These are activities where you might learn experientially through your usual role but perhaps in a new context or by stretching or challenging yourself to try new things. They may be shorter or more tailored activities such as one-off meetings or advice from experts. Informal development may also take place through more social and networking activities, by observing others or developing others yourself.  

Observing or learning from others: 

  • Informal or one off mentoring-style conversations where others help, train or give advice 
  • Job shadowing 
  • 'Subbing' for your PI at meetings, talks or events 
  • Visits to external collaborators/ employers 
  • Co-writing funding applications 
  • Informal advice and feedback from experts e.g. business mentors, careers advisors, research support managers, HR 

Social activities or meetings: 

  • Meetups or social gatherings where you might broaden your career network 
  • Networking events within your department 
  • Peripheral meetings and socials at conferences and seminars where you might learn new ideas or perspectives, or practice different communication skills. 

Developing or informing others: 

  • Outreach and public engagement activities 
  • Supporting students informally with their projects/thesis 
  • Mentoring others 
  • Teaching undergraduates in lectures, practicals, fieldwork or tutorials 

Contributing / engaging with your community or discipline: 

  • Volunteering at festivals and events 
  • Journal clubs 
  • Blog writing 
  • Peer reviewing and giving informal feedback on peer’s work 
  • Putting yourself forward to chair events or  discussions at conferences 
  • Being active in learned societies or committees e.g. joining working groups  
  • Working in a consultancy 

Spotlight on informal development activities: 

Find out from other research staff about the kinds of activities that developed their skills informally.

Informal activities examples

Find out from other research staff about the kinds of activities that developed their skills informally.

Examples accordion

Stepping up and contributing to groups and committees

"As part of my research I was part of a collaborative project called the Cando Project. This was a big collaboration, that involved project meetings where we discussed a high-level perspective of the goals of the project. It was in collaboration with neuroscientists, nations, engineers and one really important thing that I learned by interacting with these people is the different languages that people speak. By interacting with the people from different backgrounds, I learned how to express and talk about my own work in a better way. Also through doing a lot of team activities I learned teamwork and how to collaborate and make my work impact other people's."
- Dr Dorian Haci, MintNeuro (former Postdoc in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering)

Deputising for your manager or PI

"I’ve volunteered to present some of the lectures that my PI would normally present but was unable to. I've also volunteered to get experience of lots of different kinds of activities around translation, science, communication, and other skills you might not necessarily get on a formal programme."
- Dr Richard Kelwick, Postdoc in the Department of Infectious Disease

Find out more about engagement opportunities to get involved

Informal Mentoring

"At Imperial there is a mentoring and coaching programme where you can work with an academic who can give you advice, but not from your specific discipline. They know how academia works, and if you want to go down the Fellowship route, then they can give you some insights on how grant writing works and what, typically, the judges look for and how you would hit all those points. They can also give you feedback on your proposals and, because they are not in your area, if they are able to understand your grant proposal, then anyone can!"  

- Dr Pavani Cherukupally, MIT (former Postdoc in the Department of Chemical Engineering)

Find out more about coaching and mentoring

Meetups and LinkedIn

"I use LinkedIn a lot to follow people in my field that are inspiring, leaders in my own field and to see what events they were going to. I would try and go to those events as well. Often this was a cheap way to really communicate with people because most of the time these events are free, especially in London and in big cities. They often happen on a daily basis, so that was a very good way for me to interact with industry and learn more about what's happening outside of my own research. 

I went to a Meetup many years ago where the creator of the Amazon Alexa device and software was presenting. He was a humble guy and I remember meeting him and thought: “wow”: when you see these people on LinkedIn or on websites and videos and so on they feel so far away from you, but then when you meet them in person, you have a very different experience. This really motivated me to do my work."
- Dr Dorian Haci, MintNeuro (former Postdoc in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) 

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"I volunteered for the Imperial Postdoc and Fellows Enterprise Network (IPFEN). I've helped organise events where we brought in people from industry and Imperial Enterprise to give talks on how you translate your research. That's helped broaden my network and develop other skills, even though it's not a formal course. 

I do a lot of global health research, so I've been helping when we've had delegation visits from Kenya and other places.  

I've helped when we had an artist from the Royal College of Arts (RCA) on a programme led by RCA and our group. 

I volunteered for the Imperial Festival a few years back. It’s a big science communication festival where the general public are invited to visit Imperial and we run lots of activities. 

I volunteered to help build a lab in the Victoria and Albert Museum to display different things around biology, synthetic biology and biotechnology, and explain how they are a positive new influence in the world, and how to develop biotechnology responsibly.  

I've visited schools and given talks and other activities that I think are important for personal professional development." 
- Dr Richard Kelwick, Postdoc in the Department of Infectious Disease

Mentoring others

"One of the things that I was very keen to was to be part of the UK Society for Extracellular Vesicles. This is an academic body that supports researchers in the UK, but it has strong international links.  

This community has set up a mentorship program where researchers at different levels are connected to students at different levels. As a postdoc and someone who's just at the next stage on the career pathway I was able to mentor, as best I could, a PhD student. She's working on very different projects and it's very interesting learn about that and share my experiences and try, where I could, to say some of the things I've done well and not so well in different aspects of my career. I found that was quite positive and hopefully in some very small way, but hopefully a positive way, give back to the community.  

Also, a student that I’d had a few years ago just reached out and said ‘Oh, I think your research is very interesting’ so we just had a Skype chat. I thought this seems like an intelligent and enthusiastic student so let's help them. I think that was positive, and not something that I was necessarily expected to do, but I'm a big believer in doing this."
- Dr Richard Kelwick, Postdoc in the Department of Infectious Disease 
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