  • Consider what networking opportunities you have

Information sources
Identify information sources to help you research and stay in touch with the job market:

  • Use business directories such as Kompass to obtain information about companies and what they are doing
  • Contact companies and education institutions directly and ask for information – annual reports are a useful source
  • Request information about specific jobs even if you do not intend to make a formal application. Most applications will provide you with a job description and a person specification. You can keep track of what skills are valued in the employment market

Now those are suggestions that I can and will follow up on!