Initiatives and activities supporting research staff development: highlights from 2021-22

The Graduate and Researcher College (GRC) encourages colleagues to develop their research careers and informs and supports staff who research in their professional and career development. Highlights of work undertaken in 2021-22, in conjunction with central and Divisional colleagues and as part of Kent’s commitment to the Researcher Development Concordat and HR Excellence in Research Award (HRER) accreditation, include the following:

Concordat and HRER Award:

HR Excellence in Research Award (HRER) retained after Eight Year Review, recognising Kent’s continued commitment to support the development of our researchers at all career stages. Learn more and view our HRER plans and report.

Webinar held on ‘Responding to the challenge of the Researcher Development Concordat at Kent’, which discussed Kent’s response to the challenge of the Researcher Development Concordat, including 10 days’ professional development pro rata per year for staff who research. Listen to the recording.

Details published about the Concordat principles at Kent, including practical information, recent progress and current work on each principle. Learn more and access the content.

Researcher resources:

Central Researcher Induction (CRI) module launched, providing useful and contextualised content for academic and research staff, and signposting guidance, support and resources available to them. Learn more and access the CRI module and accompanying ‘Useful links’ document.

Dedicated section for academic and research staff developed as part of the new GRC KentNet site. Features include details of training and development opportunities, as well as recordings of previous sessions available to view on demand. Explore this and other GRC content relevant to researchers.

Professional and career development:

Researcher Career Guidance published with sections on career planning, progression and mobility encourages colleagues to consider their next career steps. Learn more and access the content.

‘Your professional and career development’ section included in the new CRI module with sections on career planning and review, training frameworks and resources, and examples of how to use the 10 days of development pro-rata per year recommended for researchers.

New P&CD opportunities launched for staff who research including the Summer Vacation Early Career Research Competition 2022 for ECRs to support Black second-year undergraduates to gain research experience and the updated T&OD  Horizons’ programme for researchers looking to enhance their people management skills and explore their management potential.

Guidance and support:

Termly PDRA Network Catch-ups organised signposting relevant information and support, and providing networking opportunities for PDRAs, RAs and Research Associates. View the slides from the session on ‘10 days and more …’

1:1 Coaching delivered to PDRAs, RAs and Research Associates supporting them as they plan their development as researchers.

Wellbeing sessions organised to support academic and research colleagues, and access to digital modules on ‘Resilience’ and ‘Managing your Imposter’ made available to researchers.

Getting involved:

‘Getting involved‘ section included in the new CRI module encourages colleagues to interact with and shape our academic and research community.

Signposting survey run about usage of digital resources to support academic and research staff, and preferences for future resource types.

Results of last year’s Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research Survey (CEDARS)  published. Learn more and access additional information about what our researchers said.

Staying up-to-date and in touch:

New GRC Bulletins containing relevant updates and opportunities launched, sent to academic and research staff monthly in term-time. View previous Researcher Development and Events editions.

More frequent communications with academic and research staff, including emails via dynamic mailing lists (including the Bulletins) and regular tweets.

‘Staying up-to-date and in touch’ section included in the new CRI module encourages colleagues to keep ahead and connected with our researcher and the wider Kent community.

For further information about any of the above or any aspect of researcher development at Kent, please contact the GRC.

Summer Vacation Early Career Research Competition 2022: the impact to date

The University was fortunate to receive Enhancing Research Culture funding from Research England to improve access to and participation in research, including postgraduate research study, for people from currently under-represented groups. The ensuing Summer Vacation Early Career Research Competition 2022 (SVERC) was designed to address this lack of diversity in research by encouraging enthusiastic and motivated Black second-year undergraduates wishing to acquire research experience to consider potential postgraduate study. The project replicated the successful format of the Summer Vacation Research Competition (SVRC): Early Career Researchers (ECRs) gained an undergraduate intern for 4-7 weeks who learned more about the world of research through active participation in a real-life project paid at a living wage. In total, seven undergraduates worked with four ECRs on three different projects, which ran from June-July 2022 – please see this blogpost for more details.

In terms of benefits to undergraduates participating in the SVERC, feedback from their supervising ECRs indicated that the students had expanded and/or improved both generic employment skills (such as project management and communication) and research skills (including completing a literature review, contributing to study design, recruiting participants, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and research dissemination, e.g. contributing to producing a research poster and/or writing a manuscript). More broadly, their motivation to undertake research has increased and some have also gained an insight into working in a field different to their academic background. For the ECRs, participating in the SVERC has further developed their leadership and supervision skills (e.g. finding a balance between closely managing and supporting the project/tasks whilst allowing student independence, as well as managing expectations) and, in some cases, especially when working with interns from beyond the field, also refreshed their skills in teaching laboratory techniques and data analysis.

This experiential and skills development, and broadening of research and career horizons, is testament to the contributions of all the competition participants, as well as of colleagues supporting them behind the scenes, and has been highly beneficial for their professional development. Indeed, for some participants, participating in the SVERC may be career-changing. To quote one ECR:

“For at least one student, I would say that this experience is a watershed in their career. Due to this experience, the student is now deeply interested in scientific research and in pursuing an academic career, besides being already engaged in another research project … using the skills learned during the SVERC.”

Furthermore, activity resulting from competition participation will continue with project data collected to be used in future publications, to which some students will participate as co-authors. Similarly, project outputs such as research posters and blogs will be used at future conferences where study findings will be presented and future opportunities for collaboration explored. These are examples of activities which will build on the successful delivery of the SVERC beyond the competition funding period.