An Introduction to the Research Staff Representative Committee

Written by Dr Martin Eichmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Immunobiology & Chair of the Research Staff Representative Committee

Some of us “research staff” will be aware that in early 2017 we relaunched the College wide Research Staff Representative Committee (RSRC) but not too many will know what it is here for. In my role as Chair of the RSRC I would like to give you a quick introduction to the RSRC, its members, goals and how you can interact with it.

Important things first: The RSRC is a “by us for us” initiative for research staff – by that I mean staff members on fixed-term contracts whose primary role is doing research, of which there are close to 2,000 at King’s. The main purpose of the RSRC is to be the collective “voice” of research staff, to speak up and represent their opinions on King’s committees to engage in new policies affecting research staff and facilitate agendas promoting career development for research staff. The RSRC is inclusive. It consists of representatives from most faculties (themselves being research staff and members of the respective faculty research staff network) and one member representing Technicians, Research Assistants and Teaching Fellows.

We promote our views on policies affecting research staff at the highest level of the university at the College Research Committee and on career development activities at the Centre for Research Staff Development Oversight Group. The RSRC will facilitate sharing of best practices between research staff networks at faculty level and guarantee effective two-way communication between research staff networks and the university to promote more equality throughout King’s. We have set out our aims to promote research staff career development, increase the visibility of research staff and clarify the roles of research staff, all of which are set out in more detail on our new webpage.

So far our views have already been heard through providing feedback to the College’s response to Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework (REF) and to the College-wide teaching policy for research staff as well as promoting and providing feedback to the King’s Behaviours policy.

The RSRC reps are here for you so please get in touch with them or email the RSRC. if you want to contribute or share your opinions with us. I would also like to encourage research staff to actively participate in their local departmental of faculty research staff network which ultimately feed into the RSRC.

I hope that the RSRC will evolve so that all research staff see it as their means to voice their opinions and actively influence policy at College level to lead to a more inclusive decision making process.

Ways to Get your Voice Heard

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development, Centre for Research Staff Development 

While I was doing my PhD I had a colleague who arrived in our research group as a fairly timid postdoc.  Over time she gained more and more in confidence in speaking to the group about her research.  She hadn’t obviously practiced this skill, so I asked her where her confidence had come from.  She told me the source was the amateur dramatics she had been doing outside of work.  This opened my eyes to the myriad ways in which we can build our own capabilities, not just the obvious ones.

Being heard is part of your role in any profession.  If you wish to climb the ladder the people around you need to know you exist.  Within any organisation, those who are valued are more often the people who contribute not just through the obvious channels, for example in a university by doing research, but also by their citizenship.  While it could be argued that recent bureaucracy, for example the REF, is eroding this aspect of academic life1, there are still Higher Education Institutes that place a high value on it.  In fact, Exeter University has a webpage2 devoted to academic citizenship outlining the expectations placed on staff.  Even if you are content with where you are, reminding others of your existence every so often will mean that you continue to be included in interesting projects.

Learning how to get your voice heard in an effective manner is not necessarily something that will come overnight, as my previous colleague and now good friend learnt and showed me.  Yet by continuing to challenge yourself through new channels it is surprising what you can achieve.  Engaging with academic citizenship can also give you an understanding of how the university works, an insight that can prove very useful when you are trying to make things happen.

There are a multitude of opportunities at King’s to help you build your self-esteem and contribute to academic life, both small and large.  We highlighted some of these in the exhibition3 at the recent Research Staff Event 2017.  As a minimum, just responding to surveys such as the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) can result in the Centre for Research Staff Development being able to provide you with more relevant activities and better support for you in your role.  We have recently run a workshop on impact as a result of your contribution to the CROS and are gearing up, in collaboration with the Research Staff Representative Committee, to implement policies that raise the profile of research staff within King’s.  Chances are we will be offering you the opportunity to take up your role as an academic citizen and contribute to this project.  Who knows, this could even put you in the running for a King’s Award for the Most Outstanding Contribution to the Research Staff Experience4 next year!

  1. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/is-academic-citizenship-under-strain/2018134.article
  2. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/exeteracademic/academiccommunity/academiccitizenship/
  3. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/research/Centre-for-Research-Staff-Development/Research-Staff-Event-2017.aspx
  4. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/research/Centre-for-Research-Staff-Development/Kings-Award.aspx

Highlights from the National Postdoc Meeting

Written by Dr Kennedy Nkhoma, Research Fellow, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation

I attended a two day National Postdoc meeting organised by the Postdocs of Cambridge Society at the University of Cambridge. The main objectives were to:

  • Input into the review of the Concordat document
  • Discuss the impact of postdoc researcher’s contribution to the REF
  • Discuss with employers, funders and policy makers on postdoc experiences related to the concordat and REF.

Day 1

On the first day a presentation was delivered by Dr Katie Wheat, the Higher Education Senior Manager at Vitae. The purpose of this workshop was to provide a cross-sector input into the review of the Concordat, a central policy document for higher education in the UK, currently undergoing a review process coordinated by Research Councils UK from the perspective of postdocs. She outlined the seven principles in the Concordat: (1) recruitment, selection and retention (2) recognition and value (3) equipping and supporting researchers in a diverse mobile, global research environment, (4) personal and career development (5) researchers responsibility (6) diversity and equality (7) implementation and review.  We were then divided into seven groups and each group discussed one principle. Each group discussed their experiences, ideas for development, adaptation and revision, and ideas for evaluation.

The following themes came out of group discussions and presentations:

  • The Concordat is not visible to researchers, most participants felt they only heard about the document when this meeting was called for.
  • There is a problem with the structure of the principles, for instance Principles 3 and 4 are similar, they can be combined to be one principle, however representation of researchers under principle 4 is very important and should be its own principle.
  • Mentorship: it is important for researchers to find a mentor who is not their line manager and they should also mentor others.
  • Career development for Principal Investigator (PI): The need for PIs to attend training on how to manage postdoc researchers.
  • Research staff associations to be encouraged and involved in decision making.
  • Financial commitment of funders and employers on career development: for instance principle 5 does not address funders and employers, it only addresses researchers who are not signatories of the Concordat.

Day 2

On day two we discussed the impact of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) on Postdocs. Three main areas were discussed:

  • Eligibility: There are plans to change the eligibility criteria to include any researchers with ‘a measure of independence’. There is little understanding of if postdocs are part of the eligibility process and who is included. Postdocs are not fully involved in the process of REF development. There is a need for a course/funded training to have a better understanding of the REF and how they may be affected.
  • Collaborate – Collaboration needs an experienced researcher such as a PI since postdoc researchers have limited experience. However PIs have to provide an environment for postdocs to be involved in the process in order to gain experience.
  • Portability vs non-portability: The current policy recommends non-portability which would mean that papers published by an individual in one institution stay with that institution when research staff leave in an effort to prevent the gaming previously seen by institutions buying up outputs. The main take home message is perhaps double weighting of inputs, so that previously unreferenced individuals can take their outputs with them and the hosting institution also keep ownership. However institutions should try to provide incentives to research staff to retain them in their role.

Conclusion

The last session was a panel discussion with funders from the Wellcome Trust and MRC, employers from Imperial College London, University of Cambridge and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and policy makers from the Royal Society. Issues in relation to the Concordat and REF were presented to the panel for their views.

The panel agreed with the issues raised, in particular emphasising that it is both the researchers’ and employers’ responsibility to make choices and important decisions about their career. Funders strongly recommended participants to demonstrate capacity to manage funding, resources, and staff to be able to win a grant or fellowship.

The next concordat review takes place next year, therefore issues raised by the postdocs will be taken into consideration during the review. Participants agreed that meetings should be held annually and rotated.

It was exciting and rewarding to be involved in reviewing the Concordat which influences my working environment at King’s. It was interesting to learn from other postdocs who share similar experiences and challenges about the uncertainty of career paths, especially in relation to fixed-term contracts. This showed me that we are all in this together.

King’s Behaviours Green Paper: Research Staff Town Hall

Written by Sarah-Jane Johnson, Strategic Project Manager (High Performance Culture), Strategy, Planning & Analytics

On 7 and 8 September the Research Staff Representatives Committee hosted Town Hall meetings for research staff to discuss King’s Behaviours with Evelyn Welch and Robert Lechler and the King’s Behaviours project team.

We heard some great examples of behaviours that research staff find helpful, such as a department that meets regularly over tea and cake to get to know each other; team meetings where PIs share insights into their current work; and academics who invest time and energy in research staff development. There were also examples of when things go wrong – often unintentionally – which result, for example, in people feeling isolated, or in decisions being made in a way that does not feel transparent and fair to all staff.

We were asked who King’s Behaviours are for and whether they would be mandatory

King’s is made up of its people; our behaviour has an impact on our own and our colleagues’ experience of work, as well as the experience of our students.

King’s Behaviours is a framework to support the success of all individuals at King’s, whether they are research staff, academic staff, professional services or students. It is intended to empower people to reflect on their strengths and to think about how they can be even more successful their work and interactions with others.

The framework is not intended to be a top-down code of conduct to which people need to conform. Identifying the behaviours that we already do well and those that we aspire to will help to facilitate robust yet collegiate debate, and help us develop ourselves and support the development of others. It is intended to be a shared language which encourages individuality, creativity, debate and freedom of expression, but also provides a basis to constructively challenge unhelpful approaches.

We were asked how people could engage with the evolution of King’s Behaviours

We have approached identifying King’s Behaviours as a discussion across the King’s community including academics, researchers, professional services and students. The behaviours you see in the green paper emerged from real examples of behaviours identified by nearly 100 members of the King’s community which have been anonymised and made more broadly applicable. For more information on how this was achieved, please see the green paper.

At the time of writing, over 350 staff and students have responded to the survey on the green paper. This feedback will be reflected in the next iteration of the behaviours and a summary will be published on the intranet. We will continue to work collaboratively with the King’s community on the evolution of the behaviours through the autumn term and beyond.

We were asked how the behaviours would be embedded into our day-to-day lives at King’s

King’s Behaviours will be incorporated into processes to help us develop ourselves and our teams, recruit new staff, and other people processes. We are asking where we should prioritise implementing King’s Behaviours in the survey.

The green paper is a detailed document, because we would like feedback on the full framework. However, when King’s Behaviours is introduced into processes, the tools will be based on the framework but will be more easily digestible. We are exploring a range of training and self-assessment approaches to help people get the most out of King’s Behaviours.

The survey on King’s Behaviours closes today, 22 September. You can keep up with developments by visiting our intranet page. You can also contact us directly on kingsbehaviours@kcl.ac.uk