Co-Design and Collaboration: Let our Research Staff Flourish

By Dr Rachel Chin, Researcher Development Project Officer

A pink, yellow and blur graphic reads: We recognise that our Research Staff bring a wealth of professional expertise and lived experience to their roles, and we want to enable them to contribute to development as well as receive development.

Continuing our Postdoc Appreciation Week theme, we can share with you some big plans. We are about to open applications for the pilot of our new Research Staff Development framework – Flourish!

In today’s academic world collaboration in research, research outputs, and events is increasingly expected and demanded. The importance of collaboration (even better interdisciplinary collaboration) is evident at the University of Glasgow in College, School and subject-level priorities and it is reflected across research funding schemes. The importance of collaboration is not just confined to academic research. As researcher developers, with a responsibility for strategic programmes of professional education and career enhancement we are collaborating closely with Research Staff across the University of Glasgow.

We are currently working across the university to co-design the Flourish programme, a comprehensive framework of opportunities and supporting policies, that speak to the unique experiences, aims and expectations of Research Staff.

Flourish: A Development Programme for Research Staff is part of a wider, university-wide professional development initiative called the ‘Talent Lab’, which develops leaders, and leadership practices, across all career levels. It will offer Research Staff a structured programme via a cohort experience. The tailored workshops and events that make up this programme will be buttressed by personalised career coaching, career mapping and a career development plan, all backed and supported by PIs. This scaffolded and manager-supported approach to career development speaks to the initial feedback that we gathered in the lead up to this project, where our Research Staff told us that they wanted more guided support for career management.

Co-design has been an important part of this project from its inception. Over the past two months, we have been consulting with Research Staff on the structure, format and content of this programme. Over the course of three consultation events, we spoke to around 75 researchers about these questions. The responses we received demonstrated that there was a great deal of appetite for a programme of support like this. More than that, researchers stressed that they wanted programming that made them feel valued as part of a wider University of Glasgow research community.

Our ambition is to make the University of Glasgow the best place to develop a research career and we will only achieve this if we work in alignment with what our Research Staff really need from us, recognising that that means designing an experience that is more than workshops and courses (more on this in yesterday’s Postdoc Appreciation Week post). We recognise that our Research Staff bring a wealth of professional expertise and lived experience to their roles, and we want to enable them to contribute to development as well as receive development.

Through our consultation events researchers conveyed broad support for activities and events that would assist them to build meaningful relationships with colleagues and professionals in academic and non-academic career paths. There was also a great deal of enthusiasm for hands-on and sustained career activities such as career mapping and coaching. Our personalised approach is a product of this feedback. It offers tailored guidance and choice and it recognises the skills and experiences our Research Staff bring to their roles. This means that we are avoiding seeing them as empty vessels to be filled with skills.

The consultation events were not just a tick box exercise designed to reinforce our existing plans. They were a way to identify a range of topics and challenges that we will be thinking carefully about as we lead out this pilot and as we plan for the life of this programme beyond the pilot. For instance, we listened to researcher’s concerns about integrating career development into already full workloads. We brainstormed ideas for career development messaging around this programme and considered how to better signpost to our existing Research Staff development provision, that needs an awareness boost. In response to feedback, we are also thinking carefully about how to make sure that all Research Staff will be able to access this programme following on from the pilot.

The collaborative approach we have taken in designing this programme will be integral from launch to close and through to evaluation. In the wake of the consultation events, we summarised and distributed researcher feedback. We also articulated how we are integrating this feedback into the structure of the programme. This practice emphasises that co-design is a two-way process, which demands open lines of communication. Encouraging honest and constructive feedback will strengthen existing and new development programmes and ensure that they speak to the needs of Research Staff within the context of the current research and career landscape.  Similar feedback and evaluation practices will be integrated throughout the programme and will allow us to react dynamically to feedback and to continuously evaluate the programme.

Working with researchers to co-design career development support more than makes sense. It shows that we recognise and value the unique and varied talents that we are fortunate to work with at the University of Glasgow. It demonstrates that we understand that individual experiences, aims and preferences mean that what works for one researcher may not work for everyone. And it acknowledges that a shifting and often challenging career landscape means that researchers need the skills to identify and navigate a wide range of career options.

More broadly, a commitment to co-design programmes of career development for staff and students at all career levels draws new and reinforces existing links between and across university communities. It is a practice that strengthens our wider University community.

Look out for our invitation to apply to Flourish, the very near future.

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