When I first started in the role of Researcher Development over 10 years ago it was quite common to hear that new members of research staff would be shown to a desk in a lab or office and then left to ‘get on with it’. I had hoped that over the last few years development in induction processes at both department, Faculty and University level had dramatically improved. However about a year ago, when running a Faculty induction day for new Research Staff I heard a familiar old tale of “So there’s your desk, just get on with it”.
I had been part of a cross university working group over the previous few years to look at the enhancement of University level induction of research staff and additionally myself and a colleague in another Faculty had developed a cross Faculty induction day designed specifically for new Research staff to make the most of their research contract with us. So just over a year ago when I heard the sad ole tale of departmental induction experience, along with some recent data from a staff survey and a conversational tour looking at the environment for researchers within departments which all suggested experience was very different across departments, I decided to review departmental induction across the whole Faculty that I support.
Using the contacts of departmental academic champions who sit on a Faculty committee responsible for the support and development of research staff, I was able to gain information on the process and procedures in place for induction within each department and get copies of the materials regularly given out. This allowed me to look for best practice activities that might be shared across the Faculty and identify any gaps within department provision that we needed to address. The Faulty committee of academics and research staff reviewed the examples of best practice I had found and came up with a set of recommendations we all felt should be provided as a minimum within a department. I then presented this to our Faculty Executive Board for approval before starting out on the long process of touring the departments to support the enhancement of their practices based on the document. Our recommendations for departmental induction contained some of the following suggestions and these are taken as minimum standards but I should say that many departments are doing far more than this and doing a fantastic job of it, but we wanted to make sure that every Department at least;
- Send a welcome letter/email from the Head of Department: Many researchers said they had not met their head of department. Our recommendation suggested inviting the new member of staff to meet with them at a specified time to introduce themselves and welcome them to the department.
- Provide their new role job description as part of the induction process: Once a researcher has applied and been offered that new job, often all the documents that were involved in the job application, 3 months down the line when they actually start have been filed away never to be seen again. When it comes to their first appraisal where they are expected to reflect on their job description, many realise they don’t have a copy and can’t easily access it. So we felt it was important to offer it at the point of induction and encourage it to be kept ready for appraisal time.
- The assignment of a named induction buddy before arrival: Everyone already had someone who is responsible for a new starters induction (often their line manager or technician) but we wanted to make sure they had a peer (ie another member of research staff) they could go to if they had any questions and someone who would take them under their wing, perhaps show them the best place to buy a sandwich at lunchtime, or where the local pub is that everyone goes to after work on a Friday.
- A defined process for announcing a new starter to the rest of the department: Researchers often commented that new people would just ‘appear’ in their office and they didn’t know anyone new was starting or who they were! Suggestions for the process include information via welcome email to whole department, in a departmental newsletter and/or announcement at a regular seminar/coffee morning
- Department to email Researcher Development Manager to inform them of the new starter: This ensures they are introduced to the support for their training and career development and invited to the Faculty induction for researchers
- Provision of a departmental induction pack: We had another page of suggestions for what should be included in an induction pack whether that be online or a hard copy, so I’m not going to list it here but it including obvious things like a organogram of the department so the new starter could work out who everyone was and how the departmental structure fits together, links to compulsory training e.g. fire training etc., departmental information for things like how to get onto mailing lists, etc etc the list went on and on.
- Provision of a departmental induction pack specifically for the line manager of a new research staff member: This directs line managers to support for research managers online, development opportunities for research leaders, information on the opportunities available for their member of staff’s development, support available for appraisal of research staff and line management roles and responsibilities
I would suggest that if you didn’t get some of these things when you started in your department, why not question what more can be done locally for your new starters in the future to make the research environment a more welcoming place to work.
Reflecting back on the process, although it’s taken a long time to work through both the review of practice, gain approval and now the implementation of the recommendations, it has been really rewarding seeing small changes put in place that can make a big difference to the first impressions we make to welcoming our new research staff.