The thrills and spills of doing an academic secondment

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Dr Lee Moore, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Performance Psychology from the Department for Health in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, was one of two academics who secured funding via the University of Bath's Academic Secondment Scheme last year. In this blog, he reflects on the benefits and challenges of his six-month academic secondment...

As a football fan, I am familiar with the concept of a loan transfer, where a player temporarily moves to another team for a set period of time (e.g., six months) to develop their skills and help their new club (e.g., achieve promotion). However, until 2023, I never knew academics could make similar moves, known as secondments. In this blog, I reflect on my experiences between February and September 2023, with the goal of helping you decide if a secondment is the right move for you.

My secondment came about quite organically and unexpectedly. Out of the blue, a colleague and I were contacted by an external organisation who said they had made a rapid biomarker (i.e., salivary cortisol) test that they thought could be used to monitor stress in elite sport and other high-pressure domains (e.g., military). After some initial consultancy work and a small pilot project, we were looking for funding to continue our budding collaboration when we were signposted towards the University of Bath Secondment Scheme by the very helpful Business Partnerships Team (thanks again Steve!). Keen to try something new and get outside my comfort zone, I applied and found out shortly after I was successful (cue the usual panic and imposter syndrome when these things come off!).

So, after the exchange of contracts and other administrative paperwork was sorted, I was seconded one day a week for six-months to my new organisation (note: due to bank holidays, some missed workdays, and securing additional funding, my secondment lasted nearer 8 months). The goals of my secondment were relatively simple: (1) via a literature review, help the organisation better understand how the biomarkers assessed in their rapid tests might relate to key psychosocial constructs (e.g., burnout), (2) through interviews with key stakeholders (e.g., coaches), assist the organisation in establishing the scope and appetite for, and likely acceptability of, their rapid tests in elite sport, and (3) learn vital skills from the organisation around the collection and analysis of biomarker data.

I learnt a lot while striving to achieve these goals. First, I fell back in love with reading, summarising, and scrutinising research; getting my head into a new literature base was exciting and I almost felt like the arch-typical ‘old-school’ academic (that’s right, some days I just sat in a leatherbound armchair, read, and thought lots while sipping coffee…what a luxury!). Second, I added to my expertise and skillset, gaining new knowledge on the physiological effects of chronic stress (vs. acute stress), leading my first ever set of qualitative interviews (I am still very much a work in progress as an interviewer!), and discovering more about how to analyse biomarker data (i.e., salivary cortisol). Third, the secondment has opened-up new potential lines of research (i.e., into the psychophysiology of burnout), helped me establish new connections across the world (e.g., I am writing-up my review with world-leading academics), and has enabled me to identify new avenues for professional development (e.g., SHAPE Catalyst Programme) and funding options (e.g., ESRC IAA, Innovate UK KTP).

Despite these benefits, there have been some challenges along the way and if I could turn back time (nice to get a Cher song lyric in!), I would do some things a little differently. First, while I was fairly good at ring-fencing one day per week in my diary for my secondment (it was Tuesdays for me), I occasionally let the ‘noise’ from the rest of my academic role disrupt that protected time, spending the odd secondment day doing other ‘more pressing’ tasks (e.g., reviewing drafts of PhD thesis chapters). Second, maybe due to my eagerness to secure the funding (i.e., overpromising), I was a little greedy and overambitious in what I wanted to achieve in the brief six-month time span, I could certainly have pared it back and had to admit defeat in some parts of the workplan (e.g., I am yet to fully analyse and write-up the results from the interviews I ran). Finally, because the organisation I was seconded to worked largely remotely, and if they did meet, they met at a location that was more than a 3-hour drive from Bath, I did not embed myself in the company as well as I would have liked to, perhaps making fewer and poorer quality connections with colleagues than I would have liked.

While reflecting back there are some things I would have done differently, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on secondment and would highly recommend it to colleagues who are keen to upskill, develop or strengthen links with external partners, and enhance the impact of their research. The support I was offered by the Business Partnership Team and other colleagues (e.g., a big thank you to my mentors, Dr Kate Woodthorpe and Emma Watson [now Riddle]!) was truly exceptional and I have no doubt that I have benefitted greatly from my time on loan…I mean secondment.

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Apply to the Academic Secondment Scheme by 2 February


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