What is a researcher developer anyway?

Posted 02/03/2022 by Sarah Nalden

Dr Katie Wheat

by Dr Katie Wheat, Former Head of Engagement and Policy

It’s been interesting to see the evolution of the researcher developer role over the last few years in line with the rapid pace of change in the researcher development and broader research environment. Of course, pandemic-working has accelerated changes such as increased online delivery of professional development for researchers, and for some, taking on a bigger role in the pastoral element of researcher support. Does this mean more plates to spin or, depending on how you look at it, more strings to the professional bow of the researcher developer?

Since the researcher developer role emerged a few decades ago, there has been a shift in focus that goes beyond delivering training and development programmes to encompass providing support around employment conditions, mental health and wellbeing, research integrity, attention to healthy and supportive research cultures, and the institutional, national, and international policy decisions impacting researchers and their careers. Many of these additional responsibilities seem less obvious to those working alongside researcher developers, though they make important contributions to research environments and the experiences of researchers.

During #VitaeCon2021, a session was held by Dr Heather MacKenzie, Rosie Wadman, Catherine Howe of the University of Southampton, Lisa Thompson of Ulster University and Dr Emma Compton-Daw from the University of Strathclyde, to identify and celebrate the broad impact that researcher developers make to the sector, the changes over the years, and the visible and invisible undertakings of the role.

Known affectionately by Vitae colleagues as ‘the icebergers’, Heather, Rosie, Catherine, Lisa and Emma took the learnings from the session at #VitaeCon2021 to create an impressive iceberg infographic depicting the typically unseen elements of the researcher developer role that lie ‘under the water line’. ‘Valuing the impact of researcher developers – what is it that we do' describes four categories of contributions by researcher developers: delivering learning and development, programme facilitation, influencing strategy and culture change, and developing knowledge and skills. The infographic is an impactful way to depict the crucial but sometimes invisible role researcher development plays within institutions and should ideally prompt institutions to consider the support and recognition researcher developers need to fulfil these broader roles.

"This project has helped to describe the sheer breadth of valuable work undertaken by researcher developers, including not only the visible activities many within their institutions know they undertake, but a wide variety of equally impactful activities 'under the water line". Dr Heather Mackenzie, Doctoral College Professional Development Programme Manager

Influenced by the iceberg, and other conversations at #VitaeCon2021, Vitae’s current ‘Researcher development strategy, provision, and profession survey aims to provide further visibility for the career experiences of researcher developers, including all those with a role (or part role) supporting or with responsibility for the professional and career development of researchers.

The survey is ‘first-of-its-kind’ in the reach and breadth of information gathered from the professional community of researcher developers and related roles. It will provide an up-to-date insight into the international landscape of researcher development, and the findings will enable evidence-based decisions about researcher development within institutions and beyond. The survey findings, together with the iceberg, will help us all better articulate and make visible the crucial role researcher developers plays in helping researchers to thrive.

 If you are a researcher developer, Vitae would really like to hear from you and the activities you perform. Please complete the Researcher development strategy, provision, and profession survey and share your views with us. Deadline 8 March.