MultiSim has 12 post-doctoral researchers/research assistants (PDRAs). We interviewed this group to explore how they felt MultiSim has contributed to their professional development so far. The paragraphs below provide an overview of their feedback on the training opportunities we offer. Our interviews found that PDRAs actively seek new training opportunities and are self-aware of identifying their own research training needs. They are proactive in creating or identifying resources that can help them achieve their goals. Many have progressed to research roles in industry or been successful in obtaining lectureships. We hope that through our training and support opportunities, they acquire all the skills needed to be future academic leaders that are confident in running their own projects.
Proof of concept scheme
We have a combination of PDRAs with several years of project experience on one end to freshly qualified PhDs starting off their research career on the other. We invited experienced PDRAs to bid for internal funding to lead a mini project that would focus on a highly novel or ambitious area of multiscale research. The area of research had to be one that was not already covered by the MultiSim project or one that looked on how to integrate two existing work packages.
Three senior PDRAs were successful with their bids and they were each awarded £33,000 to spend on recruiting early career researchers finishing their PHD. This study will be funded for a period of one year and each of the experienced PDRAs will act as the Principal Investigator for their respective projects. Our PDRAs feel the Scheme will allow them to gain experience of writing research proposals, project management, obtaining funding, mentoring and teaching skills.
Successful senior PDRAs and the title of their projects
- Mario Giorgi – A 3D realistic FE model of the growing mouse knee joint
- Aban Shuaib – A multiscale bone remodelling predictor for discovering innovative therapies for osteoporosis
- Pinaki Bhattacharya – A cost-weighted network analysis to discover clinically feasible and accurate multiscale hypermodels
We involve our PhDs and PDRAs in project review meetings. Our researchers feel this initiative provides a unique opportunity to see the organisation and communication between groups in such a large and complex collaborative project.
Professor Damien Lacroix, Director of MultiSim was accompanied by three of our PDRAs to MultiSim’s midterm review with EPSRC’s committee in London. This group felt this opportunity helped them to further understand how a grant review process is managed from the funder side.
We encourage our PDRAs to be actively involved with the organisation and planning of the ‘Modelathon’, a multiscale modelling competition held over a period of three days in September each year. Senior academic staff oversee PDRAs who take responsibility for designing challenges for this competition. Our PDRAs believe that this is a great opportunity to understand all the steps needed to organise a successful event. They feel that the problem solving/management skills they have acquired through this experience are extremely useful and will help them in leading their own successful events in the future.
Since the inception of MultiSim, its PDRAs have produced 27 papers and given talks at 37 conferences and seminars. PDRAs feel these opportunities have developed their capability to convey their research in a coherent argument and articulate their ideas. At University level PDRAs value the opportunities available to develop soft skills such as time management, presentation skills and technical writing.
For example, Dr Mario Giorgi commented:
“In less than two years as a MultiSim PDRA, I have published one paper, two are under review, and one is in preparation. I have participated in a number of conferences including a 4-day summer school in Barcelona (Spain), and ESB conference in Lyon (France). At all of these conferences, my research has been positively evaluated and accepted as a podium presentation. This year I will be presenting at the IEB conference in Brisbane (Australia), and the ESB conference in Seville (Spain).”
As MultiSim consists of engineers, clinicians and modellers it provides an ideal opportunity to develop soft skills needed to work in a multidisciplinary team. Dr Ian Hannah, a former PDRA who is now a Simulation Engineer at Adidas commented on the parallels between the project and his new employer. He feels the project’s multidisciplinary structure equipped him with a wide range of competencies that have been particularly useful in his new role in a commercial environment.
As life as a postdoc can be isolating, we encourage participation in social activities organised by Insigneo’s wider research community. The University of Sheffield offers a range of activities for both its staff and students. For example, last year, Dr Ana Campos participated in the University’s charity walk raising money for refugee academics. Insigneo hosted its own “Bake Off” and MultiSim hosted its own researchers away day.
As a part of Sheffield’s Festival of Science and Engineering, MultiSim hosted a number of public engagement sessions entitled “Dem bones gonna walk around”.
These sessions proved to be a hit with the general public and many were fully booked weeks in advance. Researchers demonstrated to the public how their measurements and multiscale simulations will be used in the hospital of the future.
This activity provided an opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the public about our research by explaining how and why our research is important and relevant to the public, and to enthuse curiosity about science from an early age. The learning process was not just one way! Our PDRA staff feel this experience has helped them become much better at communicating complex scientific ideas in an accessible manner. A skill they feel has many applications from writing papers and grant applications to preparing conference presentations.