Research Staff: Careers Beyond Academia

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Vitae has been involved for some time in the ‘What do Research Staff Do Next?’ project: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/impact-and-evaluation/what-do-researchers-do/WDRSDN .

Some interesting preliminary findings were discussed at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference on 9-10 September 2014, along with further useful insights into the job market and career progression for researchers published in Research Fortnight’s Vitae Supplement, to accompany the conference: https://www.researchprofessional.com/0/rr/news/uk/careers/2014/9/Lack-of-job-security-drives-out-researchers.html

Whilst tracking of (initial) career destinations for graduates and knowledge of career paths within research have existed for some time, there has been no information about where research staff have gone upon leaving university research positions.  ‘What do Research Staff Do Next?’ aimed to reach people who had moved away from postdoctoral positions and through a survey find out why they had left, where they had gone and reflect on the transition.

‘Lack of job security drives out researchers’ is the title of one of the pieces in Research Fortnight’s Supplement, in which Janet Metcalfe – chair and head of Vitae – set out the reason for the project in a competitive job market.  “Through this project we will provide careers resources to institutions and information for staff looking for alternative careers”.

In one of the conference plenary sessions Janet expanded on the survey’s preliminary findings, with some interesting statistics.  In terms of destinations, a variety of sectors were represented fairly evenly including public administration, finance, IT, manufacturing, health & social work and charities.  However, 24% had opted for different roles within higher education.

79% of the surveys collated noted better long term prospects as a key reason for leaving their research role, reinforced by 76% referencing more job security.

Lack of flexibility and the change in organisational culture were highlighted as significant challenges in the transition process, but the support of new colleagues proved a common and helpful factor in transition.

It will be interesting to see further details on the preliminary findings to be released soon by Vitae.

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Career Development Profiles Online: Promoting Yourself and Your Research

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Social media networks are not just for chatting to friends and sharing holiday photo’s and more specifically, professional networking sites such as LinkedIN are not just for the business sector. Whilst this post doesn’t aim to be an advert for LinkedIN, it is worth considering as a platform to take some control of your online presence and support career development opportunities. If you’re in the middle of a research project recruitment may not be at the top of your priority list, but (as noted in last month’s post about networking and collaboration) working on your profile now bring benefits in the future – short or longer term.

LinkedIN was initially focused on networking in the business world but university staff have really seen the value and possibilities on offer in an increasingly competitive HE sector. You may be surprised to note that the biggest growing group currently joining LinkedIN are students and recent graduates: with over 30 million profiles added. A big draw for this community is recruitment.

Even if you’re only speculatively looking for the next step – either inside or outside academia, an online profile (external to your institution) is useful and potentially more adaptable or user-friendly than a CV. Don’t miss out – online recruitment is increasingly big business and LinkedIN has a built-in recruiter application. Recruiter tools are used by agencies to pick up who has set up 100% of their profile and review entries for ‘persons of interest’ against the recruitment needs of organisations and head hunters.

Your profile can highlight not only your skills and experience but also be a vehicle for spelling out your aspirations. ‘Recommendations’ should not be seen as job references but are good modern day testimonials.

If you are looking for a new job and reach the interview stage, LinkedIN may be used by BOTH parties in the interview decision process. Employers and universities can and do look for LinkedIN profiles before an interview to gain a broader perspective about a candidate. Equally, in the immediate run up to an interview, ‘follow’ the company or institution to become aware of what is high profile and current – it may be on the agenda, or at least worth referencing during your interview.

To set up your own profile visit: https://www.linkedin.com/

The Value of Networking for Researchers

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Your current research may be your all-consuming focus at the moment, but it is likely that you will move on in terms of both location and research remit before long.  Thinking beyond your immediate environment now will help you to plan your future in research.

Original research – the kind that gets funded – can be as a result of ‘individual creativity’, but it is also defined as a new combination or connection between ideas – the result of positive collaboration.  This idea is explored further in ‘The Creative Researcher’ booklet, part of the Vitae Researcher booklet series, which can be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/vitae-publications/guides-briefings-and-information/vitae-researcher-booklets

When you reach a certain level of seniority the value of international collaborations is perhaps more obvious, but for early career researchers a regional network can be key to your next funding step.  A recent blog post from The Researcher Whisperer included a telling quote:

“I was listening to a wise old researcher the other day when she said:
International networks are lovely, but it is your national network that will get you funded … we don’t often talk about the importance of building a local network.”

Some practical reasons for networking to support future collaborations:

  • Funding opportunities are increasingly inter-disciplinary and across institutions. As just one example, RCUK has six priorities for funding which draw across the spectrum of academic disciplines and EXPECT collaboration to address the priorities.
  • REF and Impact. With ‘impact’ set to have an increasing place in the REF, wider networks can be invaluable in increasing your research profile in new areas.  Impact also looks increasingly at collaborative research with industry and the public sector.

Vitae’s training programme on ‘The Collaborative Researcher’ includes exercises focusing on how to approach planning for networking and collaboration.  In considering how ready you are to network effectively, how easily and succinctly could you answer the following questions to someone from outside your area of research?

  • What’s the focus of your current research/area of research interest?
  • What are your plans for developing/disseminating your work?
  • Do you have any ideas or opportunities for collaborating on future research?

Or, to what extent could you respond to these points positively about your research?

Provide clarity – could you or someone in your department (not your supervisor) describe your research in simple accurate terms?

How visible are you? – Does your name or work come up in a web search for your research topic?

Translate – Have you described your research in interesting and relevant terms to someone from a different faculty in the last 6 months?

Be interested – Do you make a habit of talking to other researchers about their work and do you find them interesting?

Create opportunities – Can you think of three possible applications for your expertise outside your current project … do you know where to start looking?

Tune in  – What do you think the main research questions will be in your field in five years time … how would you know?

The Midlands Research Staff Association (MidsRSA) is building on its mailing list of 100+ research staff to set up a self-sustaining forum for networking to discuss shared issues and explore future collaborations.  If you’d like to know more, or join the MidsRSA please contact midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk

If you’d like to find out more about the national Research Staff Association (UKRSA), visit: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/communities/uk-research-staff-association

What is Unconscious Bias?

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‘Unconscious Bias’, sometimes known as implicit bias, has become quite a buzz-phrase in training recently: a thought-provoking consideration in any working environment, including higher education and research. Issues pertinent to equality and diversity have found new focus with the Athena SWAN award (http://www.athenaswan.org.uk/content/awards ) links to funding in STEMM subjects, plus the more recent trial by the Equality Challenge Unit of the Gender Equality Charter Mark (GEM) for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (http://www.ecu.ac.uk/our-projects/gender-charter-mark ). ‘ Unconscious bias’ looks at how we think and how we act.
This month’s blog aims to highlight some of the key considerations and tips, plus sign-posting to further information.
So, what is unconscious bias?
In psychological terms it is a bias we are unaware of, or is outside of our control, triggering automatic judgements and assessments influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. This can have an effect at work, not least in recruitment, interviews, appraisals and promotions. We all have such biases but their effects can be reduced by positive awareness on a personal level and positive strategies in the workplace.
Be aware.
By understanding the existence of our unconscious biases we can mitigate their impact. On an individual level for example, if you are being interviewed but feel that a disability of situation in your life may count against you, volunteer the information to overcome any assumptions that may be made by the panel. In the wider workplace, processes, policies and procedures can be reviewed to mitigate shared or potential biases. For instance, build in diversity as a requirement on recruitment panels or even research project advisory groups.
Take action.
To find out more you may wish to visit the ‘Teaching Tolerance’ website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias . This is linked to ‘Project Implicit’ and Harvard’s Hidden Bias Tests. If you’re interested in taking one of the tests on a range on topics visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ … they can be an eye-opener.
Ultimately, even if you are aware of your biases, and those of the people you work with, it is up to the individual WHAT action they choose to take.
Vitae have a programme of resources linked to equality and diversity issues in the HE research environment. ‘Every Researcher Counts’ materials can be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers , primarily for use by researcher developers to support research staff and academics leading projects. Please register (free) with Vitae to see the full range of resources available, or contact the Midlands Hub manager (midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk ) for ideas on how best to use the case studies and other programme material, to further the understanding of equality and diversity issues at your institution.

Supporting Researchers to make career choices

Career opportunities for researchers cover a wide range of sectors including HE; manufacturing; finance; business and IT, health and public administration. Recent trends demonstrate that over half of researchers on completion of their doctorate will go on to pursue a career outside academic research or teaching (What Do Researchers Do? First Destinations of Graduates By Subject’, Vitae 2009). Funders of research both nationally and in Europe recognise this trend, and the importance of ensuring all researchers are supported by their institution in their professional and career development, whilst still taking responsibility for this themselves.

ImageManaging a career today is less about having a determined plan, and more about taking a broad and organic approach to employability: leaving the door open to grasp opportunities (and sometimes creating them), taking planned risks, coping effectively with unexpected changes, and crucially adapting ideas to evolving interests and experiences. (More about careers for researchers)

The Career-wise Researcher has been designed to give practical tips to help identify and build the pieces of the career puzzle. It includes the steps needed to understand skills and capabilities; increase awareness of job opportunities and what employers are seeking; setting career and personal development goals; taking a proactive approach to development opportunities, and ensuring every potential employee is presented in the best light to get the job they want.