Guest post by Dr Kathryn Ellis, a post-doctoral research associate in Civil & Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield.
Being a member of the Engineering Researcher Society (ERS) in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield has helped me to settle into my new role as a Research Associate. I am the only person working on my topic within my Department and my work can be very insular. At times, as with many jobs, it can also be frustrating. Membership of a post-doc group has helped me to keep my sanity when work is not progressing as I hope. It also provides a place to celebrate successes too, which is just as, if not more, valuable in a research workplace. Most research professionals will also find that they are the sole researcher in their exact niche at their university and could also benefit from an organisation of people with the same challenges and issues like I have found in Sheffield. If you’re hoping to start a research staff group – or wondering what kinds of things we do – read on…
The ERS gives researchers a voice, development opportunities and a workplace community. In giving researchers a voice, the ERS represents staff on by plugging in to many forums within and beyond the university. The ERS have contacts who can provide union representation with UCU, we help to protect staff from unfair working conditions, and also, as an organisation we hope to improve work life for all researchers. One of the recent developments in this area was the institution of an induction programme for research staff in the Faculty. I attended this last month and found it very valuable – we heard about the structure of the Faculty, career progression paths and what to do when things go wrong. It was a great opportunity to meet other new members of research staff and to learn about the wide range of projects that people at the University of Sheffield are working on.
The ERS helps researchers to take advantage of career development opportunities. These can range from activities that look good on our CVs (for instance, taking part in public engagement activities), workshops, funding for specific training modules to help with our work, and the special ‘Development Opportunities’ (DO) fund which is particular to the ERS. The DO fund is a bursary scheme, funded by the University which is specifically intended to benefit career development. The final strand of the ERS’s work is about community. I have taken on the role of the social secretary for the ERS and it is an important part of the ERS: it helps people to meet across disciplines, which can help with their work, but it is a good time to relax and make new friends. I have been organising cake and coffee events this year, which have been very well-received (well, who wouldn’t want free cake?).
Since joining the ERS I have felt part of the wider network of researchers at the University of Sheffield and I am happy to be involved in its activities. I would highly recommend that everyone seek out similar cross-disciplinary support and social groups in their own institutions. They help u as researchers connect in and navigate the universities systems and processes. And if you are a member of research staff in the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, do join the ERS!