Professional development review

Research staff will normally undergo a professional development review or appraisal on an annual or biennial basis. This is a formal process, using your job description and project-specific targets as a checklist, to enable you and your line manager to take stock of progress during the previous year, and plan ahead.

The review usually has two main components:

  • a review of your research project. Are the strategic aims of the project being met on schedule? Have the aims of the project changed? How can you best adapt to these changing circumstances? What competencies did you bring to the project? What skills might you need to develop in the coming year to meet the project aims?
  • a consideration of your wider personal development and career goals, and how your employer can support you in achieving them.

The UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers recommends that these two elements are kept separate since:

  • compared with the enormous short-term pressures of the project, development and career plans for life beyond the research project can become neglected
  • development needs for future career plans may be seen as conflicting with project needs.

Hence good practice is to have two separate meetings, often with different reviewers:

  1. a project review meting to discuss progress towards the goals of the specific research project, usually with your principal investigator or line manager
  1. a development review meeting to focus on the wider career and personal development of the researcher beyond the current project, often with a careers advisor, mentor or researcher developer.  .

Many higher education institutions are now separating out project and personal  development reviews. If you would prefer to have a personal development review with an independent person rather than your line manager, you are entitled to ask for one.

A typical personal development review might include:

  1. A written self-assessment of what you have achieved since the last meeting. This allows you to consider your longer-term aims and set goals for the next review period. Some guidance is available in the section on managing your career
  2. A formal meeting between you and your reviewer, where you will discuss your self-assessment and agree goals for the coming year. This should be a two-way process and all goals must be agreed by both parties, without your line manager dictating to you their priorities. To maximise the benefit of the review, its focus should be on your training and development
  3. A written summary of the discussion and goals agreed in the meeting. This should be a joint statement that both you and your reviewer are happy to sign. Once agreed, the formal record is normally lodged with the university’s Personnel Office and will form the basis of the following year’s review
  4. Ongoing review of the goals is crucial. Researchers should keep a copy of written documents, refer to them regularly and ensure they take up opportunities for career development.

A typical project review or appraisal has a similar structure and will likely consist of:

  1. A self-assessment concentrating on whether the project targets agreed at the last meeting have been met, with particular emphasis on gathering evidence of meeting your job description. This is similar to the process that takes place during the probationary period
  2. A formal meeting to discuss the self-assessment and agree on project-specific targets with your line manager. These should be realistic and allow for the flexibilities of research
  3. A written record of the meeting which, together with your job description, will form the basis for the next review.