Research Staff Conference

The University of Reading Research Staff Conference: Research Funding, Strategy and Impact took place on the 4th February 2015. The Research Staff Committee (with the support of People Development) organised the conference to examine key issues facing Research Staff at Reading. This conference aimed to enable Research Staff to develop their own responses to the key issues of securing funding, developing a strategy and making an impact. The conference also provided an opportunity to network with fellow researchers from across the university.

Event Themes
• Presentations by senior representatives from the Research Councils on winning funding.
• Feedback on the University of Reading’s Research Strategy & REF Results.
• How to maximise your Research Impact
• Promotion for Research Staff
• Women and promotion in the University
• Non-academic career paths for Research Staff
• The European Commission Human Resource Excellence in Research Award
• Networking lunch

Both Macarena Cardenas (GES) and Pascal Flohr (Archaeology)attended the event, and answer some questions about their impression of the day:

What was your main impression of the Conference?

Pascal – It was great to meet research staff from different places in the University, and in fact to meet people from within the School. Working in an office or lab most days, you don’t always really speak to other research staff, even if they have their offices in the same corridor. The conference was a good opportunity to do exactly that.

It was useful to have some more general information on research within the University, but I mainly found the more specific workshops valuable. I attended a workshop on AHRC funding and one on careers outside academia. It was an eye-opener that the last session was very busy: I am clearly not the only one who wonders what to do if there is no job for me in academia (after all, only ~20% of post-doctoral researchers will be able to find a permanent position in academia).

Macarena – I thought this was a remarkable event. From the venue to the quality of speakers, I thought this was a valuable event and I personally took loads from it. Looking at the great effort from Dr Justin Hutchence I am not surprised with the organisation and quality of the Conference. I felt supported and valued.

I was pleased to see how much Research Staff and academics cared. Without the interest of participants this event would have not been as successful as it was. I personally loved to see how the people that attended the seminar that Dr Hutchence and I provided were so excited to share their thoughts.  In fact some could not even get to write all their information on the flipcharts!

On the other hand, being behind the scenes and knowing how much planning and work this event took I feel that it has more value. Seeing the Development and Enterprise team working to have everything ready to go on time made me realise how much they care about Research Staff.

Were your expectations met?
Pascal – Yes.

Macarena Cardenas

Macarena Cardenas


Macarena – Absolutely, from both organising team sessions and the attendees. I thought people really appreciated the event from both sides, and this showed in the good attendance and atmosphere.







What did you think of your role within the conference? Do you think that you could have done more or something different?
Pascal – I was a participant. I could of course have been more involved in organising the conference, or a session, but I did not feel the need to do this (it was already done well!).

Macarena – You can always do more, can’t you? This experience makes me want to be a lot more involved the next time.
I would have not done anything different really. What I would include next time perhaps is hands on activities, and to create interdisciplinary groups to facilitate future collaboration.

About my role, I think I did give my best, and was as involved in as much as possible. I enjoyed talking to research staff and professors from other disciplines that otherwise would have not been possible. I believe I took the most I could from the day.

What are you taking away from this experience?

Pascal Flohr

Pascal Flohr


Pascal – A lot of information on various aspects of research, like how to integrate impact into research, what the REF results mean, how to apply for funding, and how to assess which career to choose.







Macarena – Great learning and reinforcement that can be summarised in three words: Connect, Impact and Publish!

Would you recommend this event in the future to other research staff, and why?
Pascal – Yes. The main reason is that it is very nice to meet other research staff from various schools.

Macarena – I would absolutely recommend it. The networking, learning, and facilitation at this event were extremely valuable. Feeling supported and connected as research staff is key.

Did you see any difference in gender attending the conference? If yes, where was this evident?
Pascal – I had the idea that the conference participants were about 50:50 male:female, or in any case that the numbers were not specifically much more leaning to one side or the other. It was striking though that all the main speakers, so those in the plenary session, were male, and also the majority of members of the Research Staff Committee are male (including the chair). It is of course possible that this is coincidence, after all we are talking about small numbers. But I think it is likely that this is mirroring the general trend in (and outside of) academia where there are about equal numbers of female and male undergraduate students, post-graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers, after which suddenly relatively few women are present in permanent academic roles and especially in management roles.

Macarena – The only difference I noticed was that the Professors invited to speak in the general sessions were only males, but that just appears to demonstrate the reality of the percentage of women in high academic positions. There were some female academics giving talks in masterclasses and seminars.

Would you say that the conference addressed and supported both genders equally?
Pascal – Yes, I did not notice any difference in how different genders were addressed.

Macarena – Yes, equal support. I did not notice any reinforcement to any gender in particular. All presentations and speeches were neutral and supportive to both research staff and academics.

Any further comments?
Macarena – That I enjoyed it, learned a lot and would recommend it to both academic and research staff.

Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant? Much Depends on Gender

Pascal Flohr (Archaeology) highlighted this article in the New Y0rk Times from the 6th February 2015.  Claire Cain Miller discusses – Is the professor Bossy or Brilliant? Much Depends on Gender

Results for a search of "genius" on the interactive chart show students are likelier to apply this word to their male professors.

Results for a search of “genius” on the interactive chart show students are likelier to apply this word to their male professors.


Life-changing fieldwork in pre-war Syria

The reason I stayed in archaeology is my first fieldwork season in Syria. Halfway through my undergraduate degree, I found archaeology certainly very interesting and enjoyable, but I had started wondering how relevant it really was to society. Was it not more a sort of elaborate hobby, fun for a while, but not worth spending my whole life on? I was planning to start taking a few non-archaeological modules after the summer break. First though there were ten weeks of fieldwork in the Middle East that I had already signed up for, an opportunity I did not want to miss in any case. So, off I went to rural northern Syria.


1.View from the main archaeological site to a smaller adjacent site, the cotton fields, and the village where we stayed. Photo by Ben van den Bercken

1. View from the main archaeological site to a smaller adjacent site, the cotton fields, and the village where we stayed. Photo by Ben van den Bercken












The archaeological site I went to was a small Neolithic tell (Arabic for artificial mound) with an Middle Assyrian (about 13th century BC) fortress on top. Its name is Tell Sabi Abyad, which translates as ‘mound of the white boy’ – the place is believed to be haunted, although an attempt by some of my fellow students to spot the ghost one night was not successful. The site is located in what currently is a steppe zone, or an area with a limited amount of rainfall. However, extensive irrigation makes the landscape look rather greener than the Sahara desert many people back home appear to think all of the Middle East looks like! On the photos you can see the green cotton fields surrounding the site.


2.Early morning hot, sweet tea with my team. Later in the season, in October, the very early mornings could be chilly. The site and village are currently in IS area - I very much hope everyone in the village is all right!

2. Early morning hot, sweet tea with my team. Later in the season, in October, the very early mornings could be chilly. The site and village are currently in IS area – I very much hope everyone in the village is all right!












We arrived in the middle of August, and temperatures were up to a scorching high 40s in the shade. The sort of covering, lightweight clothing Kevin wrote about ( was certainly essential! We stayed in a traditional mud brick house in the nearby village – very lovely, although also very dusty, as was the archaeological site. In the mornings, the raspy voice of the imam coming from the mosque would wake us around 4 o’clock. This was the signal it was almost time to get up, in order to be on the site before sunrise, so we could do some work before the worst heat would set in. In the afternoons we would mostly work in the slightly cooler excavation house. Not used to the heat and the food, everyone fell ill almost immediately. So, heat, hard work, and sickness. But I loved it. The archaeology was amazing, 8500 year old mud walls, still preserved. In the buildings we found some of the earliest pottery in the Middle East, and many beautiful (as well as less beautiful) artefacts of daily life, like grinding stones, and figurines. The local people were extremely friendly, especially considering they were dealing with inexperienced students who could not speak their language but yet were commandeering them around (or well, trying to). On an almost daily basis we were invited for strong, sweet tea at people’s houses. The other students and archaeologists were also great. While dinnertime political discussions were frequent, in our ‘bubble’ we did not really worry about the global news; generally, we just focused on our daily work and survival.


3.From sunrise… (photo: Ben van den Bercken)

3. From sunrise… (photo: Ben van den Bercken)










4.… to sunset (photo: Willem Londeman)

4. … to sunset (photo: Willem Londeman)











I decided that I did not care if archaeology was not that important to society: I simply loved it and would continue to do it. But more gradually I also realised something else: that in fact archaeology is all about society. We do not just want to find some fancy things (right?), but we want to figure out what it was like for people to live back then. What did they do? How did they do the things they did? And, mainly, why did they do them? Of course, this is something that I had already learned in my university courses. But, and Duncan also referred to this in his blog (posted on the 5th December 2014), it is the actual digging that can lead to new ideas, or in this case, that can make us really understand the ideas that until then we just knew in theory.

5.Drawing 5 metre high sections. A few days previous, there was a large snake in one of the holes to the top! (photo: Ben van den Bercken)

5. Drawing 5 metre high sections. A few days previous, there was a large snake in one of the holes to the top! (photo: Ben van den Bercken)















About today’s blogger:

PascalFlohr_wPascal Flohr is a post-doctoral research assistant in Middle Eastern Archaeology, working for Professor Dominik Fleitmann. Her main aim is to assess the impact of climatic events on Holocene Near Eastern societies, by compiling and re-analysing existing data using a database and GIS, with a current focus on Early Holocene rapid climate events, such as the 8.2 ka event.

Pascal’s doctoral research focused on reconstructing past water availability by using plant stable isotopic composition, with a main aim of reconstructing past water management practices in the Near East. She was involved in experimental crop growing in Jordan (led by the Water, Life, and Civilisation project in cooperation with NCARE), conducted charring and burial experiments with cereal grains in Jordan and the UK, and applied the method to archaeological plant samples from the Jordan Valley.

Pascal has been involved in several archaeological projects in the Near East, including the experimental building of a replica Neolithic structure based on the site of WF16, Jordan, and documenting and repairing experimental structures at Beidha, also in Jordan. In addition, she has got extensive fieldwork experience in the Near East, at sites like Sabi Abyad in Syria, WF16 and Barqa in Jordan, and Bestansur in Iraq.