Think Ahead: thinking back & looking forward

The beginning
Recently I’ve been thinking about how Think Ahead came to be.  Fifteen long years ago, Sir Gareth Roberts completed a detailed review into the supply of people with science, engineering and technology skills to support UK innovation.  The review made many recommendations, two significant ones for researcher development being;

  • “The training elements of a PhD, particularly training in transferable skills, need to be improved considerably.”   (and)
  • “HEIs take responsibility for ensuring that all their contract researchers have a clear career development plan and have access to appropriate training opportunities.”
    (SET for Success, 2002).

In 2005, the European Commission adopted a ‘European Charter for Researchers’ and a ‘Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers’ furthering the agenda to make research careers more equitable and attractive.

As a result of SET for Success, between 2004 and 2011, UK HEIs received ‘Roberts funding’ direct from Government to facilitate the delivery of initiatives to aid researchers’ professional and personal development.

The first chapter
In 2007 the University of Sheffield used that money (in part) to appoint its first Researcher Developer.

In 2008, the UK sector signed up to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (the Concordat) a document that took the European Commission’s standards and shaped them for the UK sector.

In 2010, the HR Excellence in Research Award was launched to enable HEIs to demonstrate their commitment to their researchers and delivery of the aims of the Concordat.  The University of Sheffield achieved the award in 2012.

In 2012, I joined the University, new to HE and new to researcher development. I came to an established Think Ahead programme in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health and obvious other good practice throughout the rest of the institution.  Five years on, the team formally comprises ten people but in reality, the people who make ‘Think Ahead’ happen run in to the hundreds.

We are so very lucky at this institution to have a combination of dedicated people resource, engaged academics, driven researchers and a one team approach across Professional Services when it comes to developing researchers and the environment in which they work. (I know, a bit gushing but honestly, amazing stuff happens here!).

The next chapter?
The reason for the brief history lesson and my further pondering of how much has been achieved to date (I do this often informally and annually in a formal impact review) is because the sector has called for an official review of the Concordat.

Whilst we keep this document under review in our own institution in terms of our quality enhancement, this is about a grand scale review of whether the aims are still relevant in the current research landscape.  The review will, “make recommendations on the future requirements of the Concordat, including (but not exclusively) whether the Concordat (or similar instrument) continues to have a role in supporting career development of researchers.”

Creating the next chapter
To undertake the review, there needs to be a panel and this is where I want you to focus:
“The panel will be appointed on merit and comprise up to ten members with a wide range of
career experience, organisations and geographical spread, and will reflect the diversity of
the research sector. It will include:
• A Chairperson with a strong sectoral presence at a senior level
• Senior academics with responsibility for cohorts of researchers
• Early career researchers (including non-faculty researchers / specialists and doctoral students)
• Researcher development professionals (including HR specialists)
• Non-academics (e.g. from professional bodies, industry or another sector)”

This is a fantastic opportunity for one of our researchers to be at the forefront of the review.  The call is open until 23rd June so I urge people to consider applying.  Full application information.

I am excited by this review and will undoubtedly facilitate our collective contribution to the review process.  Irrespective, I would love to see a member of our University being part of the review leadership and possibly at the forefront of exciting change.

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