Archives for category: Lucy Lee

doormatWhen 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.

inductionUsing 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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. InductionPackProvision 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.
  7. 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.

Doormat Image credit

stress laptopWorking in academia, most of us don’t have the ability to hand work over to someone else when we need to take a break so that it all keeps ticking along. Typically after taking a week off with the kids for half term, I then get hit on the back of the head with a freezer block and get a lump the size of an egg and 2 days later come down with a throat infection as soon as I start back in the office.  In the time you are away the emails ridiculously build up and the to do list is getting longer and longer. We take breaks to avoid stress but in the process it often feels worse when you come back then when you went away. How on earth do you catch up on all this and not just end up rocking in the corner as the stress builds up? Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership is one of those Holy Grail skills that all researchers aspire to develop but often struggle to leadershipdemonstrate and give evidence of leadership experience on job applications or in interviews. There are lots of different ways to lead and just because you line manage someone, doesn’t mean you are acting as a leader. Other forms of leadership include; leading up (i.e. leading your supervisor, which in research is a very regular occurrence as you are the person who knows your research area as well as, if not better than your PI), self-leadership (which is self-explanatory and something researchers do on a daily basis) and lateral leadership which I want to cover below. Read the rest of this entry »

o-new-years-resolutions-facebookHappy New Year to everyone from the Think Ahead Team!

New Year is the time when many of us make those New Year resolutions. We aspire to put things in place to be better versions of ourselves, be it to start that diet (…again!), do more exercise so sign up to a gym, stop drinking/smoking, save money…

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jigsaw-missingThe start of the academic year is a good time for those of us who support the development of researchers to ask you ‘What’s missing?’ in the provision provided for training and career development support on offer.

If you’re a new PhD student just settling in then you’ve probably been thinking about what skills and experience you need to develop as part of your training needs analysis. If you’re later on in your PhD studies then you may well have been creating a new development plan for this academic year. For those of you who are further into your research career and are staff members you’ll most likely have had an annual appraisal recently where you were expected to highlight your development needs for the coming year. Read the rest of this entry »

olympics imageI thought it was particularly apt with the current fantastic success for team GB at the Rio Olympics that I talk about ‘Going for gold’. Only I’m not talking really about how we can win Olympic gold medals, but actually awards for improving the research environment for our early career researchers at the University.

All this talk of ‘winning gold’ at the moment had me wondering how many of our researchers actually realise the huge amount of time and effort some of their colleagues are giving to improve the research and career environment for them both at department and university level.

When I say the words ‘research environment’ many people often think about the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 which contained an assessment of the research environment via a narrative containing information on a unit’s research strategy, people (staff and students), income, infrastructure, facilities and collaboration. But this isn’t the only process a University is involved in to recognise and encourage development of the research environment… Read the rest of this entry »

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Back in the day as a PhD student (and postdoc) I would often supervise students in the lab or act as lab demonstrator for undergraduate practicals, but when it came to my CV my formal experience of teaching and the range of teaching I had experience was never well described or recognised. In my new role as a researcher developer in 2007 I knew this was something I wanted to help researchers improve in this area which ultimately led to me and Martina Daly developing the Think Ahead: SURE (Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience) paving the way for the development of the University of Sheffield (TUoS) wide SURE scheme later the next year. TASURE gives PhD students and research staff the opportunity to be primary/sole supervisor of an undergraduate summer research project and ultimately have formal teaching experience. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve recently read a journal paper by Nasriri and Mafakheri (2015) in Studies in Higher Education which nicely reviews the last 10 years of research into the challenges faced by academics and students faced with research supervision at a distance. It also goes on to offer strategies used to try to overcome some of the difficulties which I thought might be nice to share on here so that any of our readers, whether you are academics or students in this situation might benefit from it. Read the rest of this entry »

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I often get asked by new researchers, generally when starting to complete their training needs analysis, which skills do I think they need to spend time to develop. This question doesn’t have a straight forward answer as everyone is different, coming to research with a range of experiences, different preferences for the kinds of activities they would enjoy focussing on and often different career pathway intensions. So obviously there isn’t a standard answer to this question (hence the purpose of completing a training needs analysis) however, if I’m really pushed to pick just one, then the choice for me is communication of your research.

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girls in rainWalking to work this morning, in the rain, I was trying to think of something to write for my blog post and the phrase ‘when it rains, it pours’ kept playing over in my mind. For many of us, it really does seem to be the case at work especially that your workload is not a steady flow but a torrential downpour of tasks. You find yourself rushing to finish that presentation for the conference in a couple of days’ time, when a journal review lands in your inbox that you know you can’t say no to. You also have that paper that still needs finishing, portfolio to finish for your Higher Education Academy submission, a million actions to complete from a variety of committee meetings and that’s on top of balancing your ‘day job’ work. If this isn’t enough, home life seems no less hectic. Your kids have such a busy social/hobby/homework demands they could do with their own PA, someone in your extended family isn’t well, you foolishly decided to have some renovation work done to your house and you daren’t open the spare bedroom door for fear of being consumed by the tidal wave of ironing threatening to engulf you. It’s enough to make you feel like dropping all the juggling balls and running in the opposite direction. Read the rest of this entry »