The trials and tribulations of running a research group
I am the co-ordinator of the the Logistics Systems Dynamics Group (LSDG), a research group within Cardiff Business School. I was recently asked by my the School to give a talk about what it is like to lead a research group. This blog is a transcript of my talk.
What is a research group?
A group of people who talk, listen, help, support each other. They must have a common activity. If there is no joint activity, the group is just a bag of names.
The LSDGs’ core activity is a bi-weekly one hour lunchbox meeting.
- We bring our lunch to a room where we always have 5-10 mins of news/updates and celebrate recent successes.
- The rest of the hour is often devoted to a research/conference presentation. Give feedback on presentation, style, and content. Help people clarify their message, find the story in their work. Get to know what each other are doing. Support each other in a friendly, risk-free environment.
- Or we give a tutorial of a topic; it is a great way to make concrete your ideas.
- Or we discuss and coordinate conference plans.
- Get feedback on academic and industrial visits, conferences, progress on projects, research grant applications, and the like.
A research group is a good networking opportunity. It gives you a sense of community. Letting each other know what you are doing, where you are going, this is part of our duty of care for each other. For PhD students, it gives an insight into what it is like to be academic. It introduces you to other academics who are not your supervisor and to different ways of thinking.
Getting the right focus for the research group
Should you concentrate on a few areas of application? Or perhaps a few theoretical techniques? When you focus on a speciality, everyone in the team gets to know the parlance of the academic field and together you can develop a deep understanding of an area.
Or should you be a broad church? Getting exposed to a wide range of application areas and research technique gives you a wide knowledge. This is valuable in itself. It is also more inclusive and welcoming. However, you do lose focus - we all can’t be experts in everything.
What is the focus of the LSDG?
The dynamics of logistics systems. We used to say an LSDG member had at least one of the following five skills:
- Industrial engineering
- Systems dynamics / control theory
- Change management
- Business systems engineering
- Integration of all of the above.
But in recent times many members have joined, or developed different skills.
What is the right size for a research group? They say 3-4 in a maths department, 20-30 in a medical/physics field. I think about 8-12 people is about right in our field.
Who makes a research group member?
Someone who contributes. Someone who regularly turns up to the meetings! There are plenty of LSDG members who only come 1-2 times a year, usually when they want something. Those people are not real members - they are visitors.
Someone who publically present themselves as a team member. This can be done in a number of ways: Door sign. Correspondence address on papers. Someone who is on the group’s website.
Things that you have to do as a Research Group leader
- Update the group’s webpage.
- Write a report on the group’s activities for your School.
- Apply for group funding.
- Give that money away supporting PhD students going to conferences, Alumni conference, away days, and the like.
- Support the research activities of group members.
- Organise meetings, send emails, and calendar appointments.
We all spend a lot of time and money going to conferences. One of the benefits of being in a research group is that you get to see how other people look at the world, think about, and solve the world’s problems. A research group is like a free and convenient conference; the presenters are your colleagues.
I find our LSDG meetings inspiring. Your research group is your research family.
Help each other. Help yourself. Come and be inspired. Join a research group!