Thursday, 29 March 2018

R Training: Should I use R? Where to start?

Last week I attended a training course at The University of Sheffield, "Help ! I need to use R", which aims to "enable researchers to make an assessment of whether they want to use R". This post is a summary of what I learned on this course. 

What is R?
The Comprehensive R Archive Network defines R as being "a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics". It does not define it as being a software, meaning that it is not directly comparable with statistical software like SPSS, Minitab, Stata or SAS. Instead, it is a highly tuned programming language that has the ability to do statistical calculations. Different R packages are collections of coded procedures usually created by a third party.

Why use R?
  • It is free when other methods of doing statistics can require a license 
  • It can create journal quality graphics (e.g. the package ggplot2 is one of the most advanced and flexible package for the production of graphs)
  • Because it is what it expected of you. Maybe it is common in the type of journals you are interested in publishing in or maybe your supervisor prefers the use of R

How to Download R 
If you are using a managed computer at The University of Sheffield, the Software Download Centre can allow you to download R. On your own computer, one place to download R is from Bristol University. You can then download extra packages which contain functions to do statistics. 

Useful Packages
  • MASS- package associated with Modern Applied Statistics
  • Psych- functions are primarily for multivariate analysis and scale construction using factor analysis, principal component analysis, cluster analysis and reliability analysis
  • Car- companion to applied regression
  • Multcomp- multi-comparison in ANOVA
  • Advanced plotting packages- Lattice, ggplot2 

Some places to get help
  • In R type: help()
  • Helpful book- R in Action by Robert Kabacoff
  • Use the Quick R website
  • Google it! e.g. "r ggplot2 box plot"

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Natalie Lamb and Leadership Styles

It is important to know what your leadership style is so you know what areas you need development in. However, these tests should be taken with a pinch of salt, as every individual is different and, for example, introverted people make excellent leaders as well as extroverted people. Also many of the theories below associate good leadership with specific traits but leadership is not an innate or static process, your traits and your leadership style will change over time.

Authentic leaders have been found to do/be the following (Northouse, 2010):
  • Understand their values and their behaviour reflects their values
  • Exhibit passion about their goals
  • Connect with other people and build strong relationships
  • Have enough self-discipline to persevere and be consistent
  • Be compassionate

The below questionnaires can help you to reflect on yourself and assess what areas need development to become an authentic leader. You can also reflect, without the questionnaires, on what your values, both as a person and as a leader, are. For example, three values that are of importance to me are: creativity, determination and learning.
  • What is important for you? What are your most cherished memories? What about them makes them important? What values can you associate with those moments?
  • What frustrates you? What makes you upset? Remember situations in which you failed? How did they make you feel? What negative values can you think of in relation to those moments?
  • What are the moments when you took a leap of faith or when you trusted your intuition? What triggered you to have the courage to listen to your instinct? Can you connect this to any values?

The OCEAN model (Open-mindedness-Conscientiousness-Extraversion-Agreeableness-Neuroticism) assesses the “Big 5” personality traits most associated with leadership. An example of this test can be found here-

This test assess the following personality dimensions:
  • Openness to Experience - broad-minded, curious, creative, untraditional, imaginative
  • Conscientiousness - persevering, self-disciplined, reliable, punctual, efficient
  • Extraversion - active, person-oriented, fun loving, affectionate, sociable, optimistic
  • Agreeableness - trusting, helpful, kind hearted, good-natured, straightforward
  • Neuroticism - tense, emotional, insecure, nervous, worrying

My Score:
  • Openness 97.5%
  • Conscientiousness 95%
  • Extraversion 62.5%
  • Agreeableness 92.5%
  • Neuroticism 45%

TREO Approach
The TREO (Team Role Experience and Orientation) is a test that identifies what your usual role in a team, identifying your strengths and weaknesses. It can be found in the appendix of Mathieu et al. (2015)’s work. The test identifies the following roles that are necessary in a team:
  • Organiser- structures what team is doing, keeps track of accomplishments, keeps track of progression, goals and timelines
  • Doer- willingly takes on work, completes work, meets deadlines
  • Challenger- pushes team to explore all aspects of a situation, often asks “why”, comfortable debating and critiquing
  • Innovator- generates new and creative ideas, strategies, and approaches for how the team can handle various situations and challenges
  • Team Builder- helps establish norms, supports decisions, and maintains a positive work atmosphere within the team
  • Connector- helps bridge and connect the team with others, ensuring a good working relationship

My Score
  • Organiser 38%
  • Doer 88%
  • Challenger 13%
  • Innovator 38%
  • Team Builder 25%
  • Connector 75%

Belbin Theory

Belbin has created a theory around team roles, that associates team roles with individual “orientation”. A free version of this test can be found at Individuals can be action/task-oriented, people/relationships oriented and thought-oriented. The orientations have the following characteristics:
  • Action Oriented Roles- Shaper (Challenges the team to improve), Implementer (Puts ideas into action), Completer (Finisher, Ensures thorough, timely completion)
  • People Oriented Roles- Coordinator (Acts as a chairperson), Team Worker (Encourages cooperation), Resource Investigator (Explores outside opportunities)
  • Thought Oriented RolesPlant (Presents new ideas and approaches), Monitor-Evaluator (Analyses the options), Specialist (Provides specialized skills)

My Score
  • Strengths- able to work with your team to resolve problems, good at setting team goals
  • Potential Strengths- satisfactory interpersonal skills, sometimes able to resolve conflict with teammates, able to communicate with others during teamwork with relative ease, able to manage some of the different tasks, goals and other aspects of teamwork
  • Limitations- are not very skilled at planning and coordinating with teammates, seem to prefer individual work over teamwork


John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press

Northouse, P.G.,2010. Leadership: Theory and Practice (5th Ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. (No accessible link, this book can be found both at the Diamond and the IC for Sheffield Students).

Mathieu, Tannenbaum, Kukenberger, Donsbach, & Alliger (2015), Team Role Experience and Orientation: A Measure and Tests of Construct Validity, Group & Organization Management Volume 40 (1), pp 6-34, Available at (Accessed: 15/03/18).

Friday, 9 March 2018

Natalie Lamb and 6 Ways to Beat PhD Stress

I have decided to take part in a short online course being ran by The University of Sheffield into stress, mental wellbeing for your everyday. I thought I would share what I have been learning with others who may also benefit from this resource.

Why am I stressed?
Stress drives physiological responses in the body. It can often manifest itself in a change of behaviour, for example, it can make you argumentative, agitated or anxious. This could result in worrying or potentially lead to avoidance behaviour or the abuse of alcohol, food or drugs. Procrastination, for instance, is a genuine psychological response to workload demands.
Stress is common in PhD students for lots of different reasons. Maybe a PhD student feels stress because they feel like they're dealing with problems alone, they have a lot of research to do in a small amount of time, they may constantly compare yourself with others or they feel like their work is never good enough.
One example is that of perfectionism, which can cause self-defeating thoughts and behaviours due to unrealistic goals. Perfectionists may have learned to value themselves only on the basis of other people's approval, leaving them vulnerable and sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others, making them try to be perfect as a defence mechanism. They may also be catastrophising, worrying about the bigger impact of a failure. 

How can I stop stress?

1. Ask for help
Asking for help may seem like a sign of weakness or that you're not clever enough to be completing the PhD but these thoughts can lead to self imposed pressure, potentially resulting in anxiety or depression. You need to work out what area of your life you need some help and then go ahead and ask for it.

2. Stop the cycle of worry using "The Worry Tree"

3. Cope with failure
If you recognise the feeling of feeling inadequate due to a failure, you can take a step back and realise that the wider implication of this failure may not be as big as you thought at first. Try and reach out and get some support if you are feeling this way e.g. contact your supervisor if you have missed or are going to miss a deadline. That's what they're there for.

4. See the situation more clearly and in a different way using "The Helicopter View"
5. Calm any panic attacks
Panic attacks are a form of acute anxiety in response to a sudden and excessive amount of hormones in your bloodstream. There are some strategies to help calm this often frightening (although not harmful) feeling:
  • Focus on the present/distract yourself
  • Remind yourself that the panic will end and that you will beat it
  • Think positive coping thoughts
  • Stretch out your body

6. Practise Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly the things that are happening in our lives. It may not eliminate life’s pressures but it can help us respond to them in a calm way that benefits both our mental and physical health. You can practise it by choosing an everyday activity and chore and paying close attention to every single detail of what you are doing, without letting other thoughts distract you.

Further Reading and References
Butler, G and Hope, T (2007), The Worry Tree, (Accessed: 09/03/18)
The University of Sheffield, Fly-Mental Wellbeing for your Everyday, Online Course (Accessed: 09/03/18). 
Vivyan, C (2009), Different Perspectives, (Accessed: 09/03/18)

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Natalie Lamb and the Confirmation Review Pass

The Confirmation Review is The University of Sheffield's way of saying yes, you can continue with your PhD. If you do not want to continue, it's an easy way for you to end your PhD while still getting a qualification from your year of work (an MPhil). But, for most people, the Confirmation Review is something they are desperate to pass and has probably been two words that have been panicked over (or strategically ignored) for the past month.

My personal experience was that everyone told me that I was going to be fine. My supervisor said to think about it as an opportunity to talk about my research with other interested researchers. But, now that I have sat it, I have got to disagree, it felt more like a viva than a friendly chat, if I am being honest. In this post, I would like to talk about what it is, how I prepared, what it was like and what I would do differently. 

Background Info
All University of Sheffield PhD students have to undergo a Confirmation Review to confirm their registration as a PhD student, comprising of a report and an interview. The Confirmation Review is to help you prepare for the final viva voce examination and assure the university of the following:
  • Your project is of sufficient substance and novelty (novel contribution to knowledge) to lead to the full award of a PhD within the time frame given to complete a PhD
  • You are intellectually and technically capable of carrying out the necessary work, i.e. you have made progress to date
  • You have a plan of you work and a risk mitigation strategy 
  • You have been completing training
You produce a Confirmation Report which gets judged by a Confirmation Review Panel before the viva and you receive their feedback during the viva. My panel consisted of two people, one from my department and one from a different department. My supervisors also asked to be present.

It is said that the Confirmation Report should consist of the following:

  • A clear statement of the area of research and contextualisation with respect to literature
  • A synopsis of the work undertaken so far
  • A schedule of further work
  • Draft chapter(s) of the thesis
  • Details and reflection of any training undertaken on the DDP, as well as future training plans, e.g. a completed Training Needs Analysis
You can see how I interpreted these requirements in this screenshot of my contents page.

Although I did not have to book the meeting myself or decide who was going to be on my panel (my supervisors did that for me), I had to contact my panel and send them copies of my report before the viva. So, on the 18/07/17 I emailed my Confirmation Review Panel:

Good morning,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for giving up your time to be an examiner at my Confirmation Review on 25/07/17.
Please find a copy of my Confirmation Report attached.
You should receive a hard copy of the report tomorrow.
Again, thank you for taking the time to read and assess my work. 

Thank you,
Natalie Lamb

I practiced for my confirmation review by researching the science behind my PhD that I was not quite comfortable with. But, if I had known how challenging it was going to be, I think I would have done a lot more work.

The Big Day 
I began the review feeling confident and proud. I spoke my speech, with my bound copy of the report lying comfortably on the desk in front of me. I felt OK with the atmosphere in the room so I threw in a bit of a crazy analogy that I had thought of at 5:30am that morning. Everyone laughed. I think it went down well.

When the questions started, they started probing. I was expecting some warm up questions, something like why did you choose to do a PhD, but the first question was about the title of my PhD, getting me to justify its usage. I do not feel that I answered well. I had just used my given title, I did not think about changing it so early on (which is why it is something I have added to my tips section).

My confidence was knocked further when asked detailed questions about my methodology. I had spent too much confirmation review practice time on researching the science behind my PhD that I was not quite comfortable with (e.g. the different types of lead), rather than my actual PhD methodology. I knew what I wanted to do but I did not know every specific measurement type that I would be taking.

I felt like a lot of questions were trying to get an answer from me, lead me to what they wanted me to say but I really had difficulties giving them the answer they wanted. I think I actually would have preferred straight out questions because I found this way of doing things very difficult. I interpreted these questions in the best way I could. I knew what I was saying was not the answer they wanted, but I said it anyway. A little frustrating, I think, for everyone.

Overall, when I left the room I felt quite disheartened. I thought it hadn't gone well at all. I was also outside for a long time so there must have been a lot of debate. When I was eventually called in, surprisingly it was good news. Minor corrections. I was happy with this, as it is the most common outcome (with others being major corrections and pass without corrections). We discussed what corrections needed to be done in the next three months, which I later added to my report and to an Excel document, to keep track of the changes to my report. After sending the revised report and the Excel document, I received confirmation that I had passed.

Final Tips

  • Do your Confirmation Review ASAP. The sooner you do it, the less work they would have expected you to have done. You likely won't feel like you are prepared enough, that you haven't done enough work. But, honestly, just do it!
  • Make your methodology specific e.g. what exact samples will you be taking
  • Take your phone while they discuss so time passing does not seem like to much of an eternity.
  • Do not look at your supervisor- the last thing you want is to notice a fleeting look of frustration!
  • Do not ask your supervisor for help during the review. I did it once and wish I would have just said I did not know the answer.
  • Bring biscuits and water etc for your panel
  • Plan a celebration!

Natalie Lamb and The Brilliant Club- What did my pupils enjoy most about The Brilliant Club: Autumn 2017?

Feedback and Reflection

As part of my final session with my Brilliant Club pupils, I like to ask them to provide feedback on how they think the course went. I asked them how The Brilliance Club had an impact on them, what the thing was they found most challenging, what they enjoyed most, one way in which it could be improved, one fact/thing they had learned and what extra information would they have liked to have known.

This process is important to improve the reflective skills of the pupils, as they think back to what they ave learned and how they have progressed during the process. It also helps me, as I am able to found out, anonymously, how they felt the course actually went for them and how I could improve it for my next pupils.

So what did I actually learn?

  • I found out that The Brilliant Club most impacted pupils by giving them a taste of the university experience. They felt that it challenged and improved their future prospects and they learned a lot of new information. 
  • They overwhelming found the final assignment most challenging, closely followed by the homework that had to be completed. 
  • The pupils most enjoyed the university visits but also enjoyed learning new things and attending the tutorials.
  • Some pupils thought The Brilliant Club would be improved if there was less work but other pupils felt like they would have wanted a longer course. May pupils wanted to have a greater choice in their topic studied.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Natalie Lamb and Top 10 General Speaker Questions

I am on a committee, of sorts, organising a half day training event in leadership and management. As part of the organising committee, it is important to have questions prepared for the speakers, in case the audience doesn't. It can also be a way of boosting the confidence of the audience, making them more likely to ask their own questions. Below is a list of the top 10 general questions (that I could think of!) to prepare to ask a guest speaker or presenter. There are also some extra questions specific to networking, that can be found in this post.

1. What will be the biggest challenge to the water sector in the future?

2. Is/how is management within the water sector different to management in other industries?

3. How has leadership changed in the past, compared to today?

4. What is the biggest challenge for future leaders?

5. What is the greatest opportunity that future leaders will have that current leaders do not?

6. What are the most important skills for the next generation to have?

7. What is the most important think that you want your audience to remember about your presentation?

8. What do you want your audiences to do differently as a result of having heard your presentation?

9. How do you think the current political climate will impact the water industry going forwards?

10. How do you think the use of social media will impact the water industry going forwards?

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Natalie Lamb and Packing for My First International Conference

I have my first international conference in just two weeks time, the Water Quality Technology Conference in Portland, Oregon, USA and have the monumental task of packing for it. I am also spending a week of annual leave in San Francisco, because I'll be travelling in that part of the world, I thought I might as well enjoy it with a bit of travelling of my own! This is my attempt at a packing list for the international conference.


  • Earplugs- for sleeping on the plane and in my hostel
  • Nice Travel Pillow- for the plane and if the hostel pillows are uncomfortable
  • Glasses Case- to store my glasses on the plane when I'm trying to sleep
  • Documents- passport, photocopy of passport, cash card, tickets, flight info, insurance documents, visa
  • Correct Power Adapter
  • Travel Sim Card
  • Padlock for the hostel locker
  • Pen
  • Foreign Currency


  • iPad
  • iPad Charger
  • Railcard
  • Clothes- coat, jumper, casual tshirts, tights, underwear, PJs
  • Books/DS 
  • Phone
  • Phone Charger
  • Keys
  • Battery Pack
  • Tickets
  • Wallet


  • Sleeping Tablets- to try and sleep on the plane (I have never tried them before so wish me luck!)
  • Shampoo 
  • Conditioner
  • Razer
  • Deoderant
  • Hairbrush
  • Hairbands
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Travel Tissues
  • First Aid Kit- plasters, paracetamol, Bonjela etc
  • Hand Sanitiser


  • Academic posters
  • Work Phone
  • Work Phone Charger
  • VPN Keyfob
  • Pencil Case
  • Notebook
  • Business Cards
  • Laptop
  • Laptop Charger


  • Work Clothes- dresses, shorts, jacket
  • Work Shoes
  • Small Going Out Bag

I normally do one 5k run a week and want to keep this up while I go away. Also, the hotel I am in for my conference has a gym so I want to have a go in there too.

  • Running Belt- for storing my phone and room key 
  • Running Clothes (T-Shirt, Leggings, Socks, Underwear)
  • Running Shoes
  • Fitbit Charger
  • Water Bottle
  • Headphones
  • Plastic Bag
  • Goggles
  • Swimsuit