UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


IRDR hosts its 2018 Spring Academy

26 April 2018

33 researchers, 2 kids, 2 days, and stimulating brainstorming and exchange on leadership.

Attendees of the 2018 IRDR Spring Academy It was the 2018 IRDR Spring Academy.

An annual April retreat, the Spring Academy takes IRDR away from the office to be creative and quirky, aiming to do better in our work, our careers, and especially our service to society. This year, from 23-24 April, we slipped outside the M25 to Theobalds Estate to discuss: "Don't follow the leader: Academic leadership". 

Starting with an icebreaker of "Just a Minute", volunteers spoke for just sixty seconds without (or, more frequently, with) hesitation, repetition, and deviation on topics as diverse as space weather and semi-structured interviews. With a brilliant and judicious chair cleverly guiding the proceedings, we practiced skills of public speaking leadership. 

The subsequent sessions explored the founding of research institutes (why and how), non-UK academic leadership culture, PhD and early career leadership, and leading research dissemination (academic and non-academic). A central concept from the novel Islandia was applied: alia, meaning love of place. How could we lead in academia through alia? Should we? How important or unimportant is placeness for academic leadership? 

One session demonstrated the enticing amorphousness of academic leadership. Could we divide ourselves into groups according to questions based on our career experiences--without talking, writing, or using sign language? To whom do we look for leadership? How would we decide which group to join? How well do we know each other? 

Our factual knowledge of risk and disasters was tested during the evening meal by a superbly crafted and immensely enjoyable quiz. Questions covered physical science, social science, and popular entertainment. 

The lessons emerging suggested how and when to lead and be led in academia. Non-linear pathways define careers. Self-identifying needed skills, and how to acquire them, are paramount. Courage is key, especially to overcome the ubiquitous barriers, such as time management and bureaucracy. 

One such skill is self-leadership. Whether a research neophyte or Emeritus, our careers are our own. Our own to create, to lead, to enjoy, and particularly to serve society. The IRDR Spring Academy, along with learning how to follow and not follow leaders, are steps towards understanding and solving the labyrinth.