Postdoc and ECR Buddy Scheme

The Buddy 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 year.

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

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.

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

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:,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.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

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.

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

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.

More information about this practice example:

Beneficiaries: Research staff Research and teaching staff Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Researchers Managers of researchers Professional staff

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Employment Professional and career development

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