Cracking the Code

This week I’ve been discussing the “lifecycle” of research staff in a variety of meetings and conversations. We are looking at how we make the wealth of information and support we can offer at IAD more accessible and how to become more visible in the researcher community. We’re just starting to review and plan our programme for the next academic year (so it’s a good time to let us know what you want). A number of projects starting to gain momentum which I’ll update on as they begin to deliver results.

The slight frustration I’ve felt at times is that many of the things that people want from us, are already in place. One of the most important of these, and the thing I’m going to focus on in this post, is our Code of Practice for the Management and Career Development of Research Staff. I suspect that this title puts people off – it sounds like a bureacratic document which sets out HR policies and regulations, but it’s not and I’d encourage you to take a look.

Written with clarity and straightforward checklists, our Code of Practice sets out the responsibilities of the researcher, their manager and the University in ensuring that both the researcher’s project and personal development receives appropriate support and attention. If you are uncertain about the types of conversations you could be having with your PI, the Code suggests that in the early stages of your contract they should be available to:

  • Discover the researcher’s interests and career aspirations and help them to explore relevant opportunities
  • Discuss and identify training and development needs and priorities for the researcher
  • Highlight university-wide and local mentoring schemes

As the project gains momentum, your PI should ensure your development is on track as they

  • Give feedback on strengths and weaknesses of the researcher’s contribution to the project and the group
  • Discuss whether the research is on target or if goals/timescales need to be adjusted
  • Encourage the take-up and review the outcomes of training and development where relevant
  • Highlight and create opportunities for professional academic activities such as supervision, teaching, writing grant applications, knowledge exchange and demonstrating research impact

Although I’ve chosen to extract sections relating to the PI’s responsibilities, the focus of the Code is on ensuring that our researchers are taking responsibilities for their own careers. It sets out the various career paths that are open to you at the end of your contract and urges you to prepare for the transition into either further research, an academic position or a role beyond the University. The message is to take control – and we’ll help you.

My postdoc years were in the 1990s (yes, before most of you were born…meh) and I was hugely fortunate in having two postdoc supervisors who were happy to talk to me about what I was going to do next, and then supported my transition away from the bench. At that point there was no information available about the career options and paths ahead which at times made me feel like I was the first postdoc to leave the research path. I wasn’t – the information we now have shows that I was in the majority!

So, please take advantage of these far better insights. Read the reports on the destinations of research staff and take the tailored advice available through our Careers Service. Become familiar with the Code of Practice and use it to help you plan a conversation with your PI about what will come next. Take control of your career and start looking at what is around to help you. I think you’ll be surprised – and if there’s something missing, let us know:  survey season approaches!


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