9 Things Staff Development Trainers Need to Know About Researchers

Elizabeth Dodson (31 May 2011)

In a couple of weeks I am helping to train the trainers – giving a talk on researchers as a genus, so what do they need to know?  Carrying on the 9 things theme I’ll make some suggestions but would welcome any further ideas.
1)    A PhD is not essential.  Not all researchers have a doctorate – so please do not refer to us all as post-docs.  The terms researcher and post-doc are not interchangeable.
2)    We don’t all work in a lab and wear white coats.  The type of work we do and how we do it is hugely varied.  As a population we have things in common (e.g. commonality of fixed term contracts) but we are divided into many different species.

The type of work we do and how we do it is hugely varied

3)    Research can be a career stepping stone.  Many researchers aspire to lectureships or careers in industry after gaining valuable research experience.
4)    Research can be a lifelong career – however staying in research long-term is challenging.  There are limited opportunities for  long term academic research careers but it is not impossible.
5)    Research is not typically a 9-5 job.  We may work strange hours into the night and therefore be difficult to summon into large groups for morning meetings.
6)    Researchers are a largely nomadic population.  A lot of the work is typified by short-term contracts.  Researchers often move between institutions, and even countries. One of the challenges of a research career is regularly finding the next contract.  This means the research population in any one institution is constantly changing.
7)    We’re generally busy people with a lot to do in a relatively short amount of time.  This can make us harder to engage in non-research activities such as training, social events and research associations.  If you want to engage ground-level researchers, getting the support of senior staff (PIs) may help.
8)    Researchers can sometimes feel undervalued.  A lack of career structure and the throwaway nature of fixed term contracts can be barriers to engaging researchers in development activities – but they are also reasons why it is important to keep trying to encourage their involvement.
9)    The Concordat is an important document regarding the career development of researchers.  If you want to offer training to researchers then you should be familiar with its key principles.


Sarah Davies
I think this is a great list, Liz - I think the points about diversity are particularly important. It's difficult to make assumptions about research staff as we have come to research from so many different places and are in it for so many different reasons. Trying to flatten that in any way is always going to be dangerous...

And maybe another one to add to the list is that researchers are not (neccessarily) students. Assuming that we are primarily 'in training' or in stepping stone positions to 'real' jobs can only be patronising.

Hope your training goes well!

Ella Taylor-Smith
Not all research staff are on fixed term contracts. There are lgeal limits to how long your employer can keep you in a fixed term contract and legal guidelines about not discriminating against tempory staff (though the research councils probably think that they are above this kind of regulation).

Of course, even if you are on a "permanent contract" you can still be made redundant if you run out of project funding.

I also liked your comment about researchers not necessarily being students or post-docs. I attended a part time researcher conference organised by Vitae that turned out to be a conference for people doing phds part time.