by Candice Ford, Cohort 5
As part of the second year training programme, Cohort 5 students had the opportunity to attend an introduction to Action Learning Sets training hosted by an external training provider, Mentora. The training was delivered jointly to students from two EPSRC funded Centres – Sustainable Chemistry and Advanced Therapeutics and Nanomedicines.
The early start of the day was brightened up by the pastries and hot drinks that were waiting for us. The session started with individual introductions and an overview of the training. The trainer explained that the course would enable us to develop a range of skills applicable to both, the workplace and our personal life, through the experience of personal insight and development. Action Learning is an experiential problem solving and learning approach, where learning takes place both through personal reflections of challenges and opportunities and through supporting and facilitating others to do the same.
The course encouraged interaction and group work and our first activity was to draw a picture representing our PhD experience and share it with other participants. This exercise was very interesting as it called for self-reflection as well as learning how to open up and listen to others. In small groups, we were asked to explore and reflect on the skills we believed a “work-ready” individual would have and compare them with the skills we expected to gain from attending the Action Learning Set course. There were many similarities between the two sets of skills, including teamwork, communication, self-confidence, deep listening, reflection and open-heartedness.
After a well-deserved lunch break, we were prompted to think about a challenging professional situation such as dealing with a difficult relationship at work or study, or experiencing a difficulty with a research project, which could be explored as a part of the course. We split into smaller groups for a practical exercise, which clearly demonstrated how managing assumptions and choosing questions wisely can help others unlock problems and see a clearer path towards the resolution of the problem or a challenge. The exercise was an eye-opening experience, encouraging the participants to share challenges, emphasising the importance of deep listening and the choice of questions being asked.
Towards the end of the day, we all shared our experience of the session, as well as our expectations for the Action Learning training to come. The session was concluded by an interesting visit to the University of Nottingham Museum of Archaeology, where we had the opportunity to look at and learn about the exhibits related to ancient Roman and Greek medicines and cosmetics. This was followed by a meal in town, which allowed us to bond in a different, less academic environment.
Overall, most participants found the introductory session very insightful and helpful. It indeed provided us with a consequent overview of what Action Learning is, how it allows for the development of skills applicable to both personal and work environments. The presence of a mentor throughout the day sharing her personal experience of Action Learning was also very beneficial, in order to get a first-hand view of the personal progression this course enables. The presence of students from a different CDT programme only highlighted the trainer’s capacity to create a comfortable environment for people, even if they had not met before.
Following the introduction session, a vast majority of the students decided to take the opportunity and enrol onto a full programme with a keen interest in maintaining a strong network with the Advanced Therapeutics and Nanomedicines CDT students and getting to know them more throughout the course.