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I’d heard about Crucible before, from two friends who’d been accepted on NESTA crucibles and who’d be trying to get me to apply for some number of years. So I was very pleased indeed when I moved to Wales, and managed to be one of the lucky 30 selected for the first Welsh Crucible in 2011. The Crucible experience has been hugely positive for me. Thanks to the Crucible I’ve spoken in depth to researchers working in areas I’d never even considered before, which has in itself changed the way I look at my own work. I’m also more aware of the social and political context of research, and I’ve got a lot more confidence when it comes to “going for it”. I think a lot of the best work happens on the boundaries between traditional disciplines, and the Crucible helps to develop an understanding of the many ways we can work on these disciplinary interfaces. Perhaps the best things that have come out of the Crucible experience for me are the connections – the best bit really was the people. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in collaboration and thinking outside of disciplinary boxes.
I was one of the lucky few selected for the inaugural Welsh Crucible in 2011. The aim was to bring some of Wales’ top research minds together to see what would happen – something that attracted me in applying in the first place. The crowd attracted was from a diverse range of backgrounds, encompassing fields ranging from Social Science and English Literature to Engineering, Medical Research and Quantum Chemistry, to name but a few, but was fundamentally a group of high-energy, highly-motivated individuals. By leading us through a range of tasks and exposing us to different methods of working through the various guest lectures, the group of initial strangers was brought together and a number of awesome ideas started to develop. By the end of the three sessions, both new friendships and many new collaborations had been established, which are still on-going. We’d also had a chance to meet with successful individuals from Government, Industry, Academia and the Media in order to plunder their experience to help us in our own future success.
The call for applications for the first Welsh Crucible coincided with Cedar starting to do a lot more of its own research and, as I was keen to become more immersed in the research community, I applied for a place. I didn’t really know what to expect of Welsh Crucible – the organisers kept the finer detail of the programme deliberately vague – but went with an open mind. I’ve been on management development courses in the past and thought that it may be similar to these, but Welsh Crucible was quite different from the outset. It was less about learning skills and techniques to ‘apply’ in the workplace, than about opening up your mind and giving you the freedom to be more innovative and creative in your work, and I found this very helpful. In our day-to-day research we often work within a range of constraints – this is especially so in clinical research – and this can make us lose sight of our creativity. It was also stimulating to meet people from a wide range of disciplines, people whose research areas are so different to my own, and to discover areas of common ground, as well as learning about alternative ways of approaching research. Welsh Crucible also encouraged me to think more carefully about my own profile, something which I hadn’t really considered before, and about how other people perceive my research. Writing an article about my research for the Western Mail and a piece about my career for the Institute of Physics was particularly helpful in this regard, and both of these arose directly as a result of my participation in Welsh Crucible. The workshop on working with the media was very thought- provoking and provided practical advice on how to do it effectively. Since taking part in Welsh Crucible I have thought a lot more about the public face of Cedar, ensuring that our website is updated regularly, and thinking more about how we present our work to the outside world and raise Cedar’s profile. It has been enormously helpful to build links with researchers in academia, as many of our interests are complementary. Welsh Crucible helped me to broaden my network and I have been in touch with several of the other participants since the formal programme ended. I am currently collaborating with some of the others on a pilot project to investigate the development of smart pill sensors that can analyse the physiological function of the digestive system, and there are other potential collaborations in the pipeline. If I was going to summarise, the things I liked most about Welsh Crucible were meeting such a diverse group of people and taking time out to focus on research. I would definitely recommend it to anyone working in research outside of the higher education sector. Prior to participating in the programme I thought of myself as a Medical Physicist who did a bit of research; above all, Welsh Crucible has made me think of myself as a researcher.
I was encouraged to apply to take part in the first Welsh Crucible by the Civil and Computational Engineering Centre, the research centre that I work for within the College of Engineering at Swansea University. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to submit my application. It was an excellent decision which I have not regretted in the slightest. The first Welsh Crucible helped me to enhance my research portfolio, expand into new areas of interdisciplinary research collaboration with other academic colleagues across Wales and raised my awareness of critical aspects in research these days, such as STEM engagement activities and how to communicate effectively my research to general media. If I have to summarise my experience in participating in the first Welsh Crucible, here are some key facts:
The main reason I applied for Welsh Crucible is because I hoped that it would take me outside of my professional comfort zone. My research field of logistics and operations management is, by its nature, multidisciplinary, and I was conscious that to take my research further I needed to broaden my horizons. Welsh Crucible helped me to explore what was going on beyond my immediate research area and gave me the opportunity to learn about other people’s research and about how other people do things. I was the only participant on the programme with a background in business and, at first, I was unsure about how my work could fit with the work of the others around me. However, the programme is designed to help you find areas of common interest and I am now working on projects with several of the other participants. Being part of Welsh Crucible has opened up lots of new research directions for me. Since participating I have been awarded a grant under the EPSRC first grant scheme, and I am certain that my participation in Welsh Crucible added value to my application for this. I am currently setting up a number of new research projects with colleagues working in Psychology, Engineering, City and Regional Planning. Taking part in Welsh Crucible has given me the confidence to work with researchers in other disciplines, as well as the tools to develop these collaborations.
As my own research investigates the interdisciplinary relationships between literature and science I was immediately interested in the Welsh Crucible, although concerned that it would be of benefit only to researchers working in the sciences. I was still apprehensive about this when I realised I was the only humanities scholar involved. However, from the very first sessions of the programme it was clear that this was going to be a hugely rewarding collegial and collaborative experience.
Working intensively with similarly enthusiastic and driven researchers, from whatever discipline, was not only inspiring but also informative and thought-provoking. I gained a great deal from hearing different perspectives on academic research, planning, and leadership. And I learned a thing or two from the excellent speakers in relation to research and the media, gaining access to policymakers, and how to lead collaborative research projects professionally and fruitfully.
As a result of taking part in the Welsh Crucible I have made a huge number of new contacts, which will pay off in the future. But more than that I am now involved in several new projects with colleagues across Wales, and their continuing enthusiasm for what we all do really makes a difference to my professional life.
I would urge anyone from the humanities who has an interest in collaborative work with other disciplines to apply – curiosity and imagination essential!