Professional Development for all, yes I’m talking to you Researcher Developers!


I recently attended the Vitae Connections event for Researcher Developers who had, to quote the room on the day, “been around while”. We spent six glorious hours in London thinking about our own career development whilst also hearing about researcher development initiatives from various national and international universities.

The day started with a session considering the future for roles like ours and the researcher needs of tomorrow. Using the horizon scanning technique of communities of interest, we considered the impact of emerging technologies and economies, changing supply and demand of resources, social attitudes of young people and future demographic changes on what we do today and how this will change in the future. Generally, the room was positive with many saying that their role had come a long way since the ‘Roberts’ era but the future was a lot less clear.

skills_wordThe second session tapped in to this uncertain future. When asked to reflect on the challenges we now face, i.e of being in a role that has no set career path, it was interesting to be given a copy of the Vitae Researcher Developers’ Professional Framework (ReDProF). However, I found the most useful element of the session was to consider my own abilities, skills and strengths using the analogy of a cruise liner. There was agreement that we are all captains of our own career cruise liner but often we are so focused on “the passengers, the entertainment and the catering” we often forget to take time to consider where are we heading. I found it useful to reflect and ask myself ‘who is currently captaining that ship?’ ‘What small changes do I need to make in order to ultimately arrive at my desired destination?’ ‘Do I know where that destination is?’ ‘Who else do I need help me navigate rough seas?’ We were reminded of the adage you can’t turner a tanker on a sixpence, and through implementing change at this point we could ultimately plot our own course. Keeping that analogy in mind what followed were 3 insightful speakers sharing practise, knowledge and experience of working in, influencing and challenging higher education policy and culture.

Firstly, Dilly Fung, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching at UCL provided two interesting casestudies on the perceptions of teaching, research and learning at UCL and her challenge to bring these areas together under the banner of UCL Arena“If you teach, supervise, assess or support students’ learning at UCL, in any context, UCL Arena is for you. It’s a meeting place for colleagues to share approaches to teaching and learning in our research-intensive university – a conceptual space for debate and exploration. UCL Arena is accredited by the Higher Education Academy, so it’s also a place in which you can choose to gain professional recognition awards for your teaching expertise.” (Taken from the UCL Arena wesite)

Dilly was keen to share the experience reminding university staff of the ethos of education and teaching within a research institute. The launch of Connected Curriculum in Septemeber 2014 has allowed all UCL students the opportunity to become involved in research from the very start of their degree programme and for research skills to become embedded in all undergraduate courses, closing the gap between researchers and students.

“Comprising seven dimensions of connectivity, Connected Curriculum sets out a plan for a joined up approach to education. As well as defining the relationship between students’ learning and their participation in research, it also describes the connections to be made between disciplines, years of study and staff and students. Connected Curriculum is a standard for the future of education at UCL, and over the next five years (2015-2020), UCL will work towards ensuring all courses meet its seven dimensions.” (taken from the UCL Connected Curriculum website) 

What I took from this session was the potential and possibility of change within an institution. By bringing together 2 separate areas and highlighting the similarities, the benefits of working more effectively together for the good of those who are the future of research were obvious. It reminded me to consider the communities of interest who have a stake in the future of higher education in the UK and who I need on my career cruise liner.

Secondly, Kelly Coate, Director of King’s Learning Institute at KCL set out an interesting body of research looking at the concept of the prestige economy and the gender inbalance of senior staff positions in higher education. Kelly spent time demonstrating that “…academics are motivated by prestige factors accrued through advancement in their careers. Prestige, authority and status, we suggest, may be more easily acquired by male academics” (Coates & Howson 2014, 1).

By comparing the factors influencing progression for women in academic roles, I asked myself what could this mean for us as women researcher developers? As I looked around the room of 25 women and 1 solitary man I considered how the recommendations to avoid ‘fixing women’ could be extrapolated to consider how we could empower our women researcher developers and ultimately enable them to progress from researcher developer to more senior roles, especially when that role does not exist – yet. The answer is surely identifying the prestige economy and the currency of esteem for researcher developers.

Finally, in stark contrast to the ideas put forward by Kelly, Guy Woodward, a Reader in Ecology at Imperial College with over £7M of funding to his name, presented a personal view on why researcher development is not top of his agenda. It was his view that, when it comes to being the research leaders of the future, researchers should research first, teach second and do admin third. In order to get ahead in the world of academia he encourages his researchers to ‘shape the field’, write opinion papers, attend conferences, lobby, co-ordinate writing proposals for RCUK and sit on panels for funding and papers. He also talked about the need to collaborate in order to play to your strengths, build alliances and know who you can work with always with an eye on future funding and ultimately expect rejection as a marker of how high you are aiming.

To start a presentation stating that researcher development isn’t needed in a room of researcher developers was always going to be controversial, yet in a strange way I found the session inspirational. Perhaps, what Guy was saying was using experience and ‘real-time’ training is just as valuable as attending a workshop, something I think most researcher developers would agree. If you want to get noticed in a university attending a workshop in networking and influencing skills is just part of the journey. If you can, why not learn on the job and accept that sometimes there will be rejection or you might get it wrong? If you start small (remember that career cruise liner making small adjustments to its trajectory?) those rejections don’t push you off course that much and through reflection and learning from that experience you can correct for that over time. Just ‘doing it’ can be just as good a way to learn.

Perhaps, it is just about jumping in at the deep end, being brave – its just that researchers and researcher developers who have attended a training session jump in wearing a life jacket…

life jacket


Lifejacket image from

Kelly Coate & Camille Kandiko Howson (2014): Indicators of esteem: gender and prestige in academic work, British Journal of Sociology of Education, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2014.955082

“physician heal thyself” Taken from


Effective academic writing: no-one’s first language.



It is commonly assumed that postgraduate and particularly postdoctoral researchers will have already learned everything they need to know to write for scholarly publication as students. However, in a recent Vitae Midlands Hub workshop, Catalina Neculai, pointed out the fact that “academic writing is no-one’s first language”. Collaborating on Researcher Development (CoRD): Academic Writing Case Studies was a workshop held on 15th May which brought together researcher developers from across the region to look at different examples and models of inspiring academic writing support and training.

The case studies included:

  • The work of the Centre for Academic Writing (CAW) at Coventry University. CAW has a whole institutional teaching and consultancy approach to writing support: also carrying out pedagogical research to further inform their teaching and support.
  • The writing summer school offered by the University of Birmingham, addressed a gap in academic writing provision at discipline level and the differences in what can be meant by ‘academic writing’.
  • The Warwick Writing Programme of workshops, individual meetings and group away days. Along with the Thesis Writing Group for students, this provision highlighted the importance of making researchers conscious of how they write and tools/strategies for improvement.
  • The Social Writing Series at the University of Nottingham is so-called because it brings students together with a facilitator and is self-directed in a ‘shut up and write’ programme for target orientated writing.
  • The doctoral writing provision at the University of Leicester, which includes the peer review of doctoral writing.

The range of offerings certainly showed how different models have been developed by institutions to meet specific needs, but also highlighted some common considerations.

Researchers can and do learn a great deal about writing FOR their disciplinary peers FROM their disciplinary peers. However, if someone lacks knowledge or confidence in their academic writing abilities, support from the wider network of university experts can be very valuable. From structured workshops to facilitated ‘space’, time to work on academic writing skills can give someone the confidence to develop their ‘writing language’.   An improved skill-set will give an individual confidence in presenting their work back in a disciplinary setting, but in a time when the majority of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers are increasingly making their longer term careers outside academic research, confident writing is a real asset.

If you’d like to find out more about the presentations, discussions and recommendations from this CoRD meeting, please contact

If you are interested in this topic you may like to attend ‘Future Directions in Academic Writing’ – the 15th biennial Writing Development in HE Conference. The event is being held at CAW, Coventry University this year, on 9th – 11th July. For further details visit:

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:

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:

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: .  UKRSA have produced three useful guides about RSA’s which can all be found at :

  • 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:

Are you looking for something new?


Did you know that Vitae has a number training courses for you to use with your research staff?

Whether you are looking for a one or two day course, or are looking for something you could run over a number of sessions,  this is your opportunity to come and hear more about the range of courses on offer, and in particular to get a taste of a newly developed course:

Making your Mark – Introduction to Impact and Engagement

To book your FREE place go to

Who supports the supporters?

This month, we are asking ‘Who supports the supporters?’

The Vitae Midlands Hub has an active network of Researcher Developers who meet twice a year to share practice, swap experiences and network with other staff from neighbouring universities. 

“As a new member of Warwick’s research student development team, this was my first Vitae Hub meeting and I found it a really productive forum for ideas and conversation with colleagues in other institutions. The meeting struck me as particularly valuable as a sounding board for new initiatives and a site for openly sharing best practice”. Dr Emma Smith Research Student Skills Programme Co-ordinator, University of Warwick

Those who regularly attend the meetings have come to see them as part of  “…an essential network on which those of us working with different institutions, have come to rely. They are the Researcher Developer Linked-In network, which allows us to share best practice, and manage our relationships across this complex and diverse sector.” Researcher Developer, Loughborough University

The Midlands Researcher Developer Forum is always open to new members and will next meet in May 2013.


If you would like an opportunity to meet other Researcher Developers before May why not come along to the Vitae South West and Wales Hub Annual Good Practice event at Bristol Zoo on Wednesday 27th February. Researcher Developers from across the South West, Wales and the Midlands will be given the opportunity to hear about new Vitae initiatives and network with like minded staff.

The keynote speaker at this year’s event is Professor Teresa Rees, Associate Director, Wales, Leadership Foundation who will be talking about leadership for researchers

Other topics include :
 PechaKucha session
20 slides, 20 secs each slide – a short sharp information input!
·        Preparing for  the HR Excellence 2 year Review
·        Digital Literacies for Researchers
·        The Socially Innovative Researcher
·        Researcher-led initiatives
·        Sharing provision across postgraduate researchers and research staff

Workshops on
·        Coaching and Mentoring
·        Engaging researchers with parliamentary impact
·        Achieving a step change in UK provision for Research Staff
·        Supporting PGRs who teach including results from the latest NUS survey
·        Equality and diversity
·        RDF Planner and Implementation
·        Vitae courses for researchers

Book your place on

Other ways that the Midlands Hub is supporting Researcher Developers is through our online community and mailing lists. If you would like join our basecamp group please contact

A date for your diary Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th September 2013 Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2013: Realising the Potential of Researchers