Initial outcomes from the Vitae researcher development international conference 2011

The Vitae annual conference took place in Manchester last week and was attended by almost 400 participants from 81 UK higher education institutions and 24 international organisations.

The conference addressed four key themes:

  • Policy developments relating to doctoral education and employing researchers
  • Demonstrating the value of researcher development on research outputs, researcher careers, economic prosperity and society
  • Building and sustaining institutional capacity for researchers' professional development
  • Sustainable practice to support researcher skills, professional and career development

Themes and initial outcomes from the conference include:

At the European level, Stefaan Hermans, Director of Skills at the European Commission highlighted the Europe 2020 strategy, and the critical role that researchers play in addressing the grand challenges facing modern society and recovery from the economic crisis. He called for improving working conditions for researchers and borderless research systems within Europe. Our congratulations go to the latest 15 UK institutions which Stefaan announced had gained the European Commission's HR Excellence in Research award.

The policy drivers for changing cultures in higher education institutions remain strong. Innovation Union, the Research Excellence Framework, Research Councils UK strategy and the Concordat all highlight the importance of talented researchers, well equipped to work across sectors and contributing value.

Clearly institutions in the UK remain committed to embedding career and professional development in the research experience and ensuring the good management of research staff. Given the changes in funding (Roberts funding and HE funding more broadly) and the competitive environment, strong themes discussed at the conference were around collaborations and economies of scale, new models of delivery, including online, and increasing the number of academics involved in the delivery of training and development.

‘Investing in the best' and the focus on excellence at European and UK levels brings challenges in ensuring that the system as a whole remains vibrant and is able to support the profession of ‘researcher' as well as the research leaders of the future.

The Careers in Research Online Survey results reveal very positive progress in implementing the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. The new Principal Investigator and Research Leader Survey highlighted the importance of promotion criteria, workload and performance management which takes into account principal investigators' wider responsibilities of managing and developing research staff as well as delivering research outputs.

The changes to undergraduate fees in the UK were highlighted, together with a growing consumer culture in higher education. Ensuring the supply of researchers into doctoral programmes was a theme, along with embedding a passion for research at undergraduate level.

Employer engagement with a focus on work placements as a way of supporting people and knowledge exchange was explored, along with the presentation of new data on the career paths of doctoral graduates, including those employed as research staff. An employer reception explored the value of researchers to business with an ‘elevator pitch' competition enabling researchers to present their ‘added value'. The winner was awarded a year subscription by THE magazine.

The growing scholarly endeavour into researcher development was a highlight of the conference, with dedicated research strand. A special edition of the International Journal for Researcher Development will follow.

The full conference report will be published in the Autumn. Workshop slides and outcomes will be available on the Vitae website.

Press coverage to date:

Short cuts: fixed term contracts fall in breadth and length, THE 1 September

Female research drop outs threaten Europe's targets, THE 8 September

Podcast on Vitae Conference on realising the potential of researchers, Science Careers blog 6 September

Resources and reports launched at the conference:
RDF briefings

What do Researchers do? Career paths of doctoral graduates - (It will soon be published on

Careers in Research Online Survey 2011. Analysis of UK aggregate results

Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey

Researcher Development Framework Briefings: postgraduate researchers, research staff, senior managers, researcher developers

The drafts of the Researcher Development Framework Lenses on Leadership, Enterprise, Intrapreneurship, Public Engagement

Updated version of the 'Schedule for Success' for postgraduate researchers at the start of their doctorate

The podcasts of the highlights from the conference plenary sessions are now available on iTunes (search for Vitae).