Fifteen to One | Dr Gaynor Miller

With the launch of our first ever Research Culture Strategy fast approaching, Dr Gaynor Miller reveals why this work is so crucial to our University community and how the changes will benefit us all.

Fifteen to One | Dr Gaynor Miller. June 2023

Everyone working or studying at Leeds has an important part to play in enhancing our research culture. Discover the personal motivation behind Gaynor’s role as Research Culture Manager, and how this latest initiative will enable more colleagues to produce leading research collaboratively, inclusively, openly and supportively.

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

As Research Culture Manager, I support culture change across the University. I monitor and evaluate our existing research culture – staff development; reward and recognition; open research and impact; equity, diversity and inclusion in research; responsible research and innovation; and a collegiate and supportive environment. I work closely with the Dean for Research Culture, whilst engaging with a wide range of colleagues to implement our Research Culture Strategy, which launches in September. I’m part of many collaborative networks with external research stakeholders – funders, policymakers and partner organisations – in pursuit of an improved research culture at Leeds and across the sector.

What really impresses you about Leeds? 

The commitment the University is making to improving research culture is impressive and it’s great to see it being backed by a financial commitment. This has enabled the creation of roles that are not only new to the University but new to the sector, including my role and that of the Dean for Research Culture. Leeds is really making its mark in this crucial area, and its consultative approach has been praised both internally and externally.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role?

What is research culture? I usually respond by making reference to our research culture statement and saying: “It’s the ways in which we collaborate, communicate and interact; the behaviours, expectations, attitudes and values that shape not only how our research is developed, conducted, disseminated and used, but the mechanisms by which our work is recognised and rewarded.” In summary, everyone working or studying at the University has an important part to play in enhancing our research culture and will benefit from these changes, too.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

I’m really looking forward to our research culture conference in the autumn. This event will mark the launch of our Research Culture Strategy, and I’ll get to hear from our research culture award and open call winners about the amazing work they’re doing. The conference will also mark the start of our centralised projects that will pave the way to enhancing our research culture even further. 

The Research Culture Strategy sounds really interesting. Can you tell us more?

The Research Culture Strategy has been co-created during the past two years after wide consultation with not only our researchers, but everyone involved in the creation and delivery of research, including research participants; collaborators and partners; research enablers, such as technicians and people in professional services; and researchers themselves – from students to academic colleagues. Our aim is to enable more colleagues to produce leading research collaboratively, inclusively, openly and supportively. We need this strategy to:

  • cease work engaging in harmful research practices – e.g. exclusion, self-interest, wasting resource etc.
  • attract and retain the best research teams by recognising and rewarding the full breadth of research activity conducted by the full range of those involved in delivering it
  • maintain and maximise the quality of research; and 
  • drive a positive research culture in the wider sector. 

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

Actually the one person that springs to mind is still working at the University – my first postdoc mentor, Professor Michelle Peckham, or Dr Peckham as she was back then. I was her first postdoc and helped set up her research team in Leeds. At that time, she had a very young family and had to overcome many hurdles. She remained resilient and tenacious and inspired me to continue with my research, demonstrating that having a family and a career isn’t easy but is achievable. Michelle was always extremely supportive, never stopped believing in me, even when I needed regular time off to rewrite my thesis (see below). I was delighted to see her photograph on the wall acknowledging all of her achievements as a woman in science on a recent visit to the boardroom. She has taught me a lot about generous leadership over the years and is as inspirational now as she was back then.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

Coming from a single parent family and being the first in my family to go to university, I really feel that getting my PhD has been my biggest personal and professional achievement to date. It wasn’t a smooth or easy road (see above), but I got there in the end with unwavering support from my mum and siblings. The wide range of skills I gained, people I met, opportunities it opened up to me and the places it has taken me were well worth the hard times.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

I wish I’d known I could change direction at any age if only I was brave enough. I took voluntary redundancy from my academic position in 2017 and had a short career break whilst working towards an executive mentoring and coaching qualification. I now try to enjoy what I’m doing at any given time and take all the opportunities it brings without worrying too much about what comes next or having only one career for life. 

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

Having worked in HE now for more than 30 years in a variety of different roles, I can’t imagine working anywhere else. However, I love anything and everything to do with fabric and its production, such as weaving, knitting and sewing. I even dabbled with making bobbin lace when I had better eyesight and more patience. So, I guess a career in textiles could have been an alternative. 

What are your campus highlights? 

I love all the green spaces on campus and the wildlife this attracts. Seeing the many rabbits, ducks and herons around campus never fails to make me smile. As a keen gardener who likes to grow their own, I love wandering through the Sustainable Garden, too. What a great idea, especially for people who might not have the space to grow their own at home.

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

St George’s Field is one of my favourite places. I just stumbled across it one day on a walk back from the business school. To find an oasis like this in the middle of a busy campus was a wonderful surprise. I really need to make the effort to go there more often.

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

I’d love to take a dip in the pool at The Edge, as I often look at it longingly but never remember to bring my swimsuit and towel to work with me. That could just be because of the heat this month, though!

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I’m a keen gardener. I love watching things grow and have an allotment, which keeps me very busy during the summer months. What can be better than literally enjoying eating the fruits of your labour? Of course, this is not so relaxing in the winter months, so then I turn to my other hobbies of sewing and knitting. I enjoy making clothes and quilts for my family and friends, and find the whole process of choosing patterns and fabric or wool (I’m a bit of a fabric addict, to be honest!) and creating something unique really satisfying.

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

This is a hard one as there are so many. However, one place that really sticks out, but sadly I’ve only been to once, is Hawaii. I worked in Los Angeles for several years as a postdoc and was lucky enough to go to the island of Maui one summer (it’s only a five-hour flight from LA as opposed to 17 hours from London). The whole experience was truly amazing. The people are wonderful, the food is glorious and it’s the only place I’ve ever been where not only the weather but the water is warm day and night. You can see amazing sea life just by swimming and snorkelling, and as a big turtle fan, seeing them up close was a real highlight. 

Closer to home, my favourite family holiday and somewhere we go at least once a year is Whitby. Beautiful little seaside town with its abbey, whalebones and gothic history. The Magpie Cafe is our favourite place to eat and is well worth the queue. Watch out for the gulls, though. My children like to remind me of the time one sat on my head and stole my ice cream!

What’s your random claim to fame?

I was taught karate by a Power Ranger!

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