At a recent Researchers’ Forum at UWE Bristol we explored the topic of researcher career development within the context of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). As the dust settles from the REF 2014 it appears to still be at the centre of many discussions in the university research environment. There is still a bit of uncertainty about exactly when the next REF will take place and exactly how this will be measured. Indeed, HEFCE have announced they will be consulting on proposals on the finer details in November 2016.
However, reading between the lines the next cycle will not be vastly different from REF 2014.
The question was asked, how do up and coming researchers prepare for the next REF and what things should they focus on from a career development point of view?
We brought in Sara Shinton who has been involved in the career development of researchers up and down the country for many years to act as our facilitator of the day. Sara captured many of the salient points from the days discussion (see the further resources below).
The voices of experience
A large part of the day was devoted to hearing from academic colleagues at UWE who have already experienced the previous assessment cycles and navigated their way through. The intention was to provide a number of different perspectives on the broad question.
The presentations were captured on video and are made available here using Panopto which requires viewers to sign in with a UWE username and password. Simply click on the thumbnail image to be directed to the presentation.
Professor Glenn Lyons (Associate Dean for Research and Researchers’ Forum Convenor) introduces the REF in terms of its broader context in university strategic thinking and encourages the idea the it is an exercise that rewards good research rather than being an end in itself.
Dr Kieran McCartan (Associate Professor in Criminology) shares his experience as a researcher building his reputation and profile through the last three research assessment periods.
Dr Lauren Devine (Associate Professor in Law) gave her viewpoint on balancing the demands of teaching workload, finishing a doctorate and aiming high at applying for research funding.
Dr Shawn Sobers (Associate Professor in Lens Media) related how his experience of the REF enabled him to construct a coherent narrative that described his diverse research project work with an emphasis on how the impact of that work could be clearly articulated.
The Q&A session that wrapped it all up
Summary and further resources
Key points (captured by Sara Shinton)
- REF is a transparent means of distributing £2 billion of public money for research.
- REF research outputs come from individuals.
- REF impact and environment come from institutions.
- HEFCE has published the impact case studies from REF2014 online.
- REF should be constantly on your radar even when it is 5 or 6 years away.
- The institution will decide on how to submit evidence to the greatest benefit to the institution. You cannot take it personally if this means you are not submitted and it is not a negative judgment on your research.
- Aiming for REF submission will help you to aim high with your research
- Impact case studies require evidence so think far in advance about the narrative you would like to create and what information you need to collect.
- There are a number of internal funds which will help you to develop your research.
- Talk to people internally with experience and ask for advice.
- It’s all about your research – focus on doing good work and being able to explain why it is important.
- Learn to react positively to constructive criticism (even when very negative).
- Impact is about research that meets a need rather than terribly complicated ideas.
- Funders can reduce risk by supporting people with a track record of success – internal funding can help to demonstrate this.
- Take a long term view of your work – what do you want to ultimately achieve?
- You must be able to connect all the dots in your profile and make sense of your work.
- You need to talk to people about what impact means – especially non-academic partners as their perspectives are critical.
Questions to help connect your career and the REF
- What do you want to be known for in 10 years?
- What do you need to start (and stop) doing to achieve this?
- What are the personal challenges facing you?
- What will you do to address these?
- What challenges come from the University and external sources?
- What do you want to be different to help you succeed as a researcher?
Ten REF tips based on personal experience from Professor Glenn Lyons:
Research Power is explained here http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/ng-interactive/2014/dec/18/university-research-excellence-framework-2014-full-rankings
4* papers, notes and video clips from an earlier Researchers’ Forum event here https://thedigitaldoctorate.com/2014/01/27/how-to-write-an-internationally-excellent-paper/
A guide developed through workshops with academics on their strategies for building an engaged audience for their publications. http://www.shintonconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Boosting-the-impact-of-publications.pdf
Impact case studies The case studies which were submitted in the last REF are all available online and can be searched by institution or unit of assessment. http://impact.ref.ac.uk/CaseStudies/
Funding opportunities and how decisions are made: see http://www.shintonconsulting.com/physics/ for a range of presentations on research funding (Physics focused by largely transferable); see http://www.shintonconsulting.com/postdocs/fellowships/ for resources on fellowship funding
Paul mentioned Deep Work by Cal Newport for strategies to manage fragmented time and distractions http://calnewport.com/books/deep-work/
See a blog post based on advice from other academics: http://www.shintonconsulting.com/time-management-by-academics/
Download a guide to improving time management: http://www.shintonconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Time-management-thoughts.pdf
Difficult conversations http://www.judyringer.com/resources/articles/we-have-to-talk-a-stepbystep-checklist-for-difficult-conversations.php (a guide to challenging conversations if your time management problem is someone else!)
Research profile – see http://www.shintonconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Guide-to-Building-a-Research-Profile.pdf , Professor Alex Marsh (Bristol) talking about online profiles: http://www.alexsarchives.org/2014/02/one-academic-online/ and the section on profile building in http://www.ncl.ac.uk/staffdev/devactivities/research/planning/next-step/index.htm (a guide for researchers developing academic careers), with more links here http://www.ncl.ac.uk/staffdev/devactivities/research/planning/next-step/resources.htm
Imposter syndrome http://www.shintonconsulting.com/a-badge-of-honour/
I’m a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.