Over the past few weeks I have thought a lot about leadership – particularly how we can best develop the next generation of leaders across science and what is needed to encourage and support this development.

This was, in part, inspired by a ‘Clear Leadership’ course I took in May, led by Gervase Bushe, a Canadian academic who has published widely in this area. His model is based broadly on the psychology of experience and he has identified four key skills of clear leadership – self-awareness, descriptiveness, curiosity, and appreciation. A particular focus of the course was how this model can be effective in developing and sustaining collaborative partnerships – very relevant to the approach that BBSRC is increasingly taking. I have found the concepts to be eminently practical and not just in a professional setting, but in domestic territory too!

It is curious that professional development for academics, to enable them to realise broader leadership skills beyond the core of research and teaching, all too often falls below the radar and, personally, I feel this is a great shame. There is a huge pool of potential leaders in the bioscience community, but the hectic nature of academic life and lack of real incentives to take up broader development opportunities means many will go through their careers thinking higher level leadership is not for them, while others will find themselves in positions of leadership for which they are ill-equipped. I was, therefore, delighted to be an invited panelist at the University of Bath’s Sulis Minerva day, part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations, to discuss success and leadership in STEM. Athene Donald’s illuminating and thought-provoking lecture entitled ‘Do I look like a Physicist?’ provided the perfect back-drop for the panel discussion – summarised in this excellent blog by Kiran Oza. It was a real pleasure to participate in the lively panel debate, chaired so ably by Carole Mundell, and to meet many early career researchers who hopefully drew inspiration from the discussions and left aspiring to be the leaders of the future.

The wealth of potential leaders among our early career researchers was further reinforced when I attended the University of Bristol’s ‘Research without Borders’ showcase exhibition, staged by the Bristol Doctoral College. I spoke to many first and second year post-graduate students across a wide range of disciplines about their research and exhibits (I particularly enjoyed my hands-on experience of virtual reality to visualise and study macromolecular structures). The eloquence and enthusiasm of the post-graduates was inspiring – particularly those presenting in the ‘Three minute thesis’ competition. The skills of communication are fundamental to leaders across all walks of life and I am convinced there is a bright future ahead for these students. However, it will be critical that as a sector ways are found to incentivise, encourage and support them to take the path to leadership – a good starting point would be to recognise the value that development of wider professional skills brings to individuals and organisations alike.

On a final point, BBSRC has recently launched its 2017 call for appointments to our advisory panels and pool of experts – I encourage you to demonstrate leadership by either self-nominating or sponsoring a colleague to nominate themselves – the call is open until 27 July 2017, 16:00.

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