The University of Hertfordshire’s research was very highly rated in the last REF, with several research areas being as good as or better than found at some Russell Group Universities (a summary can be found here). To give just one example, ten percent of all known planets were discovered at the University of Hertfordshire. The University has held the HR Excellence in Research from the European Commission since 2010 and holds the Athena SWAN Bronze award. It provides extensive support to research students and staff. A brand new science building (pictured) will open shortly.
The University groups research into themes – Food, Global Economy, Health and Wellbeing, Heritage, Culture and Communities, Information and Security and Space – and all research conducted at the University must address one of them. Research has a very high profile and features strongly in the University’s strategic plan.
Dr. Susan Grey (Linked In profile here) is director of the Doctoral College and advises PhD students looking for a post-doctoral appointment at University of Hertfordshire to carefully match their career aims against the University’s research strategy. She also notes that there is an increasing tendency towards interdisciplinary research and expects her post-doctoral researchers to be flexible and adaptable. There is a number of other qualities she looks for in research staff:
- Awareness of the funding and external environment (especially in connection to quality awards and frameworks)
- Excellent levels of specialist knowledge
- An understanding of transferable skills identified within the Researcher Development Framework
- Autonomy and self-management
- Strong interest in engagement and impact
- Being a good team player who also understands how competitive research careers can be
- A willingness to learn and develop (however successful you may have been so far)
- High levels of research integrity (it can be to your advantage to bring your understanding of this out in an interview)
- Willingness to go beyond research and contribute to the life of the University (by sitting on committees and so on) and particularly to take early responsibility for a research student.
In addition to these, like most employers, Dr. Grey expects all applications to be “pristine” with perfect spelling and grammar.
A perspective from a Senior Lecturer
Dr. Kristen Coppin (Linked In profile here) is a senior lecturer at the University, researching the formation of galaxies and supervises a PhD students. She’s originally from Canada and became interested in working in the UK when spending time at the James Clerk Maxwell Observatory in Hawaii where she worked with several UK scientists. She was attracted to the University because of its reputation in astronomy and researchers there were already part of her professional network.
She regards her success in gaining her post as a result of having a good academic track record (including publications), building her network, having a clear vision of the development of her career and being very enthusiastic about working at the University of Hertfordshire. She also regards being open to opportunity and being flexible and adaptable as important qualities.
Having recently had her first experience of recruitment she lists the following as things she looks out for:
- A good understanding of the employer
- Asking plenty of questions at the interview stage
- Making presentations in plain English as much as possible
- Giving presentations that show how your work fits into a bigger research picture
- Being well networked and able to communicate professionally with colleagues
Kristen said that women in science research should be willing to take a risk and apply for posts that they may not feel fully ready for and that employers appreciate the ambition and willingness to develop that this shows.
She also advised that it’s a very good idea to keep a rolling record of all training, talks, conferences and developmental activities you’ve participated in as these are often difficult to remember when it comes to writing an application.
Finally, asked for her one top tip for post-doctoral selection process, Kristen advised that professional communication skills and especially the ability to relate to an audience outside your own specialism count for a great deal.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Dr. Grey and Dr. Kristen Coppin for their generosity with their time and professional insights
Donald Lush, Careers Consultant for PhD students