Last Tuesday I attended the third in a series entitled ‘Tuning in to the value of research staff’, “a celebratory lunchtime event to showcase outputs from two creative workshops organised by researchers, for researchers at TUoS.”

As well as sharing the outputs from the earlier events in the series (Into the Woods / Talk it Out) through a display of artworks and photographs, this event aimed to ‘promote the value of fixed term staff and celebrate their contribution to TUoS’. It was also billed as ‘an opportunity to meet other research staff, to share experiences and consider ways of creating a connected community of researchers at TUoS’.

The event had attracted Doctoral Researchers, Research Staff, Academics and Professional Services staff from across the university as well as a local artist supporting the series.

I was particularly interested to hear the views of researchers who had been involved in the previous events which explored storytelling, creativity and performance in research mingled with the opportunity to reflect on the researcher experience.

I had the sense that the process has been illuminating for all, not only for the chance to think and share with other researchers but in that it had helped crystallise a shared set of feelings around researcher experiences. This in turn had enabled a shared desire to strengthen the ‘researcher voice’.

The group shared an output from the process, a postcard articulating, “the curious case of the invisible researcher”, which succinctly celebrates all that research staff bring to the university whilst highlighting the value that greater inclusion can only add to research activity.

Invisible researcher
For me, the postcard is a tour de force
as it is not always easy to take a potentially challenging and emotive subject and translate it in to a meaningful and encouraging statement of potential development.

The pre-lunch session encouraged an open debate on the nature of research contracts, the benefits (& challenges) of connectivity, the necessity and value of research staff associations and the opportunities for influence through shared voice and values. Not everyone agreed on every count but that for me is the best part of frank discussion!

That said, it seemed to me that some things were commonly acknowledged across job roles, disciplines and background:

  • Being a Researcher is a tough vocation (but one that can bring much reward)
  • Research staff associations are a good mechanism for developing community
  • Collective voice has a great potential for influence

For the researchers in the Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences that drove this series, there was a collective agreement that they want to explore the establishing of a local Research Staff Association.

Contributors on the day from the Engineering Research Society and the Medicine, Dentistry and Health RSA were candid in sharing that whilst being a member presents many wonderful opportunities for personal growth and for helping others, getting people engaged can be a challenge!

I am not a researcher but if I was, on the basis of the inspiring talks I heard last week, I would be very keen to connect to other researchers through these groups. If you need more than my view to persuade you, perhaps re-visit these two guest posts from researchers here at Sheffield: To volunteer or not to volunteer & Joining and reaching out.

I think the ‘Tuning In’ series has been great – if you are interested in finding out more, please visit the dedicated wordpress.