Scheme offers postdocs and early career researchers (i.e. staff on research
only contracts) the chance to meet new colleagues, expand their networks and
enrich their experience of the University’s research culture in an informal
setting. It is an opportunity to meet peers at similar career stages across all
faculties, to build connections outside of their research group and to enhance
their professional, research and social frames of reference. It is led by the
University of Liverpool’s Research Staff Association (RSA) and runs twice a
A research-intensive university. We employ 920 staff on research-only
contracts and 550 principal investigators (PIs) who are in receipt of grants.
The primary beneficiaries of the Researcher Development Concordat at the University
of Liverpool are those early in their research career, including postdoctoral
researchers, research associates, research assistants and early career research
and tenure-track fellows. However, we recognise that the benefits of the
Concordat activities extend to other groups who actively engage in research
within the University and who are expected to develop their research identity
as part of their career progression. These include staff on teaching and
research or teaching and scholarship contracts, clinicians, professional
support staff and technicians.
The Academy at the University of Liverpool was keen to initiate a buddy system so as to help enhance the research environment, job satisfaction and overall research culture for new postdoctoral and early career researchers. It is recognised that such a system helps build an immediate personal connection between the new researcher and the wider institution, enabling our new researcher colleagues to gain more confidence and contribute to the university’s research and innovation ecosystem.
We endeavoured to create a
scheme wherein the existing researcher ‘buddy’ makes the new researcher feel
welcome, answer questions and help them navigate the university’s culture,
enabling them to feel comfortable sooner and to achieve a sense of acceptance
and belonging. For example, buddies can take away the discomfort that new
researchers have by making themselves available for questions that they might
not want to discuss with their managers or research supervisors. Buddies also
can show the new researchers around, introduce them to others, keep lines of
communication open while respecting confidentiality, and offer encouragement.
In Spring 2022 the University’s Research Staff Association (RSA) ran a pilot of a new buddy scheme offering postdocs and early career researchers (i.e. staff on research-only contracts) the chance to meet new colleagues, expand their networks and enrich their experience of the University’s research culture in an informal setting. The Buddy Scheme was promoted as an opportunity for postdocs and early career fellows (ECRs) to meet peers at similar career stages across all faculties and to build connections outside of their research group and to enhance their professional, research and social frames of reference.
The scheme was advertised
via the RSA weekly e-bulletins and the University of Liverpool RSA twitter
account and participants were asked to complete a simple expression of interest
form. The questions on this form included: name, department, email address and
why individuals wanted to participate in the buddy scheme. Each participant was
matched with two to three other postdocs or ECRs which resulted in 9 groups of
between 3-4 people in each group. All groups had a mix of faculties. Each buddy
was emailed with the names and email addresses of the buddies in their group.
Following the scheme participants were asked to complete an evaluation survey.
Participants in the first round of the scheme were asked if there was anything that would improve the scheme. Interestingly, while some of the positive highlights recorded were based around meeting people from other institutes and faculties, many of the suggested improvements were based on matching people more closely in terms of disciplines and research field. This was resolved in future iterations of the scheme by asking individuals to indicate whether they wanted to be buddied with individuals related to their discipline or those in other fields.
Another challenge mentioned
was that of requiring a lengthened time span to organise a meeting, as some
groups found it difficult to arrange a meeting in time. Some of the
participants suggested larger groups in order to meet more people. Further,
some groups also addressed this by having regular informal meetings over coffee
that included some or all participants in the scheme.
One of the participants and later buddy wrote a very well-received blogpost about the experience, giving insights on how engagement with scheme offered more than career advancement but also a chance to connect with peers at a similar career stages to share tips and advice: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/researcher/blog/posts/buddy,scheme,blog/
94% of the participants met
their buddies within a 3-week window and feedback was very positive. Some of
the common highlights of the scheme for the participants were meeting people
from other parts of the University and finding that they have similar
challenges/concerns and that their own experience is not unique. Participants
found this reassuring. Other participants just enjoyed taking time out of their
day to have a chat with someone new.
Many new researchers who signed up for the first iteration signed up
again for the second iteration of the scheme as volunteer ‘lead’ buddies, which
goes to evidence the success of the scheme in fostering a positive and
inclusive research culture in which postdocs feel empowered to share and shape
their own and their peers’ experiences.
It is recognised that many of the researchers who undertake a buddy role
will have experience in helping and guiding others in supportive relationships
in their previous roles. At Liverpool, most of the buddies are core members of
the RSA team, but for any others who require it, a brief informal discussion
workshop session is available to explore the role. For example, the need to
support developing researchers, the role of the buddy, what to do if things are
not going well, disengaging and transference issues and confidentiality issues.
Keywords: Training Professional development Research identity Research culture Induction Career progression Policy Equality, diversity and inclusion Wellbeing Researcher voice Working conditions Career management Diverse careers Leadership development Research assessment Recognition