Staff highlights from #VitaeCon2023

Posted 19/10/2023 by Sarah Nalden

It’s hard to believe it’s a month since the Vitae International Researcher Development Conference - #VitaeCon2023 took place online and in-person in Manchester, but with time to reflect we caught up with members of Vitae team to find out what their conference highlights were. 

Dr Yolana Pringle, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Vitae

Dr Yolana Pringle

"What stood out for me was the willingness of all participants to share learning. The content discussed in the plenaries and workshops – whether on inclusive and innovative practice, equity, or support for the whole researcher – was not limited to those sessions, but ran through the breaks and lunches, creating an open and truly collaborative environment. It was exciting for me to see the many connections between the practical ‘on the ground’ approaches being shared and the wider policy context that Vitae informs and shapes through its advocacy. This included the need to attract and retain a diverse research and innovation workforce, support for different career pathways and inter-sectoral mobility, and the urgent need to address longstanding issues in research cultures. These issues require coordinated action across the sector, at government, funder, and institutional levels, but they also need those bottom-up initiatives, energy, and lived experience that came out so clearly through the conference."  

Helen Hampson, Head of Learning and Development and Julia Tischer, Researcher Development Manager, Vitae

Helen HampsonDr Julia Tischer.


"We were both struck by the range of creative ways researcher developers are seeking to engage and bring together researchers, in person and online, and across disciplines, to foster inclusive researcher communities. The importance of not just listening to and centralising the researcher in our development programmes, but working with and co-creating initiatives with researchers, and designing for intersectionality, was a key takeaway theme. As was the base requirement for developing positive professional relationships between research professionals/researchers/leaders/supervisors which provide part of the foundation for positive and healthy research cultures. The sharing of good practice, ideas, programmes and approaches was inspiring, as was understanding how researcher developers are supporting researchers by providing space to focus on their professional and career development, in (as described in the final plenary) our attention economy where distractions, and research priorities compete with this much needed and valued time for developing the skills needed to address contemporary challenges in research."

 Dr Katja JonsasResearch and Evaluation Manager, Vitae

Dr Katja Jonsas

"The themes of inclusivity at #VitaeCon2023 in particular, around inclusive selection processes, struck a chord with me. In a recent evaluation, The Careers Research Advisory Centre (CRAC) Ltd that manages the Vitae programme, conducted research on inclusive selection processes - how universities selected and supported their candidates for prestigious fellowship programmes. One of the interesting features in academia is that we make our own leaders - supervisors, mentors, sponsors, selection boards and committees, doctoral candidates, post-doctoral researchers, and networks of colleagues have trusted in the capabilities of certain individuals to be a researcher and leader. However, whilst establishing good practices when selecting candidates, institutions need to carefully consider a shift in research culture to that of a more egalitarian one or the right practices will only take us so far... "

Dr Rachael Nicholas, Membership and Engagement Manager, Vitae

Rachael Nicholas

"Bringing the researcher voice to the Vitae conference was a key aim for us this year, and it was exciting for me to see how hearing directly from researchers truly informed the conversations that occurred throughout both the online and in-person elements of the conference. The opening plenary, where the panel of researchers were so generously open and honest about the issues that matter most to them, really set the tone for the conference, reminding us from the outset that researchers are people first and that we still have a great deal of work to do to make accessing a career in research equitable. I was pleased that through funding from UKRI, Vitae were also able to offer bursaries for researchers to attend the conference and it was fantastic to witness how contributions and ideas from those researchers actively shaped the direction of conversations during plenaries and workshops. This was largely made possible due to the willingness of participants to be open and to listen to other perspectives, and I was particularly struck by the collaborative and open atmosphere throughout the conference, modelling the type of positive culture that we are all striving to create for researchers."

Rachel Cox, Head of Membership and Engagement and Vitae conference lead 

Rachel Cox

"When I reflect on my experience of the Vitae conference, I think of the people, the conversations, the energy and the connection. A renewed sense of purpose in my role and a strong connection with our community.  

In my mind’s eye, as I look around the room during plenaries and workshops I see a diverse group of passionate professionals, striving to find solutions to make things better for researchers. Some are fervently writing on post-it notes, some are passionately engaged in conversations, some are laughing, some are sitting in pensive silence. The room is alive with the energy of interaction, learning and connection. 

Many times over the four days, I was inspired by the diversity of voices present among conference participants, giving different perspectives, sharing constructive and supportive conversations. It gave me a strong sense of team and belonging to something bigger than myself, a profession that is dynamic, feisty and determined – and beginning to be heard and acknowledged beyond departmental and organisational borders. 

This Vitae conference reinforced for me more than ever that taking an EDI approach to all that we do is not only desirable, it is essential. I truly believe that this researcher development community are the changemakers that the research environment needs. As I said in my closing speech: cultural change is hard, but together, we can do hard things."

Following this blog, we will be publishing a #VitaeCon2023 reflections piece from the community next month, that will help inform and feed into the Vitae Programme of activities 2023/24.