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(S1E1) Meet the Culturositists: Introducing Ruth Winden and careers
Episode 127th October 2022 • Research Culture Uncovered • Research Culturosity, University of Leeds
00:00:00 00:16:14

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In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? This episode is part of Season 1, where we get to meet the hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to host seasons on their specialist topic. In this episode your host Emma Spary is joined by Ruth Winden.

Ruth Winden is the Careers with Research Consultant at the University of Leeds, overseeing the career development of our researchers. She brings a wealth of experience from many years working as a careers professional running her own consultancy business. She has designed, and delivers, our fantastic Career Architect and Career Accelerator programmes. You can connect to Ruth via LinkedIn or Twitter (@RuthWinden).

I ask Ruth what she thinks the biggest challenges are for researchers, what we do well at Leeds, where she thinks we can improve and what she hopes to see in the future. Her main messages include:

  • the importance of support from senior leaders
  • the need for open, honest career discussions between researchers and managers
  • acknowledging the challenges researchers face with fewer roles in academia available to them
  • the power of cohort based career development programmes to share experiences and build confidence

Be sure to check out the other episodes in this season to find out more about the hosts Emma Spary, Ged Hall, Tony Bromley and Nick Sheppard with a few special guest appearances.


Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds, @OpenResLeeds, @ResCultureLeeds

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch:



Welcome to the research culture uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture, and what should it be? You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you wanted to be.

Emma Spary:

Hi, it's Emma. And for those of you who don't know. I lead the researcher development and culture team at the University of Leeds. And in my role, I get to work on all aspects of research culture. You're joining us in season one, where we're getting to know our co-hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to host seasons of their own.

Each co-host has responsibility, experience and enthusiasm for a specific area of research culture at the University of Leeds. And I'm delighted today to introduce Ruth Winden our careers with research consultant. Ruth joined us after many years, running her own careers, consultancy business, and we've had the joy of working together on her career development programs for quite a while now.

I'm always amazed that every time we work together, I learn something new or I get thrown a new challenge.

Ruth Winden:

Ruth, do you remember the elephant? Oh, the elephant in the room. That's when you and I, Emma did the career architect program and I think you'd just done graphic facilitation training and you, and you were practicing your craft and you were already so good.

And you said to me, Ruth, when you facilitate, just throw things at me and I will capture it visually. This we were discussing in the group. How do you tackle, you know, career change and how do you get organized? And, and people felt a bit overwhelmed. And I said, oh, you know, how do you eat an elephant? I don't know where that came from, to be honest, but it just popped into my head.

How do you eat an elephant bit by bit? So I looked over to you and said, Emma, can you draw as an elephant? And I will never forget that look on your face.

Emma Spary:

It was quite a challenge, 20 people staring at me whilst I'm trying to draw this massive elephant thinking, how on earth do I get out of this?

Ruth Winden:

Oh, but you did it beautiful. And you know what? I just realized, I took all those, you know, Photos of these beautiful images that you drew for us. And I still have them. So they are pieces of art.

Emma Spary:

might be worth something in a few years time, but I think it's fair to say that you and I have had quite a lot of fun actually working with researchers over the last couple of years.

They're always so enthusiastic. Um, and so are you, and I'm just wondering what it is about this particular group of people that you enjoy working with so much.

Ruth Winden:

You know, I really love working with them because they are such wonderful individuals. You know, they're enthusiastic, they're incredibly motivated.

They are so talented and often don't even know it. You know, they're intelligent, they're really reflective and they want to make a difference in the world. And that's something I can really relate to. Why are we in our profession? Because we want to make a difference in the world and they're international.

So am I, you know, I'm European. And so there is a lot I have in common. And the wonderful thing is, you know, when you work with people who are so committed to their own development, They make it so easy because very often all they need is a nudge, a word of encouragement or a strategy, or, you know, some tips or tricks, you know, but they get it.

And that is so rewarding as a career professional because you know that you're helping people really achieve what they want to achieve. And to be honest, what they often say, they never thought they could.

Emma Spary:

And that's really interesting. They never thought they could do, do you think they've got any idea how valuable they are to employers?

Ruth Winden:

They don't. And that is something that really pains me. Having worked for two decades with recruiters, with employers in all sectors. Telling me, we can't find talent. And then I come and see all our wonderful researchers at the University of Leeds and obviously at other institutions. And you think here they are, you know, and, and that's something I'm really keen for them to understand who they are.

What they offer what they want to achieve and whatever that is. Because one thing I love about working for the university, I'm really proud of, to be at Leeds is that we really value careers in all its breadth. You know, it's not that we are saying the academic career path is the one and everything else is second best.

Absolutely not. And so I think helping our researchers recognize. The value that they bring and how to express that. I think it's absolutely key to me. And I think there's one reason and that it's very challenging for me to see, I think in academia, because we're obviously always looking at finding, you know, the truth and the essence of things.

We have to be critical. We have to be analytical, but that often doesn't stop at reach researchers' work. It feels very personal. So I think. Shock is always when they come into our programs, Emma, that they often have very little awareness of how good they are. And they have very often little confidence in who they are, because they're.

Say, well, anyone could do this or, well, I don't really get much positive feedback, you know? And that is something that is a culture that I know you and I are really keen to change because we know that people who are aware of who they are, what they bring and then confidently go out there to make a difference.

That is, you know, when you do your best work. And I think that's where I get my motivation from helping those people realize how good they are and that there are options out. And my role is to help them see those options and then really go for whatever fits with their aspirations.

Emma Spary:

I think there's also a key part in your role though, is actually helping them get that light bulb movement that you can almost see it in the room happening.

They suddenly realize that they can do this. They, they, they are special. They do have unique talents and traits and you're right. It all links back to the confidence aspect, giving them the confidence to explore different careers, but also to explore their own. Career aspirations and what they're really good at.

Ruth Winden:

Absolutely. And it's the confidence piece that they often say you helped me do things I never thought I could do. And that is interesting, isn't it? Because at the end, you know, it's that positive recognition, that awareness and also understanding what they do. Mean doesn't mean that everyone can do this because I think that's the accused excuse.

I hear most often, oh, anyone can do this and you, and I know Emma, that is not true.

Emma Spary:

No, it's definitely not. So what's, what's working so well at Leeds. What do you think we're currently doing?

Ruth Winden:

Well, yeah, I think it, for me, it really starts with that culture and that recognition at the univers at the University of Leeds, we say.

Any career path as a researcher is equally valid and valuable, and it's not just something we say we really supported. And for me, that was one of the main reasons why I came to leads because for me, that is so important, you know, that rec recognition researchers have so many fantastic, you know, talents and ex so much expertise, so many skills.

You can take this in any direction you want. And I think we also owe it to them. We have to be honest about the fact, sadly, there are not enough academic positions open to researchers, and we also know it is a very demanding career path. So to be clear to say, whatever you choose is a good choice.

Provided that you thought about it long and hard, and it fits with your aspirations and your expertise go in whatever direction you want. I think that is really important. And we do this at leads. You know, it's something that is coming from the top, from our, you know, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Nick Plant.

It's also coming from a lot of deans it's coming from us, you know, so it's really embedded. In the university with championing that. So that's number one, open, you know, being clear about lots of career paths open to you. And then obviously we support this with a really diverse program. And I'm proud of that because we really offer something for everyone.

If you want to pursue an academic career path, I mean, Emma you put so much in place for, you know, how to get fellowship, how to get lectureships, you know, how. Become, you know, a senior academic, I mean, all the things that you've done for many, many years. And at the same time, we also offer things about how to change career, how to ch you know, find opportunities we're dealing with imposter syndrome.

We work on confidence. I mean, there is such a broad range of activities, support, you know, big, long programs, short workshops, one to one times sometimes our, our teams group. As a researcher, you can really pick and choose our boost program, which is through the whole year. So we, I think we do really try hard to offer different access points and different support mechanisms.

And again, that's something I think we do really, really well. And as I said before, you know, this championing research is at all levels. You can see all the activities, you know, you, when we talk to senior academics to deans, to the deputy vice chancellor, you know, that they're as passionate about it as we are.

And I think you can see how this is really spreading. And that provides a really good foundation for us to do our work.

Emma Spary:

It certainly makes things easier. Doesn't it? When you've got that, that buy-in at all levels, like you said, from the researchers to the managers, to our senior leaders, I mean, it sounds like we've got it all tied up and it's a job well done, but I think you and I both realize more than most that we've still got quite a way to go.

Ruth Winden:

I couldn't agree more Emma. And you know, we're not the kind of people who will ever rest on our laurels. For me, there is a lot still to do, and actually it will never stop because there will always be new things that you know, that we want to champion and address and change. But for me, you know, there are a few things.

Number one is. And I noticed this. When I came into academia, when I worked in the private sector, there was a lot of emphasis and effort in having career conversations with staff. And when I came to academia, I thought, oh, that's interesting. They're actually not happening. And also, you know, our researchers tell us that, that they don't necessarily have those open conversations about their career.

And so for me, that is a really important thing that we need to do more of helping our research leaders have those career conversations with their researchers and also for the researchers to feel equipped that they can play a part in those conversations. And that's something I will do more work on next year because I really want to help people feel confident.

They don't need to be career professionals to do it well, but I want them to feel confident in having those conversations, because I think once. People feel heard and they can discuss their futures in an open manner. I think it also helps a lot with motivation and, and, you know, working well together in, in the research groups.

And then there is another point for me that is about, you know, having, having systems and processes. Our researchers are a transient group. Because, you know, they come and they might stay for one postdoc or maybe two postdocs. And some of them stay longer term because then they become lecturers. But some people, they come for one postdoc and they're off again and do something else.

And so that is not an easy group to manage because it's coming ongoing and. We need to be really, you know, clear on what are the contact points for them. So when they come in, how do they found out about what is available at least? Because I think one of the challenges people have is because we do so much, , you know, it's hard to get an overview of, oh, what, what is.

What is open to me. So having those systems that people can really dip in, get what they need, feel empowered, you know, and then really learn how to manage their careers for me. And even going with that beyond their time in academia, or it leads. Wherever they go. Because for me, it's always that long term vision.

Am I helping people manage their careers longer term? I'm not interested in quick fixes because you do it and then you forget it for me. It's that longer term piece. And then one thing I'm very passionate about is. Helping people make transitions in and out, or, you know, making the most of work experience, work shadowing to gain confidence in applying themselves in different sectors and different roles.

And I know that our deputy vice chancellor is also really keen on this. He says, we need to become better at allowing that flexibility. Also for people who might want to leave and then come back again, because that's so important, you know, to have people who have experience in academia, go out, get a different perspective, different experience, different skill sets, and then come in.

And if we can make that easier, because I know at the moment, a lot of researchers feel like it's just too difficult. It's impossible. We know that's not true, but it is not easy. And if we can make it easier, I think that would be fantastic.

Emma Spary:

I couldn't agree more. Uh, and you're right. It isn't necessarily easy, but I think it's, you know, they gain research skills as they're doing their research.

So this gives them those career skills that we know they will go on to use whichever career they go into in the next five to 10 years. Ruth, it's been absolutely brilliant talking to you today. I am going to leave the session, um, now with you to give people a bit of a taster on what they can expect in the season that you are going to be hosting.

Ruth Winden:

Yeah. So my season will all be about career conversations with researchers I have worked with, and I handpicked people who made really interesting and wise choices. And I want to have those open conversations. So. How did you come to that conclusion? What made you choose this path? How did you do this? How did you learn that opportunity?

And I think that would be really exciting cuz I know them, they know me, you know, we've worked together quite extensively and hope that they give us these gems and these little tips and tricks and that, you know, people will listen and say, oh right now I get a better idea of what is out there. What is possible.

And it will be a wide range of careers. You can, you can be assured of that and it will. 20 minute conversations with really practical insights. And I can't wait for people to listen to them and feel empowered and then apply those strategies in their own.


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