Researchers taking control of their own development

I’d like to introduce myself to start this month’s blog post.  I’m Lisa Lavender, based at the University of Warwick and I’ll be Vitae Midlands Hub Manager until October, covering for Kate whilst she is on maternity leave.  One of my first activities in post was to attend the Vitae South West and Wales Hub Annual Good Practice Conference, which was held in the wonderful Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff Bay on 12 March 2014.  I hope to draw out some of the highlights and useful links in this article.

This long-standing conference has been running for over a decade now, offering an interesting mix of talks and workshops reflecting on key issues in UK researcher development.  This year the Concordat theme of ‘researchers taking control of their own development’ ran through many of the sessions.

Presentations from the day can now be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/events/vitae-sww-hub-annual-good-practice-conference-2014/presentations

The keynote talk was given by Professor Michelle Ryan, University of Exeter, on ‘Uncovering the Glass Cliff’ Michelle examined the precariousness of women’s leadership positions – what do they face when they’ve broken through the glass ceiling?  The discussion centred on women in FTSE 100 companies, where it has been suggested that women in high positions on a board leads to a reduction in the company’s performance.  Michelle’s research found that women are often put on boards when performance is bad – the glass cliff – with almost an expectation of ‘challenge’ at best, failure at worst.  Women may be preferentially selected for challenging rather than maintenance, established roles because they are seen to be good in a crisis or because they and their careers are more expendable.  Whilst Michelle’s research suggests the former, the important thing to note is that it is not just the quantity of women given senior positions that is low, but also the quality of those positions is low.

Later in the day Karen Cooke from Cardiff’s ENFYS was inspiring and enthusiastic in her talk about the role of staff networks and how they can benefit both the members of the network and the HEI.  Linking your network to aspects of the university strategy and securing buy in from senior leadership is the key to success.  The resulting funding and exposure can facilitate the outputs that benefit the network … success, awards and publicity are excellent payback for the institution’s leadership.

ENFYS (Welsh for rainbow) is the LGBT+ Staff and Postgraduate Student Network at Cardiff University.  Take a look at their huge range of activities at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/govrn/cocom/equalityanddiversity/sexualorientation/lgbtstaffnetwork/lgbt-staff-network.html

Speak Up, Speak Clearly – how Research Staff Associations can make a difference. 

Using the RSA’s at Bristol and Exeter as case studies, this workshop started with the important, but often ignored point that active involvement in a staff association is NOT about being a researcher who doesn’t want to do research!   An active RSA can provide useful career development training and opportunities for long term benefit of the researcher beyond their pure research practice AND be a focal point for key institutional stakeholders to engage with researchers.  The message is – get yourself noticed.

The Midlands RSA is now a sizeable community and we are currently putting together an event for later in the summer around career development and networking.  If you’d like to get involved or find out more please email:  midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk .  UKRSA have produced three useful guides about RSA’s which can all be found at https://www.vitae.ac.uk/communities/uk-research-staff-association/ukrsa-projects-and-publications :

  • A Guide to Research Staff Associations
  • Understanding Research Staff Associations and their impact
  • How will getting involved with a research staff association benefit you?

Supporting Researchers with Equality and Diversity Issues was an interactive session led by Tracy Stead.  Vitae’s ‘Every Researcher Counts’ material was designed to help PI’s recognise and support E&D needs amongst the researchers they manage.  Tracy’s current project aims to offer institutions more possible uses of the existing resources and widen the perspective to all research staff.  The package will be more clearly modularised, making it easy to pull out specific resources and case studies.  We look forward to more resources coming online later in the year, but take a look at what Vitae currently offers on Every Researcher Counts at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers

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