Nothing Compares 2 The Laidlaw Scholars Network

My (perhaps only slightly inappropriate) presentation from the ‘Research and Leadership in Action - Leading Societal Change’ conference at Durham University on November 13th 2019.

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Get it? Like the song Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinéad O'Connor?

I would like to start by telling you a short story. You probably don’t know this but before I started this job I worked as a waitress for two years in London while doing my degree at UCL.

Me and best friend Danny

One day I was talking to this guy, let’s call him Andy, and I asked him what he does. He told me he is the CEO of a tech startup company that specialises in live-streaming services. So, being quite annoying, I started asking him questions like: “Oh, so you mean like Twitch? Like Instagram Live? Like Periscope?”. 

Unsurprisingly, Andy got quite offended - there I was, just some waitress trying to compare his new, revolutionary, disruptive app to all these existing services. He told me: “No, it’s nothing like that...this app will be totally different - it is a high-quality personalised virtual reality live-streaming service”. Now that I think about it, it was definitely something to do with porn. 

As you can see, I kept trying to compare Andy’s startup idea to concepts with which I was already familiar to try to make sense of it. My experience with learning about the Laidlaw Scholars Network was very similar to my experience with Andy. For example, when I learnt that it is a platform where you can upload research, my initial thought was: “So…like ResearchGate?”. And then when I learnt about the subcommunities called Rooms where people can have conversations, I thought: “ Reddit?”. 

At the moment my job involves a lot of talking to people like admins, and students like you, and convincing them to use start actively using the Network. One of the most common things I hear is: “I don’t really understand why we need this. Isn’t this just like Moodle? Why do we need another Moodle?”.  The one thing you can say to piss off someone working on the Network is “but it’s like Moodle”. 

I get it. The two may seem quite similar - you can upload documents, ask questions, and so on - but Moodle is university specific, while the Network simultaneously provides an exclusive space for your university’s content, and facilitates communication & collaboration between scholars from different institutions. 

But let me ask you for a favour - don’t try to compare the Laidlaw Scholars Network to anything. It’s a platform for networking but it’s not LinkedIn - on LinkedIn, you can’t search for supervisors or for papers by topic. It’s where you can publish posts about your journeys, write about your experiences, but it’s not Medium or Blogger. It has video calls, but it’s not Skype. And the one thing it definitely is not...Yes, Moodle. 

And it is not trying to be any of those things. I am asking you to be open-minded and just accept it for what it is. The Laidlaw Scholars Network is the Laidlaw Scholars Network. And it is just for you. We created this entire platform with all these possibilities just. for. you. Do you feel special yet? 

So, let me show you in practice exactly how the Network can help you become a better Scholar and NextGen Leader. Let’s imagine that I am a Scholar and I will take you through the 5 ways of making the most out of the Network.

Number 1: Dazzle/Publish 

It allows you to put yourself out there. It is place for you to dazzle, to stand out, to impress, where employers will come to search for the NextGen leaders with smart ideas and a proven track record. 

So, I have this report that I wrote, it’s just one of my university projects [here I proceed to demo how to upload a report and a poster to the research channel].

And I also have a poster to go along with it - [another demo of uploading the poster] 

I could then post links to my research on my LinkedIn profile, or include them in my CV when applying for jobs, grants or degree programmes. 

But the Network is not just a place where you post your research and never come back...

Number 2: Influence/Share

It is a space where you can share your thoughts, document your journeys, publish your reflections on a regular basis. That is the purpose of the Scholars Stories channel. 

Let’s say I went on a leadership expedition, for example to Fiji with Think Pacific. I could write a post about my experiences, and it would not only help me with self-reflection but also allow others to find out what it’s like and whether it’s something they are interested in. In fact, one of your colleagues, Emily from the University of Leeds, has done exactly that [Emily’s post]. 

Number 3: Network/Connect

But think bigger. OK, I’ve published my research, wrote a post, what now? Let’s see - I completed my profile and uploaded content, meaning that I established myself, my research interests, my passions, and these can now be discovered by someone else. Someone who is looking for like-minded peers, or a potential hire, or even a mentor. 

For example, I can find someone who has similar research interests to me using directories… [demo how to use search bar and directories] You can search for people who are doing research in a similar field, or you could find a future supervisor. This is an expert network, not just a general one - finding exceptional minds is easier than ever. 

But let me tell you this - it’s a two-way street. You have to make an effort, you have to spend 5 minutes uploading a picture, writing a short bio, and including your contact details. You have to put yourself out there and open up yourself to opportunities. By doing this, you will enter a pool of exceptional individuals who can come together in one place and connect with each other.  

Number 4: Unite/Collaborate

Because you - you are Laidlaw Scholars. Those values that we keep putting everywhere - your bottles, your hoodies - they are not just adjectives, they are calls to action. To BE ambitious, to BE brave, and so on. And to be all of those things together, because by collaborating you can achieve something greater than you would have achieved alone. 

Let’s say I’m really into queer literature and I want to find people who share my interest. I could start by posting in the Undergraduate Room [demo how to start a conversation in a Room], or I could go to the Q&A section and ask for recommendations of queer novels. Maybe I could even start a weekly book club in which I and other queer lit lovers could schedule a weekly session through the video panel function and talk about the book we all read during the week. To do that, I could create a special Room where we could post reviews, discuss books. If you would like to set up a new Room, you can just email me and I will create it for you no problem. 

Number 5: Develop/Learn

You can also use the Network for personal and professional development. There are already hundreds of research papers uploaded online, and at the moment we are also working on delivering the most stimulating and useful content to you. For example, in the News & Events channel you will be able to find the latest announcements and opportunities. And it’s only going to get better. We are planning on rolling out leadership lectures, articles, book recommendations and so on. 


You will be the first ones to hear about this - others will probably read about it in one of my emails. We are making a podcast. It will be hosted by yours truly, and here’s the thing with this podcast: I will be interviewing diverse established leaders who will share their expertise and advice, but ALSO, we want this podcast to be a platform that gives voice to NextGen leaders like you. Which is why I want you guys to come on the podcast and talk to me. I want to talk to you about your research, your ambitions, your challenges - everything! So, if you are interested in being interviewed, reach out to me - message me on LinkedIn, email me, or just talk to me today during the break.

One of my favourite artists, Jenny Holzer, produced a series of works called Truisms. And one of the truisms is “Action causes more trouble than thought”. Your training today has been all about putting leadership into action, so I encourage you to take action, make trouble. Perhaps you might think it’s insignificant, you know, it’s just a blogpost. But you have to start small. You have to begin somewhere, and the Network is that somewhere. It is somewhere you might meet your future lab partner, your future co-founder or co-author, or your future employer. So, write a post. Start a conversation.  Ask a question. Change someone’s life. Make the Laidlaw Scholars Network your somewhere

Thank you.

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! I have been with the Laidlaw Foundation for over 2 years, helping us strengthen the global Laidlaw community and expand our programmes to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality, and develop a new generation of leaders.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. I am a fan of all things human- and design-related, as well as an avid swimmer, obsessive podcast listener, documentary enthusiast, and film photography fan.

Drop me a line if you'd like to chat! 💬👀