My Experience When Attending British Council's Researcher Connect Online Program
I attend an online two-week training organized by the British Council called the Researcher Connect program in ordering to improve my communication skills in academic research. You can find more information about this program here and here. This training includes 30 researchers from Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam (10 for each country). The training is held online via Zoom from September 25 to October 05, 2023. This page contains some of my experiences when participating this event.
Please note that several texts in this page are copied from the workbooks provided by the British Council. Please contact me if there is any copyright issue.
Day 1 (2023-09-25): Foundation Module
In this module, we learn about analyzing your audience/stakeholders in order to communicate with them more effectively.
- Know your research: Can you summary your research interests with only three words?
- Identify who you usually communicate with as a researcher on a regular basis and what communication methods you use.
- Evaluate your audience/stakeholders based on the amount of their knowledge (expert/non-expert) and understanding (public/professional). (On a blank paper, draw a horizontal line indicating the amount of understanding and a vertical line indicating the amount of knowledge. Where can you put your audience/stakeholders?)
- Analyze your audience/stakeholders.
- Who are they? What are they like?
- What is their socio-political/cultural background?
- What do they know?
- Why are they interested in your work?
- How should you commmunicate with them? What language is appropriate?
- What are the key differences between them and other audience/stakeholders?
We learn about the important six Cs in academic writing
- Correct (grammar, spelling, facts, etc.)
- Complete (having all necessary information)
- Coherent (logically organized)
- Courteous (use positive, inclusive language, avoid bias)
- Concise (straight to the point, not repetitive)
- Clear (easy to understand, not vague)
Some more Cs we added are, for example, Confident, Creative, Consistent, etc.
We learn about how to tell your research story to multiple audience and stakeholders using different styles and communication channels, such as
- An abstract for a journal article;
- An article on The Communication (I am more familiar with the Quanta Magazine. It seems to me that these pages are similar);
- A tweet on Twitter;
- A YouTube video;
- and so on.
You may think about what your audience/stakeholders are in a journal article, in an The Communication’s article, in Tweeter, in Youtube, and so on.
You can practice by, for example, taking an abstract of your paper and rewriting it to create a tweet on Twitter.
During this module, using the Miro collaborative working space, we have been working together in small groups to complete different activities/tasks related to the skills I mentioned above.
Day 2 (2023-09-26): Digital Researcher Module
In this module, we learn how to use digital/social media tools to imporve our research career. (You can test your digital presence by, for example, looking for yourself in search engines like Google or Bing.)
The primary questions you may ask yourself is how you would like to benefit from using social media tools (i.e., your social medial goals) and how do your social media goals contribute to your research career?
Some strategic questions to maximize your effectiveness may be:
- Why am I using this social media tool?
- Who is my intended audience? Where are they most likely to be in terms of digital platforms? What are assumptions I can(not) make about them?
- How do I persuade/convince my audience to achieve my goals?
We also learn about the purposes and qualities of three big digital tools: Twitter, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate. (Presonally, I do not use Twitter and ResearchGate, and my LinkedIn account is not regularly updated. I may consider using them in the future. When working in small groups in this training, some people told me that they are more familiar with other digital tools like Facebook, Zalo, etc.)
- What do they do?
- What kinds of content are posted on them?
- How can you build a digital presence on them?
We also learn about how to use these tools in different interconnected ways to increase our effectiveness as researchers and how to use them in our working life, e.g., you can actively participate in groups and discussions in LinkedIn and ResearchGate, follows topics related to your research in LinkedIn, follows your colleagues in Twitter, link your Twitter and ResearchGate accounts, and so on.
Day 3 (2023-09-27): Academic Collaboartion Module
In this module, we learn how to collaborate and extend our research networks effectively.
Naturally, the first question to ask is why collaborate?
- Can you think of one positive thing that has happened in your research career as a result of a connection to another person?
- Can you name one possible benefit of collaboration to you at this stage of your career?
Now, to plan and maintain your collaborations, you need to identify what the potential challenges are and how we might overcome them or at least make them less challenge. Some challenges and some recommended solutions/remedies we discussed in small groups are:
- It is difficult to set up meetings/discussions for all collaborators.
- Recommended Solution: Sharing schedules, making timetables, use Google Calendar and similar tools to find a common time for the meeting.
- Differences in language, culture, educational and academic backgrounds.
- Recommended Solution: Respect diversity and experties of eacm team member. Communicate better using some forms of visual communication like pictures, diagrams, flowcharts. When you do not get what another collaborator means, ask for his/her clarification. If possible, use a translator.
- Differences in terms and priorities.
- Recommended Solution: Respect other members, identify the source of conflict, find mutual understanding.
- Author contribution.
- Recommended Solution: Identify clearly the role and responsibility of each member from the beginning. (In my research area, I think this is difficult to do.)
- Consistency and commitment of collaborators, lack of focus on the common goal.
- Recommended Solution: Meet, discuss, and as a group set a shared SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goal, track the progress. (I never heard of this SMART before, but it could be interesting.)
- Funding for research collaborations.
- Recommended Solution: Find and keep a database of possible donors via social media tools or in-person meetings and conferences.
To plan your collaborations, you need to pay attention to the following points:
- Overall aims
- Specific outputs
- Key deadlines
- Communication schedules and methods
- Key roles and responsibilities
- Contingency plans if things go wrong (This is really new to me)
We learn to categorize our collaborators into six different types: Strong/Weak, Intrinsic/Extrinsic, Alike/Different. Using this categorization, we are able to begin to identify ways to strengthen our research connections and enhance our research network.
- Highlight those connections you would like to strengthen.
- For those with whom you would like to strengthen connections, at which point in the research process
could you do this in order to instigate collaboration?
- For those with whom you would like to strengthen connections, what action could you take to build this relationship? Consider both online and offline opportunities for connection.
- For those with whom you would like to strengthen connections, what might be “in it for them”?
In small groups, we shared our plans and discussed possible problems/issues with the plans we created.
We learn how to communication with a potential collaborator via either a face-to-face conversation or email. In a face-to-face meeting, you may ask a potential collaborator about his/her research, like “Why is your research being done?”, “What problems are you seeking to solve?”, “What are you doing that’s different?”, “What are the connections between your research and the research of others?”, and so on. In an email, it is recommended to structure your email using ODAC (Openning (purpose and content), Details, Action, Closing) or BLADE (Bottom Line, Action, Details, Extras).
In the end of this module, we participated in a collaboration challenge. Trainers divide us into small groups of three or four people, and we have to come up with a research collaboration plan after around 25 minutes of discussion. During the discussion, we also need to make a poster which will be presented to all other participants and trainers by one member of our group. The following questions are used to help summarize our thoughts.
- What expertise, skills and interests are represented in your poster?
- What resources do you bring together?
- What opportunities for collaboration have emerged?
Day 4 (2023-09-28): Academic Writing Module 1
In this module and the next one, we learn to understand and improve our academic writing skills, in particular the key ingredients, techniques, structures and styles of academic writing.
We begin with some discussions about our experiences in academic writing.
- What are you researching and why is it important?
- What’s the best academic paper or book you’ve read this year? Why?
- What piece of your academic writing are you most proud of? Why?
- What, for you, is the biggest challenge of academic writing? What specific areas are you seeking to improve?
- Regarding academic writing, what do you have in common with other participants?
We then learn to categorize a piece of academic writing into four different types based on the languages (clear/difficult) and the ideas (simple/complex).
- Consider the last piece of academic writing you read. Which type best describes it?
- How about your favourite piece of academic writing you have read?
- How about the last piece of academic writing you wrote?
- How about your favourite piece of academic writing you wrote?
- Which is the best type?
- What is the difference between difficult and complex?
We learn about the quality criteria for academic writing used in UK and also practice in small groups about evaluating some abstracts on a scale of 1 to 10 using these criteria. (You may try to evaluate your abstract too. Also, think of some keywords describing these critera.)
- Originality: the extent to which the output makes an important and innovative contribution to understanding and knowledge in the field.
- Significance: the extent to which the work has influenced, or has the capacity to influence, knowledge and scholarly thought, or the development and understanding of policy and/or practice.
- Rigour: the extent to which the work demonstrates intellectual coherence and integrity, and adopts robust and appropriate concepts, analyses, sources, theories and/or methodologies.
We also learn how to prepare for publishing. One important aspect is to find the right outlet for your manuscript. Trainers introduced us to
We also discuss about predatory journals and open access journals.
Then, we learn how to structure our writing using a classic organizing structure known as IMRaD (Introduction, Nethods, Results, and Discussion). We also learn and discuss some examples about plagiarism (= the action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft).
In the end of this module, through a small quiz, we learn about some ways to present tables/figures and references in a manuscript. Some reference management tools, such as Mendeley, are also introduced.
Day 5 (2023-10-03): Academic Writing Module 2
In this module, we continue to learn about academic writing.
We learn about the definition of conciseness and how to write consisely.
- What is “concise”?
- Can you define it using a sentence having exactly 27 words?
- Can you shorten your sentence to just 14 words?
- Can yoou further shorten your sentence to just 7 words?
- How to write concisely? Here are some tips from the participant book:
- Eliminate unnecessary phrases and redundancies.
- Use clear and straightforward language.
- Write in the active voice.
- Shorten wordy phrases.
- Eliminate extra nouns.
We also talk about abstracts and how to write a nice abstract.
From the participant book,
An abstract is a summary of all the key elements of the paper or presentation it represents. Whether standalone or as part of a paper, the abstract must represent the whole work it is abstracted from. It is an original work, not an excerpted passage. An abstract must be fully self-contained and make sense by itself, without further reference to outside resources or to the actual paper. It highlights key content areas, your research purpose, the relevance and importance of your work and the main outcomes.
The key elements of an abstract are:
- Background (gives the context).
- Aim or purpose (answers the “why?” question, and hopefully hooks the reader’s interest).
- Particular interest/focus of paper (narrows the subject).
- Overview of contents (not always included, but helps the reader understand what will be in there).
- Method used (including samples, case studies, etc. All the crucial details of how the research was conducted – may be what the reader is seeking, and also contributes to the credibility of the research).
- Findings/results (explains the unique contribution of the research – may be what the reader is seeking).
- Conclusions (what the findings/results mean. It might include reference to outputs, outcomes, consequences, impacts, recommendations, or signposting further research. It may also contain an assessment of the results. It addresses the “So what?” issues – may be what the reader is seeking).
We also learn how to categorize abstracts based on their funtionality or their style.
- Structured abstract: An abstract with distinct, labelled sections (e.g., Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) for rapid comprehension
- Graphical abstract: A single, concise, pictorial and visual summary of the main findings of an article
- Descriptive abstract: An abstract that provides a brief outline of the work but does not provide information on the results or conclusion
- Video abstract: A summary of a manuscript, in motion picture, which promotes the highlights of the study including the key findings and conclusion
- Highlight abstract: An abstract that hooks the reader’s attention by emphasising what is unique about a manuscript but does not give a complete picture of the paper
When writing an abstract, it is also important to identify which types of abstract you should use for your main audiences.
In small groups, we practice reviewing some sample abstracts. (You can also start reviewing your abstracts.) We also practice reviewing an abstract of one of our group’s members and score it.
- What is the area of study (natural science, social science, arts and humanities, engineering, medicine, etc.)?
- What are the essential elements? Note the order they are in (and note any that are missing).
- What is the purpose of the abstract (presentation, paper to be published, etc.)?
- Who are the intended audiences (e.g. academics, peers, public, same field, same specific area of enquiry – might there be any secondary audiences)?
- What are the differences in style: use of passive vs. active; sentence length; use of jargon; use of references; balance between context/describing the topic and defining the research question/what was done or found?
- Given the above, which of the abstracts you have read do you feel are less effective? Which are more effective? Can you also identify specific trends/styles relevant to specific disciplines?
- Now think about your own abstract writing. Which aspects of your abstract writing are you specifically aiming to improve?
We also learn about the peer review process and how to engage with journal peer review. There are different ways to organizing your response to the reviewers. One way is:
- Thank the reviewers for spending time and effort to review your paper.
- For each reviewer, response to their comments one by one.
You can also think about the following questions
- In your view, what is the best practice for organising your response letter? How in that structure would you distinguish your responses from the reviewers’ comments?
- Two reviewers have made identical comments and similar suggestions about a particular aspect of your manuscript. What is the best way to organise your response to their comments?
- A reviewer has made a strongly worded criticism of a specific part of your manuscript, but you realise that the criticism
is based on an inaccurate assertion (e.g. they claimed you have not undertaken a particular analysis, which you have). What is the best strategy to respond to this?
- What are the potential risks in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the peer review process? How can these be mitigated?
In the last part of this module, we discuss about the difference between books/monographs and journal articles.
Day 6 (2023-10-03): Effective Proposals Module
In this module, we learn about how to write an effective proposal. We begin by discussing the following questiosn:
- What is the purpose of a proposal
- from the applicant’s perspective?
- from the funder perspective?
- What makes an ineffective proposal?
In small groups, we imagine ourselves as the funders and assess sample proposals. We decide whether we should accept their proposals or not and have to provide 3-5 main reasons for our decisions. It is important that the intention for your research needs to match the funder’s funding criteria.
A strategy for demonstrating trust in your proposal is to ask the questions What?, So what?!, Now what?
- What do you want?
- How is what you want responding to what they/the funders want?
- So what?!
- What difference will the funding make to your research?
- What difference will the research make to the world?
- Why you (as opposed to someone else)?
- Now what?
- What are you going to do with the money?
- What’s the plan?
- What does success look like?
In small groups, we practice writing a proprosal of our group, reviewing some other group’s proposal, and receiving feedbacks for our proposal.
Some questions that you may find helpful in planning your proposal:
- Who are the readers?
- What information does your audience need to know?
- What is the purpose of the proposal?
- What is the current situation and what will be the benefits of your research?
- What critical difference will this proposal make to your audience?
- What specific criteria must you pay special attention to?
We write our proposal based on a given template that includes the following main parts:
- Project details: Title, duration, budget.
- Research team details: Project leader, member(s) (if any).
- Project abstract (100 words): A concise overview of all aspects of the proposed project.
- Research project timeline: Provide a simple timeline or project plan highlighting key activities across the project lifespan.
- Research project proposal: Summarise your project aim, methods and motivations, and projected scope of results. The summary must be understandable to a general academic audience.
- Research project deliverables: What will be the outputs and outcomes of your project? What do you expect to achieve if you are successfully awarded funding?
The following criteria are used for assessing a proposal from some other group:
- research quality,
- candidate’s quality and experience,
- research importance,
- research results,
- value for money,
- feasibility within the stated timescale.
There are some ways to organize your feedbacks:
- Desired Behaviour
Some tips I received when writing a proposal:
- You should match your research intention with the funder’s criteria.
- What is in it for the funder if they accept your proposal?
- You need to write your proposal in a clear and concise way.
- Be more targeted
- Be more clear
- Be more specific
- Be more persuative
- When you collaborate with your colleagues in writing a proposal, put your trust in them.
- You should specify the length of your project in months.
- You should have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.
- You should have a template/outline when writing a proposal. (You can use the above-mentioned template.)
- You should convince the funder that your proposed project is deliverable.
- You need a good plan/timeline.
- Specifying clearly who doing what.
- Having a project management plan.
Day 7 (2023-10-04): Presenting Effectively Module
In this module, we learn about how to present our research effectively.
First of all, we dicuss about the following questions: in term of
- Slides/visual aids
- Body language & voice
- Answering questions
what makes a good/effective presentation and what makes a bad/ineffective presentation? Additionally, what are these answers telling you about how to present effectively? And then based on these answers, what could you do differently when you present?
In small groups, we discuss about why we are presenting to an audience instead of writing a paper.
- When might you present (your research)? To whom?
- What unique preparations might this situation entail or require?
Next, we learn different ways to structure our presentations. The following are taken from the participant book.
- Structure 1: ‘What? > So what?! > Now what?’
- The What can be about what happened, or what you’re doing, for example, your current research project.
- The So what?! can be about the significance, or implications, of something, for example, the significance of your research project, or perhaps its findings.
- The Now what? can be about, of course, what you’re going to do next. But it can also be about how you undertook your research, for example, your methodology or theoretical framework.
- Within the broad structure of What? So what?! Now what?, you can interpret what these three different parts mean to you and how they will help you communicate your message to your intended audience.
- Structure 2: ‘Problem > Solution > Benefit (of the solution)’
- Problem: You outline a problem, for example, the one that your research is seeking to solve.
- Solution: You then state a solution to that problem or how your research might try to solve it.
- Benefit: You then state the benefit of that solution, perhaps for your intended audience, or for society in general, for example.
Also from the participant book, here is a way to structure the introduction to your presentation: as easy as
- How might you grab your audience’s attention? With a relevant anecdote or fact (depending on your audience’s expectations)?
- This “attention grabber” is also known as a “hook”, i.e. to “hook” your audience’s attention.
- What are the benefits of your audience listening to your presentation?
- Another way of expressing the idea behind “benefits” is “So what?!”
- While not always the case, sometimes it might be necessary to express why your audience should believe in your research. For example, if you are presenting to an audience who may be skeptical of your research or position, you may need to acknowledge their possible skepticism and dissuade it by stating your research experience on a topic.
- It can be useful to close your introduction by telling your audience what you are going to cover in your presentation, i.e. the “direction” of your talk.
- Telling your audience what you are going to address as part of making your message or argument can help maintain your audience’s attention.
We discuss about how to make best use of visual aids depending on who your audiences are.
It can be useful to first ask yourself:
- How do I work best to remember what I want to tell my audience?
- Do I need to write a word-for-word script?
- Do I need to capture bullet points to prompt me?
- Is a visual map, spider diagram or equivalent most useful for me?
Then, it is useful to rehearse what you are going to say out loud – whether to yourself or to other people.
We also watched some videos (just the first 2-3 minutes) and discussed about how the presenters in these videos gave their presentations. I was most impressed with this presentation of Ika Lestari Damayanti from Indonesia. Other videos can be found from the following URLs:
You can find here some guidence about “How to create accessible PowerPoint presentations”.
We also discuss about how to manage nerves. Everyone at one time or another gets nervous before they present. We suggested several tips to manage that. Some of them are:
- Listening to your favourite song.
- Do some physical exercises.
- Drinking water (just a little).
- Don’t practice much before your presentation but take a quick look before your turn.
- Hold clicker.
- Deep breathing.
- Chewing gum.
In the end of this module, in small groups, we practice what we have learned by giving a 3-minute presentation and recieving feedbacks from other members of our group. Some technical issues happen and we were not able to complete this task.
Day 8 (2023-10-05): Trainer Clinic
In this final module, we revisit some aspects that we think should be further explored. Several interesting questions have been discussed, for example
- Different types of abstracts and how to use them.
- Structured/Unstructured/Descriptive abstracts.
- How to evaluate and request a reasonable amount of funding in my research proposal. (I asked this question and received a lot of useful advices. The key point is to link your strategy to the funding: “to do this, how much do you need?”. Another thing is that you need to know what can(not) be paid from the funding (allowed/unallowed costs). In particular, you may have to consider the money for buying equipments, paying staffs/assistants, traveling, publishing, and so on. A tip is to consider also an extra amount of money for contingency in case something goes wrong. You should also ask yourself: what if you are given less than the amount you are required? It is also useful to know the budget range of the funding you want to apply.)
- An example of a response letter for a journal submission.
- Using ChatGPT to help you write and present better.
Some other activities we did are:
- Explore Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
- Explore research landscape and research career development (challenges and opportunities) in one another’s countries, institutions, or regions of the same country
- Share with one another international research resources and opportunities that could be of benefit
- Commit to some action planning linked with timelines, and undertake a reflective wrap-up of the workshop
- Provide and, if possible, discuss feedback about the workshop
We conclude the training by taking a group photo and exchange contact informations. I have learned several useful stuff from this training and I hope that I can apply what I have learned so far to advance my research career.