Career Management for Research Colleagues Programme

Colleagues from Organisational Development and the Careers Service at Newcastle University worked together to develop and deliver an engaging series of career management workshops for early career researchers during the pandemic. They replaced face-to-face classroom-based delivery with blended learning. Four workshops ran over 8 weeks: Career Clarity, Curiosity, Courage and Capability with pre-work and follow-up resources. The workshops (on Zoom) included guest speakers, Q&A, quizzes and breakout discussions. Due to demand and positive feedback, we are continuing with this approach. In the face of adversity, we've created something very positive.

What kind of an organisation are you in the context of the Concordat?

Newcastle University is a research intensive university

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

We were trying to address the challenge of how to deliver good quality career management workshops to early career researchers remotely in the pandemic. Previously we had delivered workshops in person. There were varied levels of experience of using Zoom and online workshops on the delivery team. We also knew that we did not want to wait until 'normality' returned.

What did you do and how does this align with the Principles and keywords you have selected below?

The main principle is Professional Development and Career Development and key words:  training, career management, diverse careers, career progression.  We designed four workshops to sit as a programme running over 6 to 8 weeks. Each workshop was packed around with pre-work and follow-up resources. The Zoom workshop focused on input from an expert guest speaker, Q&A, interactive quizzes, and breakout rooms for discussion. 

In the introductory materials, we explain that career management is about self-assessment, research, and the structured planning, realisation and evaluation of your career. It's also about you taking charge and being proactive.  People know more than they think about what they want, they just need the time and space to think about it. Ultimately this is your responsibility, no one will be more interested in your career development than you, and Career Management for Research Colleagues aims to help you get started.

The focus is to prepare this group to be able to research and make informed career decisions based on an understanding of the labour market and their own skillset, which we want to help them articulate clearly to make successful applications.

Four one-hour live delivery events supported by pre-session preparation tasks, a range of online extension materials and a downloadable template for a Personal Career Management Plan. The course is introduced by a video sent in advance so participants can meet facilitators and understand course structure and objectives. Each session has its own objectives based on a career management structure developed by Mary Macfarlane, Careers Consultant at Leeds Becket University.

  • Session 1: Career Clarity - participants will understand more about the Labour Market in relation to Researchers, be able to identify their transferable skills and have considered their skills in the context of the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.
  • Session 2: Career Curiosity - participants will understand more about success criteria for successful applications to academic roles in HE and reflect on their development needs.
  • Session 3: Career Courage - participants will gain a greater understanding of non-academic career options for researchers, have listened to a personal experience of this transition and been able to ask questions and consider how to structure their own career research.
  • Session 4: Career Capability - participants will have considered elements of job search strategy and how networks can support this, and have experienced techniques to make a positive impression/build effectiveness in CVs and video interviews, and we want them to feel more confident in how to present themselves effectively in the first stages of the application process.

Pre session tasks are followed up with discussion in the sessions. Tasks include a strengths assessment, reading main points of research on ECR destinations 'Getting the first lecturing job', using an online job match tool to generate career ideas and our 'Shortlist' software for interview practice and feedback using AI.  Feedback results are very positive.

We have also designed and delivered an additional workshop called Career Competitive, a 90-minute session which goes into more depth on applying to non-academic jobs.  It is a standalone from the course described.

We are currently exploring delivery of a standalone 'Introduction to Enterprise' session.

What were the challenges in implementation and how did you resolve them?

The main challenges were around running a programme remotely. It became a team effort by sharing responsibility for the session. We had an administrator responsible for the technical aspects and shared responsibility for delivery. The blended learning approach meant that we were able to provide lots of great resources to participants before and after the session. Pre-work really helped to get them thinking about the topic and this work was essential for the next session in the series. We really worked hard to get engagement through videos which introduced the facilitators ahead of the programme, discussions, breakouts, using quizzes, great speakers, who were also experts and happy to answer questions.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

Feedback questionnaire in first delivery cycle: 10 respondents over 3 sessions. Overall, 90% rated the workshops good or very good. 100% indicated that the extension resources provided increased learning and pre-tasks were useful. 90% indicated the course was well structured, the right length, a positive learning environment, and they had confidence in the knowledge of the facilitators. 70% said the course met their needs. Qualitative feedback was noted and acted on by the team. Online Distance Travelled poll in the first session of each cycle asks participants to anonymously indicate their level of career management confidence and this is re-measured in the last session to judge impact. Results are very positive, for example, in cycle 2, 11 responses indicated a 50% increase in career management confidence as a result of the programme.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

We were surprised by how well the programme has been received. We began by expecting to deliver two cohorts but in 2020/21 ran five due to the level of demand. We also saw a sustained level of attendance nearly 100% across the board. This was much higher than when we ran in person workshops. This has been very rewarding for the delivery team, giving us a lift during a very difficult time and we have come together as a team. It also forced us to review our traditional methods of delivery and that has resulted in sessions which really emphasise that participants must take responsibility for their own learning. They are expected to come to the sessions having done the pre-work, participate and do the follow-up work in order to benefit from the programme. We have made the decision not to go back to in-person workshops for this programme because it has worked so well. It has also meant that researchers who are in other countries for their work have been able to join us easily.

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

Take a blended learning approach, which means that the Zoom workshop is at the centre, but is packed around with lots of good resources. Approach the programme as a team so that you share roles and responsibilities. Emphasise to participants, from before the programme starts, that they are responsible for their own learning.

Beneficiaries: Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Researchers Professional staff

Concordat principles: Professional and career development

Keywords: Researcher developers Careers consultants Careers service Organisational development Training Career progression Professional development Career management Diverse careers