"When One Door Closes" (sung by Carrie Newcomer)

Posted 14/06/2023 by Sarah Nalden

Dr Katie Wheat

By Dr Katie Wheat, Head of Engagement and Policy, CRAC/Vitae.

After almost four years as Head of Engagement and Policy, and more than eight years at CRAC and Vitae overall, the time is fast approaching for me to move on to new things. At the start of July, I will be stretching my professional wings as Teesside University’s new Research Culture and Policy Lead.

As excited as I am for the new challenges that lie ahead, I have very mixed emotions about saying farewell (it certainly won’t be goodbye) to an organisation and team of people who have fundamentally shaped my understanding of researcher development and research culture. So much has happened in my time at Vitae that I thought I would recap some of my personal highlights:

My most treasured memory actually comes from before I joined Vitae, when I was invited to speak at the Vitae conference in 2013 to give a postdoctoral researcher voice. The whole conference was eye-opening, and I felt like I wanted to be part of this amazing community. A few months later, in January 2014, I made my escape from academia to join Vitae as a project manager.

As a project manager, I had so many valuable and enjoyable experiences, but one of my most nerve-wracking early experiences at Vitae was broadcasting our first ever live Google Hangout with an expert panel discussing how to start a business after your PhD. The ‘lights, camera, action’ moment was like nothing else I had done before, but it was a hit, and we went on to do a whole series of Hangouts.

During 2015-16, I was very proud to have a role in developing, publishing and promoting a new leadership resource for researchers and their managers, created as a result of a research project funded by (then) Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. As part of a focus on leadership, we also brought together speakers from across sectors to explore how to prepare the next generation of leaders for their future career challenges.

In 2017 and 2018, what stands out is an increasing focus on wellbeing and mental health for researchers, and attention to aspects that shape the cultures and environments of research, such as interdisciplinarity, openness, and intersectoral mobility. We brought these themes together in an event on preparing researchers for an unknown future, though I don’t believe a pandemic lockdown was one of the scenarios we anticipated needing to prepare researchers for.

During 2018 the independent review of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers was also initiated, followed by a series of sector consultation events and a consultation survey. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the process. The ‘roadshow’ in 2019 to disseminate what is now known as the Researcher Development Concordat was a satisfying, if a little exhausting, finale to that period of work. I may have confessed at the time to literally dreaming about the Concordat…

Research Integrity

Publishing Research integrity: a landscape study was also the culmination of an intensive research project during 2019 and 2020. One aspect that made it particularly enjoyable for me was the opportunity to travel around the country meeting researchers and hearing first-hand their experiences of research integrity and the barriers they observe for themselves and others that can make it more difficult to do the ‘right thing’ for the quality and integrity of their research. The final collection of publications covers a myriad of topics intersecting research integrity and made the role of research culture in shaping the quality of research even more evident.

I’m running out of space now, but I can’t finish without acknowledging the pace of change at Vitae, as elsewhere, over the last few years. In 2020 we cancelled our in-person conference (a previously unthinkable scenario) and put together a week-long online event (almost) completely from scratch. It has been wonderful to see researcher development embracing and embedding technology to enhance what we do and ensure researchers’ career experiences continue to be enriched by the support we can provide, at a distance as well as in the room together.

Now it is time to put what I have learned into practice within an institution, but I am sure I will never be far from the UK sector and global conversations around researcher development and research culture. My favourite thing about the researcher development community, and what stood out to me most of all at my very first Vitae conference as a researcher, is what a welcoming and collaborative bunch you all are. So, I hope to take that spirit with me wherever I go in the future.

If you might like to be part of the global leadership of researcher development and research culture, view CRAC and Vitae’s latest vacancies.