EXPERIENCE OF GW4 CRUCIBLE: An invaluable experience for ECRs

GW4 Crucible Alumni and postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff University, Rebecca Weiser, shares her experiences and insights of the GW4 Crucible 2020 Programme.

The content of the GW4 Crucible is somewhat of a mystery to those who haven’t participated. Besides the theme and information on the GW4 website, I had little idea what the three Crucible workshops (‘labs’), set in three different locations, over six days, would entail, when I applied. I was a member of the GW4 Crucible 2020 ‘Interdisciplinary Approaches to Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)’ cohort, which comprised early career researchers (ECRs) from many different disciplines including bacteriology, mycology, genetics, medicine, primary care, social sciences, mathematics, engineering and philosophy. Despite being from diverse backgrounds we shared the same broad research interests, and were either already actively researching AMR or keen to be involved in the field.

The first lab was in January in Cullompton, Devon. It felt like the first day of university, not knowing the majority of the other participants or what was going to happen. Our first task was to introduce ourselves and I was amazed at the breadth of experience in the group. It was intimidating being surrounded by so many talented ECRs, but our course director Kate Tapper reassured us ‘You are all here for a reason’. The two days were a mixture of individual and group tasks, discussions and interactive sessions with expert speakers, based on the theme of ‘opportunities’. There were also designated ‘downtimes’ and a delicious dinner to help us relax and get to know each other. Even though it was intense, the experience was also immensely enjoyable.

In between labs, there was time to develop the after-dinner entertainment for the second lab, a task that we had been divided into three teams for, and set as homework. March came around quickly, and the second lab held in Cardiff was themed ‘collaboration’. I was excited to see the other Cruciblees for round two, and whilst the days had a similar format to lab 1, the discussions were very different. We considered what makes a successful collaboration and heard from guest speakers about their personal collaborative experiences. The much anticipated dinner and after-dinner entertainment did not disappoint, and it was interesting to see the different approaches taken by the teams. It was also during this lab that we were encouraged to explore AMR research project ideas together and form teams to apply for GW4 seed funding. This dedicated pot of money is available only to GW4 Cruciblees, and successful proposals can be awarded approximately £5000 for a short 6-month research project.

Although it was unfortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the third lab from going ahead in person, the GW4 Crucible team, did an amazing job of delivering the entire lab online via Zoom in April. The themes this time were ‘aligning with research opportunities’ and ‘your future as a collaborative leader’. Live discussion sessions and webinars with Kate, members of Research Councils, GW4 University Pro Vice-Chancellors of Research, the GW4 director Sarah Perkins and leading academics were punctuated with breaks to digest information away from the computer screen.  It was also a chance to talk with the group in Zoom break-out rooms and further develop our seed funding proposals, the deadline for which was the end of May.  I have kept in touch virtually with other Cruciblees since then, but we are all hopeful for a real-life reunion later in the year to catch-up, celebrate successes in obtaining seed funding, and continue to discuss ideas for collaborative projects.

There were many benefits of participating in the GW4 Crucible, here are my top 3:

  • A network of research friends and potential future collaborators. The structure and atmosphere of the labs meant that you could actually get to know other ECRs, rather than rushed interactions you often get at conferences. It was a chance to discuss the positive aspects and challenges of a researcher career with your peers, learn about other areas of research and identify future collaborations.
  • Advice came from everywhere. It was fantastic to be able to hear from and interact with experts from different fields, but it wasn’t just the invited speakers that imparted advice; I also learnt a great deal from the GW4 crucible team and other ECRs.
  • It was a very positive experience. This is less of a tangible output, but I had a great time during the crucible labs and I think that all the other Cruciblees did too. Having a dedicated ‘time out’ to reflect on your research in a relaxed, supportive environment is a rare and valuable opportunity. Overall it was a privilege to participate in GW4 Crucible 2020 and I am certain that my research career will benefit from the experience.