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Bristol Cardiff Supergen Workshop

Attendees- Phil Taylor, Jianzhong Wu, Muditha Abeysekera, Jack Dury, Sian Allister, Laiz Souto, Daniel Carr, Yang Gao, Wei Gan, Amirreza Azimipoor, Nicolas Manea, Andreas Elombo, Nick Jenkins (virtual attendance). 

Workshop Summary 

At the previous Supergen Research Assistant (RA) meeting, held in Bristol, it was agreed by all that similar meetings between researchers should take place in the near future. The opportunity to keep up to date with the research of colleagues helped to foster a sense of community across the Supergen research network. Furthermore, the opportunity for the RAs to present their work and receive feedback was seen as very valuable.    

On the 11th of February, University of Bristol researchers were hosted at the University of Cardiff’s School of Engineering for a follow up workshop. The purpose of this workshop was to: 

  1. Keep colleagues up to date with new research project developments. 
  1. Identify collaboration opportunities from across the Supergen network and beyond. 
  1. Agree on the next steps to take to advance the progress of collaborative work.  

To begin the workshop, RAs took turns to discuss the development and progress of their research projects. After each talk, there was an opportunity for questions and feedback. The benefits of working alongside academics with diverse research interests were clear, with advice being based on a range of experiences. 

After summarizing their projects, attendees were eager to explore how their research overlapped, and the possible collaborative projects they could work on. 

Early in the discussion, it became clear that there was a lot of scope for collaborative work on Microgrids. Several researchers were either working directly on Microgrids or on topics pertinent to microgrid development. Researchers from both Bristol and Cardiff committed to exploring microgrid topics together. Moreover, roles for external partners were discussed, to further expand the Supergen network. There was also a lot of excitement about the promise of hydrogen tech in multi-vector network futures. With many RAs working in relevant areas, it was decided that future collaborative work should address pressing research questions. During this discussion, a detailed diagram of the RAs expertise and current projects was created to illustrate the potential for research cooperation. This diagram (subsequently shared with attending RAs) demonstrated the breadth of research skills within the network and opportunity to form complex research groups.   

After the group discussion, several specific actions were decided upon. Most notably, it was decided that: 

  • RAs, whose research overlaps, will work closely on projects addressing a range of energy networks issues/questions. 
  • There will be a renewed effort across the Supergen hub to share research, data and models. 
  • RAs collaborative research papers would be presented in a special issue of Applied Energy. 
  • A new collaborative paper will be written on an energy networks issue identified during the meeting.  

The attendees from Bristol were also treated to a tour of Cardiff’s Laboratory facilities and a behind the scenes insight into some of the experiments currently taking place. The day ended with a visit to a restaurant in Cardiff Bay where, naturally, energy networks discussions continued. The Bristol team will visit Bath soon for a similar workshop to expand Supergen’s existing collaboration plans.  

Energy researchers improving awareness and action for EDI: some practical ideas

Biography: Dr Amy Stabler is a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University Business School and Programme Director for the MSc Coaching and Mentoring.  Her teaching and scholarship focuses on facilitating postgraduate work-based learners to improve their practice with a particular interest in critical management education. 

Alongside a couple of my Business School colleagues, I’ve been collaborating with energy researchers since 2019 to learn about and take action in relation to EDI in the energy research community through the EPSRC Supergen program.  There is a lot of information about why system change is required to create EDI and you can find some thoughts about that in this earlier blog.  I’m going to share some practical insights into how we’ve gone about the process of change to improve our awareness and to take systemic action in the hope that you might pick up something practical to try out.

We began with a workshop to share best practice about tackling unconscious bias, to highlight and increase awareness of our own privilege and to co-create and agree next steps for a continuation of the conversation about EDI for the project.

We used a photo-elicitation exercise to surface each other’s tacit knowledge about EDI and to ensure that everyone in the room got to participate.  Images help to evoke felt experiences and draw on metaphorical representations to express ideas (Taylor and Hansen, 2005). One participant chose a picture of a woman exercising to share his thoughts that EDI is like a muscle that needs building and exercising which is a neat metaphor for the process we’ve built together.

The workshop has been followed by periodic action learning set meetings to develop continual learning from the workshop and its application to the project.  Action learning is a system of education in which a group of people learn by discussing each other’s practical problems, typically six-eight participants, who meet regularly for around two hours. They tackle real problems using relevant concepts and theory and collectively try out new ideas and behaviours (Raelin, 2019).  It works in cycles over time.

Our aspiration for the action learning sets was to meet at a planned regular time, agree ground rules for ways of operating at the first meeting, share leadership responsibility, pay attention to getting and keeping people involved, and to ensure that participants would take action.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the action learning sets being more fluid than planned but, more importantly, they became a safe place for colleagues to check in with each other: was everyone ok?  What challenges were they facing?  How could peers help and support each other?  There was recognition that some energy researchers in the group were a long way from their home country, and/or living alone and isolated, or juggling childcare and home-schooling.  Online meetings allowed participants into each other’s homes and blurred the separation between personal and professional lives.  Through this process of crisis and personal sharing of vulnerability, increasing understanding and empathy with each other’s differences emerged.

The action learning sets were formed with the explicit purpose of being a trusting and safe space to explore EDI topics that were uncomfortable or high-risk for participants. In providing a secure space in which to expose vulnerability, the action learning sets have allowed energy researchers to claim difference in themselves and embrace difference in others.  In doing so, the researchers have learned to “become comfortable with being uncomfortable” (Corlett et al, 2021, p9) and to encourage and support new behaviours, knowledge and competence into practice.  This has included:

  • ensuring that a national conference was diverse in its organising committee and presenting participants.  Feedback from the conference was positive about diversity and what this brought in terms of learning and there was a diverse delegate mix;
  • conducting a survey into the Impact of COVID-19 on EDI, and research, across the EPSRC Supergen program;
  • targeting seed-corn research funding calls for PIs to under-represented groups (those identifying as women or non-binary)

Our next areas to explore and develop are becoming everyday active allies, and career sponsorship for under-represented groups (Singh and Vanka, 2020).  The action learning cycles continue…


  1. Corlett, S., Ruane, M., & Mavin, S. (2021) ‘Learning (not) to be different: The value of vulnerability in trusted and safe identity work spaces’, Management Learning, 52(4), 424–441.
  2. Raelin, J.A. (2019) ‘Deriving an affinity for collective leadership: below the surface of action learning’, Action Learning, 16 (2), 123–135.
  3. Singh, S. & Vanka, S. (2020) ‘Mentoring is essential but not sufficient: sponsor women for leadership roles’, Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, 34 (6), 25-28.
  4. Taylor, S.S. & Hansen, H. (2005) ‘Finding Form: Looking at the Field of Organizational Aesthetics’, Journal of Management Studies, 42 (6), 1211–1231.

Supergen COP26 Cross Hub Conference – EDI session

The equality diversity and inclusion session at the Supergen COP26 conference involved 7 high profile colleagues who are actively undertaking interventions to improve equality diversity and inclusion.

The first speaker, Dr Sara Walker from Newcastle University, spoke about a joint survey to Supergen members from across 7 Supergen investments. The survey investigated the impact of the COVID pandemic on the Supergen community. As a result of this work some key recommendations have been delivered to the Supergen hubs. For example, results indicated that increased child care during the pandemic was more significant for part time colleagues. This could disproportionately affect their career progression.

The second speaker was Dr Zaffie Cox from EPSRC. She spoke about engendering a positive equality diversity and inclusion culture through decisions on investments, on ways in which peer review is carried out, and in ensuring research addresses issues such as energy justice. Zaffie went on to talk about a call, which is active at present, for an EDI network plus.

Prof Rachel Oliver of Cambridge University presented work by the group The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERinSTEMM). Rachel talked about her campaign to highlight the need for data on research funding broken down by protected characteristics. This was supported by government prior to the most recent general election. Progress had been made, with some data released by EPSRC, and Rachel showed an example where awards of large grants were significantly higher for male principle investigators than female principal investigators. Rachel suggested the culture change needed across the funding landscape requires major intervention. She also suggested some personal actions that could be taken, for example asking about equality diversity and inclusion when agreeing to take on tasks such as speaking at events.

Dr Leda Blackwood of Bath University presented work on an Inclusion Matters (EPSRC funded) project ‘Reimagining Recruitment’. In depth surveys were undertaken to better understand experiences of early career researchers, to better understand what influences colleagues to stay in academia and in STEM subjects. Key factors related to being on an academic contract and being on an open contract. Opportunities were seen as very important but that these need to positively shape the view of the workplace and of the self. Procedural fairness was overwhelmingly seen as low across respondents. Questions about perceptions about the self identified that females felt less able to be authentic and this could lead to feelings of being less psychologically safe in the workplace. Leda also commented on deficit models which are used more often i.e. women need to be more positive or more confident, but this is not necessarily appropriate.

Prof Belinda Colston of the University of Lincoln talked about the Inclusion Matters (EPSRC funded) ‘ASPIRE’ project. This is a change model, with eight themes used to define the makeup of an inclusive research environment. For each of these eight themes, Belinda and the team are considering appropriate interventions and ways of measuring their success or impact. This project is at an early stage and not yet complete.

Prof Louise Mullany of Nottingham University talked about Inclusion Matters (EPSRC funded) ‘STEMM Change’ project. She focused on two pieces of work. One was around recruitment, and work done to analyse recruitment language. The project has identified 12 recommendations to improve recruitment language and to increase diversity in applicants as a result. The project team also undertook a survey of technicians with a focus on COVID-19 issues. Some of the issues identified were similar to that of the work of Dr Sara Walker and the Supergen hubs. Significantly, technicians considered themselves to be lacking visibility opportunities, since they were rarely named on proposals and on research outputs.

Emma Pinchbeck, CEO of EnergyUK, talked about the need to have diverse representation within organisations because this visually shows the organisation’s values. Diversity is not just about representation however, it’s about diversity of voices, diversity of views, which better enable organisations to reflect their customer base or reflect society in general. In building for net zero we need to think about how that approach will meet the needs of all. And to think about the impacts on minority communities. Therefore all sectors of society need representation and need a voice. Emma talked about some practical approaches which her company is taking. For example they have signed up to the 50:50 commitment initiated by the BBC, where at least 50% of speakers at events are women. Her organisation supports ‘Switch’ which is a list of diverse speakers for events in the energy sector. Emma mentioned the importance of networking and building safe spaces for discussion. She mentioned EWiRE, PowerfulWOMEN, and the EDI conference which EnergyUK has held. She talked about the need to have a mix of events, such as small events, hybrid events, and inviting speakers from sectors outside of energy to get diverse voices in the energy sector as well. And within organisations she talked about the need for safe spaces, for staff working groups to be informal and protected, confidential from senior management. Emma also spoke about practical things which individuals can take, such as requesting their employer allow individuals to have time to do EDI initiatives, or to enable a better home-work life balance.

The range of initiatives and the passion of the individuals were really motivating to me as the chair at this event and I look forward to putting into practise some of the suggestions made by colleagues at this event. By taking positive action, we as the Supergen Hubs can be allies to colleagues across our communities, across protected characteristic groups, across academia industry public sector and third sector. Together we can create opportunities for positive change across the energy space to ensure diversity is valued, opportunity is equal, and individuals feel included in our community.

Speaker bios: Cross Hub Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Session – Supergen Energy Networks Hub – Newcastle University