Principal investigators rate nurturing researchers’ careers more important than income generation or demonstrating impact, reveals the new Vitae report


Launched at the Vitae conference (today) on 5 September 2013, the Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS) 2013 UK aggregate results, published by Vitae, presents the views and experiences of principal investigators and research leaders to inform progress in implementing the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

4837 complete responses were received from research leaders in 49 higher education institutions across the UK, representing a response rate of 28%. PIRLS 2013 used a revised and updated question set compared with PIRLS 2011.

Respondents consistently identified supporting the development of others as a critical aspect of their role, rating the following three behaviours as most important in excellent research leaders:

  • advances significantly the discipline/research area
  • creates opportunities and nurtures researchers' careers
  • exemplifies the highest standards of research integrity and conduct.

The vast majority of respondents believed the leadership and management aspects of their role were very important for successful research leadership. However, managerial activities, such as conducting appraisals and managing/supervising other staff, were viewed as somewhat less important than leadership activities such as building a research group and motivating individuals.

Key findings

  • Principal investigators felt most strongly valued for their research activity, and less so for leadership, management, and impact and engagement activities, including teaching. They were least likely to feel valued for motivating individuals, providing career development advice to others, and managing and developing research staff.
  • They were more confident in their leadership activities than specific managerial roles, such as staff performance management or managing budgets and finances.
  •  80% of respondents had participated in appraisal within the last two years, compared with less than 60% of research staff (CROS 2013).
  • They were more likely than research staff (CROS 2013) to have participated in professional development in the last year.
  •  Around 80% of respondents reported that they had good job satisfaction.
  •  About half reported a satisfactory work-life balance; lower than for research staff (CROS 2013).

Up to a third of female respondents perceived some unfairness of treatment of female staff in relation to issues such as career progression and promotion, reward and participation in decision-making. This was somewhat more pronounced for females between 41-55 years.

Dr Janet Metcalfe, Chair and Head, said

"PIRLS 2013 has revealed that the majority of principal investigators recognise the importance of their role in nurturing researchers' careers. However, they are more likely feel recognised for and confident in building and leading their research group, than in managing staff performance and providing career development advice. Institutions could usefully explore ways to provide more recognition and support for principal investigators in these areas." 

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