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.