Public seminars

The Learning Institute has a regular public seminar programme on higher education each term. The seminars are open to everyone and there is no need to book in advance.

Seminars take place on Thursdays of weeks 1, 3, 5 and 7 of each term, and are held in the seminar room on level 2 of Littlegate House, St Ebbe's Street. Beginning in Michealmas 2015, seminars will run from 3.30pm to 4.30pm

If you would like to be added to the research seminar mailing list, please contact us on research or (01865) 2-86811.

View the archive of previous seminars run for the previous 2 years. 

Michaelmas Term 2015

The speakers for Michaelmas Term 2014 are:

Professor Helen Small (University of Oxford)

Week 1 - Thursday 15 October 2015

In Praise of Idleness?: The Work of the Humanities Now

This paper will consider the ways in which advocates for the university have tended, over the course of the 20th century and early 21st century, to conceive of the differences between work in and beyond the academy. It takes as its starting point Bertrand Russell's capricious essay of 1932, 'In Praise of Idleness'—an early instance of a long (and ongoing) line of argument which describes the work of the university in general, and the humanities in particular, as a privileged space of labour free from many of the constraints operating in the world beyond. Though the distinction is (one would have thought) no longer viable, given the professionalisation of academia and the changing content and presumed audience for much of our university teaching, some of its elements remain worth contemplating—salient to any debate about recent changes in the funding models for higher education.

Dr Montserrat Castelló (Universitat Ramon Llull)

Week 3 - Thursday 29 October 2015

Why is it so difficult to write an article? Or how to deal with contradictions in developing an identity as researchers and academic writers 

Academic research writing is an extremely demanding activity for novice writers. Socially situated perspectives on writing suggest that the complexity of this activity has to do with the implications derived from the fact that Ph.D. and university students need to be able to think and act as researchers when developing the research study they will need to write about. That is, students need to develop a social identity as researchers and writers of the chosen research field and in the corresponding community of practice.

The previous considerations become even more relevant if we acknowledge that writers participate in several communities that are, in turn, embedded in complex systems of activity. Becoming aware of the tensions and contradictions that are inextricably involved in those systems of human activity is key to this social participatory practice, especially when writers are students trying to learn within academic and disciplinary communities.

Based on results from some previous studies, I will present examples of how writing regulation occurs within the framework of an educational intervention designed to help Ph.D. students successfully overcome the contradictions involved in the process of constructing their social identity as researchers and academic writers.

Since we collected data from Ph.D. students’ perceptions, emotions (discourse in interviews, diaries and in-class interaction) and practices (successive drafts and peer’s text revisions), I will focus not only on the nature of difficulties but on how and where they occur during the writing process, and their attempted solutions and usefulness. Finally, we will discuss key themes surrounding educational interventions to help students’ research writing development.

Professor Michelle Ryan (University of Exeter)

Week 5 - Thursday 12 November 2015

Understanding the opt-out revolution: How it fuels ambition and defines work-life balance 

Women continue to be under-represented in particular roles (such as leadership) and particular sectors (such as surgery or policing), and this has been explained by the fact that women actively choose to opt-out due to an innate lack of ambition and commitment. Michelle will present a series of studies to contradict such a claim and will demonstrate that women's ambition erodes over time because perceptions of fit and belonging reduce with experience. Importantly, these fit processes have a strong impact of women’s perceptions of work-life balance and their willingness to make sacrifices for their careers. Implications for policy and practice will be discussed.

Dr Liz Elvidge (Imperial College London)

Week 7 - Thursday 26 November 2015

We have built it, why don’t they come? 

Imperial’s Postdoc Development Centre, launched in 2009, remains the only standalone centre in the UK dedicated to the support and development of postdocs and fellows. Imperial has 2,400 postdocs and fellows, a highly successful Junior Research Fellowship scheme, a network of department postdocs reps, a cross college committee and series of events for fellows, an Academic Advisor to Vice Provost (Research) Researcher Career Development and, in the Faculty of Engineering, department academic postdoc champions. 

We are driven by a number of principles:

  1. Being a postdoc is not a career
  2. Imperial does not want any researcher to leave the college unemployed unless they want to be
  3. Our programme is bespoke and tailored to what postdocs need rather than what they want (i.e. a permanent academic job)

Postdocs are able to take up to 10 days training and development a year (written in their contracts), see further details of the programme.

The provision is excellent, well regarded, delivered centrally and locally, highly flexible and adaptable. However…

  1. No postdoc ever takes up their 10 days training and development a year- why not?
  2. Why don’t more postdocs take up the offer of reviewing draft job applications, participating in a mock interview?
  3. Despite widespread and varied publicity, why do we still encounter postdocs who have never heard of us?
  4. Is there something missing in what we offer?
  5. We have built it- why don’t they come?