Reflections from the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2015
Around 370 participants, including researcher development practitioners, trainers, career specialists, heads of graduate schools, pro-vice chancellors, funders, research managers and other professionals from the UK and abroad gathered for the annual Vitae Researcher Development International Conference, which took place in Manchester, between 8 and 9 September 2015. The Conference addressed the strategic and practical implications of policy developments, institutional capacity and best practice to support the careers of researchers.
The opening plenary included a presentation from Irmela Brach, European Commission, on the future priorities within the European Research Area (ERA) and strengthening of the HR Excellence in Research Award and its role in Horizon 2020 funding. Emilda Rivers from the National Science Foundation presented the career-long data collected on researchers in the US and through a new survey of US research staff.
Closer to home Chris Millward presented the research HEFCE has been doing to improve the evidence base on postgraduate training to inform policy decisions: equality of access and funding are areas of concern. BIS will be releasing a response to the postgraduate consultation this autumn.
We also announced the institutions who have achieved their HR Excellence in Research Award, launched the second volume of the Occasional papers on the last year's conference and outlined the Vitae membership programme for the academic year focussing on four themes – induction, the open researcher, mentoring and leadership.
Day one of the Vitae conference also saw the release of two new Vitae reports in the series of the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) and the Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS). With 8964 responses to CROS and 4316 responses to PIRLS, the results show that further progress has been made with respect to implementing many of the Concordat’s principles, particularly in relation to open recruitment, appraisal and support, and research staff widening their responsibilities as part of their career development.
The results from reports were presented at a fully-packed half-plenary session entitled: Research staff: experiences and talent management. This covered a range of topics from the introduction of RESAVER, the pan-European pension scheme for researchers; excellent examples of institutional provision and talent management at the universities of Cambridge and Groningen; to Miguel Jorge, from the Voice of Researchers, who described the reality for researchers across Europe is that much more needs to be done on providing structures for sustainable research careers, open recruitment, social and pension benefits and access to funding.
The other half of our audience focused on the careers of doctoral researchers, where we explored the issues of diversity in programmes and provision and discussed some initial findings from this year’s PRES survey run by the HE Academy. The session touched on equality of opportunity and experience, training needs and the research environment. That plenary session ended with a presentation by a current doctoral researcher who provided his perspective on why some doctoral researchers do not engage with professional development.
As it is becoming our new tradition, conference partipicants gave a particularly warm welcome that evening to the UK final of the Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT®).
Six brilliant finalists, competed live in front of our conference participants for the title of the UK 3MT® champion, by presenting their research on topics as diverse as Grenada’s taboo history, children with Autism, cannabis use, re-framing men’s health and how cells know where to divide.
Chosen by our judges, the winner, Zaid Janjua from the University of Nottingham received £3K to spend on public engagement activity, sponsored by RCUK, for his presentation entitled ‘Good Ice, Bad Ice’. Zaid was also our audience’s favorite scooping the People’s Choice Award, the opportunity to present their talk in the famous Faraday Lecture Theatre, funded by Speakeeze.
Day 2 was dedicated to ‘Challenging assumptions’ filled with fascinating talks on awareness and control of bias as well as a persuasive talk on the growing trend of open research.
In the first talk Professor Tristram Hooley, Head of ICeGS, University of Derby presented compelling evidence to suggest that appearance and attractiveness matter to career in a wide range of employment contexts, including higher education and research, and the challenge of raising these topics with researchers.
Dr Pete Jones, Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists, introduced our audience to the concept of ‘Unconscious bias in the research environment’ and offered useful tips on counteracting its effects, with a take-away message that there is no shame in bias as everyone has them, and we can all take steps to avoid them. He also presented the aggregate results of the unconscious bias tests he offered free to all participants before the conference.
Our final presenter of the conference, Professor Geoffrey Boulton,University of Edinburgh, explored the growth of open research and its implications for researcher development. He advocated that the role of researcher developers is to encourage deeper discussion and understanding of open access to research and data within their institutions.
This talk marked the beginning of Vitae’s ‘Focus on: open research’.You can now book your place for Vitae Connections event on 1 December on ‘Supporting open researchers’.
This conference had our largest programme of workshops and special interest sessions covering a wide range of topics and institutional practice. This included exploring the implications of new models of doctoral training, engaging academics in researcher development, researchers’ careers and their social identity, mentoring and coaching models, developing independent research leaders and the professional identities of researcher developers.
A number of new Vitae resources were presented at the Vitae Conference. Our participants had an opportunity to pick up hard copies of the new CROS and PIRLS reports, a suite of new resources for principal investigators, a new booklet on internships and a set of our highly popular infographics. Their packs were filled with leaflets on new Vitae resources and a programme of Vitae Activities for 2015/16.
Our conference was amplified on the Twitter #vitae15 channel. Here all of those participants who are active on social media exchanged their views and shared links to interesting content, with the volume of tweets reaching ‘trending’ heights on Wednesday afternoon. We have collated the #vitae15 feed in this Storify. You can now also browse the conference photographs.
On the behalf of the entire CRAC/Vitae team, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, we would like to thank our colleagues and all of those who contributed to yet another fantastic Vitae Conference, including our sponsors, exhibitors and media partner: Research Fortnight, who provided extensive coverage of the event. The presentations from the conference will be published on the Vitae website.