The Postdoc-10 Study: Understanding how Postdoctoral Researchers utilise their 10 development days

Posted 29/07/2021 by Sarah Nalden

Dr Elizabeth Adelodun is a Neuroscientist , Senior Graduate School Tutor (ECR Lead) at Brunel University, London and Churchill Fellow.

Dr Elizabeth Adelodun

 Elizabeth tells us her findings as a result of developing and conducting the 'Postdoc-10 study' whilst at Imperial College, London, and how postdoctoral researchers were using their 10 development days as recommended in the Researcher Development Concordat Principles around professional and career development.

The UK Concordat requires institutions to support the career development of Researchers. As a Researcher Developer/Advisor for Postdocs and Fellows at Imperial College London, I designed and delivered the Postdoc-10 study, to better understand how Postdocs at Imperial use their 10 development days. For 7 months (November 2020 – May 2021), a cohort of 20 Postdocs and Fellows from 15 departments took part in the study. Participants received tailored support and guidance; and were able to discuss their developmental needs and career plans. Additionally, I documented evidence-based examples to create case studies of each participant’s path during the study, to inform other Postdocs.

For the long-term, 65% of the participants are focused on remaining in academia; 15% want to transition out of academia while 20% are undecided, keeping their academic and non-academic career options open.  It is well established that for Researchers to succeed in academic or non-academic roles, they require specific skills like communication, project/time management, leadership and advanced technical skills – which they can gain from a plethora of developmental activities.

Thematic analysis of participant’s responses to pre- & post- study questionnaires as well as notes from monthly meetings was conducted to generate common themes for the distinct activities that the Postdocs engaged-in over 7-months. I found that Postdocs used their 10 development days for activities that can be grouped into 10 categories:

How postdocs use their development days

  1. Courses  
  2. Leadership opportunities
  3. Events & Networking
  4. Applications
  5. Workshops
  6. Writing papers/grants
  7. Short programmes
  8. Self-directed learning
  9. Consultancy
  10. Outreach (and giving back)

Essentially, this study fulfils a key requirement of Imperial’s Concordat Action Plan (2021) by providing evidence-based examples of how Postdocs use their 10 development days. The full report including common themes, participants’ journeys, successful outcomes and recommendations can be found here. For instance, two common themes from the study were:

How to align developmental needs to career goals

Participants had a clear idea of their long-term and short-term career goals. However, early in the study, they were equipped with information on how to identify gaps in their CV: in terms of expertise, skills and experience that are essential for their successful transition to the next career stage. For example, using a simple but practical method i.e., to juxtapose current job descriptions of the roles they aspire to with their CV - and seek out development opportunities to fill in any identified gaps.

Preparedness to achieve a long-term career vision

Five Participants with over five years’ experience as a Postdoc affirmed their desire to pursue academic careers. Nevertheless, they cited job security, stability and stable income as career values; most likely because of the lack of security they have experienced due to short-term contracts as Research staff. To achieve their career goals, I encouraged Researchers to develop, maintain and record (in parallel to their research projects), an up-to-date professional career development portfolio; with evidence of relevant skills from diverse experiences, that can be used to support job applications in a wide range of employment sectors.

Although some Postdocs were timely in seeking opportunities to make opportune career decisions, other Postdocs left it too late which made them vulnerable.  We know that over 75% of doctoral and postdoctoral Researchers pursue non-academic careers; so, it might be useful to encourage Researchers to have at least three different career options - especially in today’s job market.

More information on the Researcher Development Concordat 

More information on the Researcher Development Framework (RDF)

More information on researcher careers including moving beyond academia