A ‘Talent Lab’ for Research Staff

By Dr Rachel Herries, Researcher Development Specialist (Concordat Implementation), and designer of the Talent Lab for Research Staff.

a large-scale geometric framework structure, as seen from the inside. The structure is lit in blue, pink, and yellow lights
Photo by JJ Ying

The University of Glasgow signed up to the Researcher Development Concordat in May 2020. If you aren’t sure what this it, it’s worth your time taking a look at this important document that sets out the conditions, responsibilities and rights of all researchers in the UK, as well as those who manage them, and those who employ them. It guides all our work to support Research Staff, and as part of our live action plan, we committed to developing new institutional ways to promote and develop our researchers. 

Focus on our valuable Research Staff 

As a staff group, Research Staff can face a multitude of challenges due to their short, fixed-term, or fragmented contracts and lack of bespoke support; they can easily fall between the cracks, being neither PGRs nor academic staff – two groups whose development has traditionally taken the spotlight and been tightly integrated into university strategies. Our Research Staff are typically (but not always) post-PhD and pre-Lecturer – and they make up 15% of all staff at the University of Glasgow (that is around 1,400 people). Yet despite their large numbers and the important contribution they make, our Research Staff do not enjoy the same structured approach to their development. Not yet that is, but we are seeking to change that in the very near future with the launch of the ‘Talent Lab for Research Staff’.

What’s a Talent Lab?

The Talent Lab at the University of Glasgow is part of our commitment to focussing on Collaboration, Creativity and Careers as priorities. The newly launched Talent Lab houses several diverse development programmes that all focus on developing leadership in research, and researchers as leaders. We know talent can take many forms, and it can be applied to many endeavours, and we want to help you to recognise and hone yours. Our Lab is an experimental space through which we can test new projects and ideas that support our people. One of the pilot projects in 2022 is, the Talent Lab for Research Staff.

Designed together

In designing this innovative new initiative, we consulted with different groups across the university to capture thoughts and feedback on what the structure and requirements of a framework of support would look like for Research Staff. We also looked to the sector to understand what others provide, to draw inspiration and learning – something we will continue to do now we are ready to develop and pilot the project. 

The design not only stemmed from speaking to many of our Research Staff but is supported by sector reports and the research literature. Unstructured development in ‘the postdoc phase’ can lead to increased feelings of precarity and directionlessness for researchers. Research staff have to contend with the ‘uncertainty of employment’ coupled with a ‘lack of confidence’ and ‘lack of belonging’. Not all research staff will have this experience or feel these emotions but our experience shows there is an inequity in the opportunities provided, especially when you consider the constraining parameters and high expectations Research Staff are working within. 

The Framework 

Our consultation revealed the need to offer flexibility and choice within a scaffolded process: a individual goal-based approach to career development combining core, and optional elements. While there is still much to be designed the initial framework is likely to combine events, workshops, online learning, mentoring, and personalised one-to-one development conversations – we want to create a bespoke, personalised, approach to development for each researcher.We know researchers are increasingly aware of their need to invest time and energy in their career development, and we want to support this.The framework will focus specifically on:

(1) developing appropriate skills and experiences in parallel with an increasing awareness of a broad range of career options appropriate to highly skilled researchers;

(2) nurturing strong internal networks of peers and fostering external network building through career mentoring;

(3) building productive partnerships by engaging PIs, as the managers of research-only staff, with all stages, from planning, to delivery, to celebration and recognition, to evaluation.

By investing in this staff group, including their managers, and piloting a new framework of development that explicitly prepares researcher to succeed in a full range of career designations, we are acting on the recommendations made to the Scottish HE sector concerning research career mobility and removing barriers to mobility between academia and other sectors

Supported from the start of the Research Staff experience

As a rough guide, the Talent Lab for Research Staff is for people who are in their first or second contract as a researcher – with appropriate flexibility built in for people on part-time, partial, very short and fragmented contracts. It’s designed to enable ‘newer’ researchers to integrate into the UofG culture of Career Development and engage with the opportunities offered to them. Following the evaluation of the pilot and further consultation we hope to expand this framework of support to all Research Staff. We take an inclusive approach to the design of the framework, and is our ambition to include any member of staff who would benefit.

The impact we want to have

We will know we have delivered on our ambitions if, through this programme, our researchers feel valued as staff members, feel a sense of belonging to the UofG research community, and experience real career benefits. We will also strive to provide our PIs with ideas and insight into how to best support their research staff, empowering them to lead well and to shape the Talent Lab for Research Staff framework as it develops.

Open to discussion 

We want to keep you posted with the progress of this pilot framework. If you are a researcher, a PI or a Researcher Developer and would like to discuss the idea, share your thoughts or experiences please do get in touch. We welcome conversations around the development of the framework, top tips from past experience, content suggestions and requests – we want this to be effective and to resonate with researchers. 

Join us and develop the programme!

We a recruiting for a Researcher Development Project Officer (part-time for 18months). T his post will coordinate, deliver, and evaluate the pilot. For full details and link to apply see here, for informal enquires about the post please contact me – rachel.herries@glasgow.ac.uk – the  deadline is 3rd April 2022!

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