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

The future of Doctoral Training

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Summary:

On 19th June 2014 Vitae held an ‘Open Space’ discussion event to explore the new challenges for universities and researcher development in the evolving landscape of doctoral education. Discussions centred on whether, with current recruitment practices, the best doctoral candidates are being selected and how we can support the professional career development of researchers.
In addition, it was interesting to note concerns about the potential for a two-tier system of support for students, the allocation of resources and different models for managing the rising number of doctoral training programmes.   The day concluded by raising possible directions for Vitae to work in support of this high profile area.

Perspective of a PhD student at the event.
A PhD student from the University of Warwick who took part was happy to share the following feedback:

“I am part of an interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) at Warwick that aims to span the interface between the Physical and the Life Sciences. I attended an Open Space workshop run by Vitae, in which the changing structure of doctoral education was considered at length. Topics of discussion included the pros and cons of traditionally funded PhDs compared to PhDs studied within a DTC set-up, along with the role that Supervisors play in supporting both types of PhD student. 
For me as a research student, the event provided the opportunity to discuss my experiences as a PhD Student funded through a Doctoral Training Centre. When initially applying for PhDs, I found funding more accessible through DTCs rather than through traditional 3-year PhD projects, despite my initial efforts of PhD applications being targeted to 3-year pre-defined research projects. In DTCs, there is a more defined training element to the course, with a cohort-based approach – the advantages of these aspects of DTCs were discussed at the Vitae event and how all postgraduate research (PGR) students could benefit from the ethos that comes with DTCs. It was really interesting to hear these issues discussed from the viewpoint of the professionals working to support PGR students and what they do to continually aid the development of researchers.”  Amy O’Reilly, University of Warwick

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The theme of the event, which informed the initial speaker presentations and later discussions was:
“ How can we, together, support researchers, ensuring an equality of professional development provision for all, in light of the changing structures for doctoral education, such as doctoral training centres?”

Anna Price (Acting Assistant Director of KCL’s Graduate School and Vitae London Hub Manager), looking from the perspective of professional development and academia, Anna noted the key points in the theme as together, equality of opportunity and excellence.
Together: Collaborations within HEI’s are increasing, but also across and beyond HEI’s into the business world.
With the rise of doctoral training centre’s (DTC’s) and doctoral training programmes (DTP’s), seamless training provision with no gaps or duplication is the aim across academic and skills provision. This requires working together, but with different models available the challenge is to establish effective strategic communication.
Equality of opportunity: The current funding drivers and meritocracy can lead to the possibility of a two-tier system.
Excellence: Professional development should be preparing researchers for future careers in addition to academic research – understanding the job market and transferable skills needed across sectors.
The realities of a competitive academic career should be made clear at an early stage for researchers. But the question was raised, ‘is the extra support provided in a DTC potentially shielding them from some of the realities?’

Rebekah Smith McGloin (Doctoral Training Programmes Manager, University of Nottingham)
Rebekah raised some thought-provoking and pertinent points in considering some of the key questions about DTP’s in the face of huge RCUK (and other) investment, involving more recent and increasing cross-institutional consortia with ‘complex connectivity’ across industry, international networks, peers, academic community.

  • Complex administration can be involved in effective integration
  • A tension between T&L and research provision needs to be addressed.
  • Working across research organisations
  • What happens to the students who aren’t part of DTP’s? And for those involved, do they miss out on broader research community interaction?
  • Interdisciplinarity needs to be set up and supervised effectively to really work

Robin Mellors-Bourne (Deputy Chief Executive and Director, Research and Intelligence, CRAC)
Robin’s talk concentrated on understanding the recruitment and selection of PGR’s from an institutional perspective, using recent survey findings.
Why do HEI’s recruit PGR’s? Responses showed that research development and output was at the top of the list, with excellent researchers seen as ‘engines of innovation’. Income and teaching support were actually very low priorities.
Most universities are also seeking and expecting growth in the number of researchers in the next five years, whilst interestingly recognising that the total market is likely to shrink. Working towards growth is particularly true in post-92 institutions, plus an increasing international focus – therefore funding is key.
One of the most important factors in assessing applicant quality remains academic attainment with a big rise in the requirement for a Masters degree. HEI’s want to see existing expertise in research skills, showing that the researcher can hit the ground running.
Emerging issues:
What is the impact of DTP’s on everyone else? With some HEI’s diverting money to match fund research council awards, is there a danger of reduced provision available for following their own institutional research agenda.
There is an expectation of more professional doctorates and ‘blended’ models of PGR study.
Could recruitment come from a narrower base as a result?

Iain Cameron – (Head of Research Careers and Diversity, RCUK)
Shaping the future: expectations for doctoral training from research councils.
Supervisors should recognise doctoral study as broad training for a range of careers, with increasing numbers of postdoc’s now facing careers outside academic research. He encouraged HEI’s to collaborate and share resources.
HEI’s should continue to work with PI’s and supervisors to increase engagement in the broader researcher development agenda.
Current funding can be seen as ‘leverage’ but the expectation of match funding research council money is to ensure strategic consideration in HEI’s are given priority.
The impact of obtaining PhDs.
It was noted that a report due for publication in the autumn will include the following observations:
Employers value deep specialist skills and knowledge.
The importance of ongoing government funding
Doctoral graduates contribute to innovation.
As a result, skills and attitudes of graduates can spill over to other employers. Reference was made on the importance of embedding and sustaining training provision as renewed funding is never a guarantee.
With the development in doctoral training, where is the ‘value added’ for the broader PhD community? The value in DTP’s is often in cohort provision, inductions and some skills training. Should HEI’s consider reconfiguring their provision to include all research students to embed training and avoid a two tier system.

The Open Space discussions (the concept of sharing and openness, not hierarchical, to provoke honest discussion) covered a range of topics including:
How do we/should we better manage PhDs expectations of training/careers during recruitment processes?

  • Many take the opportunity as a means to an end: the chance to do their research. At that stage their career plans are unknown or focused on academia, so being clear on the value of the training is important in the recruitment process and induction.
  • Ask alumni to give talks on their career outside academia and how their training and PhD led to this. The cohort approach which people positively invest and engage in is already showing the benefits of this networking approach.
  • The involvement of supervisors is important to reinforce the training message at recruitment, induction and later.
  • If PhD research is viewed as a job, not the continuation of being a student then there should be an expectation of training for professional development as there is in the commercial world.

How do we support supervisors to engage with the researcher development agenda and to identify their own training needs? How might the role of supervisors be better embedded in DTC’s?

  • How do we solve the divisive potential of provision for DTC students v traditional self-funded students (in the interests of equality in the over-arching theme)?
  • Have the research councils deliberately set this up to create a two tier system, to show the value in their funding?
  • Intentional or not, a two tier model is a potential outcome.
  • Doctoral training is a very diverse landscape with different expectations of resource and training, including different expectations of students and supervisors.
  • Would it be possible to have an equality of experience with limited or ring-fenced resource in some HEI’s?
  • On a positive note, can a HEI learn from DTC provision to provide some aspects more broadly and share good practice.
  • Concern that DTC’s have developed adhoc in some cases where central coordination in training, etc is not in place.

How best to include public engagement training for PGR’s and what is most useful to them?

  • Build it into the idea of researcher personal development.
  • Seed funding for events
  • Disseminate examples of good practice in training etc. (possible involvement from Vitae?)
  • It is important to understand what funding bodies want from public engagement and impact.

These and other discussions will continue online at: https://vitaeworkspaces.basecamphq.com/projects/12192758-vitae-open-space-19-June-2014/log

Conclusions from the event and the message coming out of each theme for Vitae? 

  • What does a PhD mean today? More of a job than a continuation of study/being a student.
  • Case studies for models of excellence could be helpful.
  • Mapping the researcher developer role and context in doctoral training to raise awareness.
  • Explore the idea of excellence, reflecting on what this may mean for students and HEI’s.
  • Transferable skills training
  • What is CDT/DTP cohort good practice? Case studies on different models
  • Define public engagement in this context: models/case studies on what it is and the importance for researchers
  • Training for supervisors on the value of the researcher development/training agenda.

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.

New Year, New Job?

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So, it’s the start of another year and for some the end of your current contract may be looming faster that you care to imagine, for others you have decided it is time to look for a new challenge in your career and perhaps for others it is the year when you will take the first step on the career ladder with a new and shiny PhD certificate under your belt.

Whatever boat you are in there is lots of help and advice out there for you.

The Career Blog from the University of Warwick provides a great starting point when it comes to applying for jobs including a salient reminder that “finding a job is a pretty time consuming process: don’t take the path of least resistance by applying for any and everything.”

 As researchers we should know not to skip the most important stage of our job search: research. “Until you know what’s out there and how to get it, you’ll simply repeat the same mistakes or see your efforts wasted” says Helen Stringer, Careers Consultant at the University of Warwick. “Don’t cut corners and apply for something that isn’t right for you.  Take small practical steps instead that will give you a firm anchor until you have the time and motivation to fully commit to your job search.”

When it comes to CVs there is also a wealth of information and tips out there. Vitae and Prospects both have example CVs and advice about the type of CV to use. If you are starting from a completely blank sheet the National Careers Service has some helpful advice including a generic CV builder. One word of warning from ‘The Careers Blog’ which is particularly important to remember is;  as productive as it feels, firing of  hundreds of CVs is little more than application spamming and potential employers can tell. Other useful places to look include the Guardian, which recently published an interested article on refreshing your CV.

For some jobs, you are more likely to need to complete an online application form than send a CV. There are a number of key things to remember when completing your application including drafting your answers offline to avoid losing work and of course grammar and spell checking your text before inputting to the system and pressing ‘submit’.

Whatever your career plans for 2014, we wish you the best of luck.

 

Are you looking for something new?

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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 www.vitae.ac.uk/researcherfuturestaster

Have you considered what excellent research is and the impact that it can have?

Excellent researchers understand that their work can change the world. They know that how they go about the work, and talk about it, can have a huge impact on how both their work and they, are viewed. They know how to stand out from the crowd.pencil_standing out

Vitae is running a number of professional training courses across the UK to help you consider how you can make your mark, conduct excellent research and consider the impact your research will have.

The Vitae Midlands Hub is hosting one of these courses on December 5th at Keele University. The course will draw on the current agendas of research impact demonstrated by the funding bodies and grant holders, but with specific focus on you and how you work. Through discussion and practical activities you will consider both the impact of your research, and the impact you have in the research environment in which you work.

The Vitae Midlands Hub has 18 places on this course available, and unlike other courses, this professional training is free of charge. If you would like to be considered for one of these highly sought after places then please apply through the Vitae website.