I finally managed to find some time to reflect on my experience at the annual Vitae conference. It is an annual conference for all those who are involved in the researcher development agenda. My interest in this conference was explained by the area of my PhD project. Doing research on the employability of researchers requires an understanding of not only theory but practice in the area of motivations, skills development and career paths of doctoral researchers. So I was really excited when I learnt that I would be attending the conference.
So what did I take out of it? And what are my perceptions as a PGR (Postgraduate Researcher)?
1. The importance of linking theory and practice! I’ve recently come across the blog (apologies can’t remember whose blog it was) where the researcher was asking: We do research. Publish papers. So what? What are we doing with it later on? How can we make an impact on practice? Dear researchers, how often do we ask ourselves what this piece of research brings to me apart from a nice article in a nice academic journal? What does it give to other people, community, country, the rest of the world? How am I making a difference? I think we should ask this question every time we are involved in research. For me the Vitae conference was a great opportunity to link my research to the existing practice, and reflect on the impact of my PhD project. That is why I found it so useful to come to the practice-focused conference.
2. The importance of researcher engagement! I think Roberts’ agenda was a great initiative with lots of benefits for the researcher community. However, I believe a lot of questions are left unanswered. How can we sustain the agenda? How can be better engage researchers themselves in taking responsibility for shaping and improving the researcher development agenda? My suggestion for the next conference is to invite not only research staff but Postgraduate Research Students Reps. These are the key people – ambassadors for larger researcher communities in their institutions. They are a valuable asset which is underused at the moment. They need to be aware of these issues to be able to promote and shape this agenda at their HEIs. So I hope to see lots of them at the next conference!
3. Collaboration is a key! In the times of funding cuts, I believe collaboration among different institutions as well as among various departments within the same HEIs will become a key to sustaining the researcher development agenda. This collaborative process should certainly include local research staff associations as well as postgraduate committees in different universities.
4. Thank you for the people! It was a great inspiration to see hundreds of people who do so many useful things for us, researchers, who find time to go beyond their job description, and create new development opportunities for us. It was great to see researchers giving their perspective and working together with researcher developers looking for ways of better engaging their fellows. It was an inspiration for me just to be there among all these people! So thank you to all the people who made this conference possible!
And now from talking to doing…
What will I, as a PGR, do for my HEI in order to sustain the researcher development agenda?
- Emphasise the importance of the researcher development agenda at the meetings of various university committees. For me it will be the Graduate School Board, and the Research and Knowledge Transfer Committee in the School of Law and Social Sciences
- Volunteer for the Graduate School in terms of providing peer-to-peer learning opportunities for other students, generating new ideas and being engaged in design and delivery of training programmes
- Exploring ways of engagement of GCU Student Association in the researcher development agenda
- Raise researchers’ awareness of the training and development opportunities, career events, projects etc. through seminars, emails, social networks…
- Collaborate with the Postgraduate Committee of the National Union of Students
- Be a researcher development ambassador on my campus involving researchers in this agenda. For example, at the moment I am conducting interviews with research students exploring their perceptions on employability. At the end of each interview we have a discussion about the ways of enhancing employability of this particular student, and what the university provides to support this. I believe that my interviews can help students to be more aware of the employability issues and encourage them to develop employability skills.
- Organise seminars for research students on various PhD issues. I even got the name for it:) – A series of seminars “For researchers – by researchers!”
- And of course it is important to be passionate about the researcher development agenda! I think that is the key for everything you do in life.
What will you do to sustain the researcher development agenda in your HEI?