The University of Liverpool Research Staff Association (UoL RSA) supported by the Academy is a research community-owned and -led initiative. It provides a voice for research staff across all faculties, and a platform for communication and networking. It helps co-ordinate central support for researcher development and builds a researcher community that, through representation on committees and working groups, empowers researchers to be involved in decision making.
Following consultation with postdoc networks and groups that were active at local levels across the University of Liverpool (UoL), the Academy collaborated with Vitae and the UKRSA to support UoL research staff to establish their own Research Staff Association. The UoL RSA is a community-owned and -led initiative, the aims of which have been co-created and co-defined by researchers themselves. It is made up of those on research-only contracts as Early Career Researchers and postdoctoral researchers experience prevailing differences in their employee experience. They are best placed, with support of the Academy, to create targeted support for wider research staff and represent the needs of the university.
Upon commencement of their contracts, all academic research-only staff automatically become members of the UoL RSA. A central committee of pan-institutional research staff, managed by the Academy is led by Co-Chairs and Deputy Co-Chairs. The Chairs and Deputy Co-Chairs provide representation on committees and working groups, including the Concordat steering group.
The role of the Chair will be held for 12 months, plus a further one to two months as an outgoing Chair to help the new Chair to settle in. This ensures the UoL RSA continues to evolve and bring forward new ideas, as well as providing an opportunity for more researchers to be involved in steering the direction of the UoL RSA and developing transferable skills.
The aims of UoL RSA are to:
The UoL RSA has its own dedicated web pages and sends out a weekly e-bulletin to all staff on a research-only contract that details upcoming events and opportunities, as well as highlighting university policies, wellbeing and development resources. The Twitter account is used regularly to communicate with researchers both inside and outside the institution and regular 'lunch and learn' sessions are held on various topics e.g., public engagement, REF, and the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.
The impact was evaluated in a variety of ways. Over 300 research assistants/associate or fellows engaged annually with the UoL RSA across various events, which included over 150 presentations by individual speakers on wide ranging topics.
Relationships were build with industry partners through sponsorship of the annual conference including IBM, Merck, Giftpay and Thermofisher. ECRs were represented on internal panels including the Concordat Steering Group, Research and Impact Committee and Athena Swan. The UoL was invited to present its RSA as a case study at the Vitae International conference 2019.
There was also evidence of development of traditional, transferable career development skills identified in the Vitae RDF including leadership skills through team management, finance skills in budgeting and gaining sponsorship for the conference, and networking skills through meeting and collaborating across the university.
Individual testimonies endorsed the importance of the RSA: "I am in no doubt that being involved in establishing and developing the UoL RSA aided my recently successful fellowship application."
The core committee that helps guide and organise activities and events works well when their is representation across all faculties. It is beneficial to design all roles to be undertaken as part of a team, with collaborative input from across the Chairs and Officers team, to reduce the burden of voluntary commitments on single individuals. It again, works best to have at least two representatives assigned to each role so that responsibilities can be shared.
A detailed description of what the role involves for Chairs, deputy Co-Chairs and liaison members (as part of a terms of reference) outlines the commitment needed and helps maintain sustainability, as researchers that become involved in the core committee are aware from the beginning of the workload involved.
Communication is essential. Frequent short meetings enable a community feeling to be created amongst the core team and for issues and ideas to be shared and acted upon if appropriate. A Microsoft Teams channel where members of UoL RSA core committee can communicate daily (if required) with each other and other members of the Academy (as well as providing further information to liaison members that represent each institute in the University) also supports close collaboration.
The use of social media (Twitter) and weekly e-bulletins help to disseminate information and make researchers aware of activities being organised, as well as increasing the profile of the UoL RSA.
Keywords: Training development activities Professional development Research identity Research culture Induction Career progression Policy Equality, diversity and inclusion Wellbeing Researcher voice Bullying and harassment Working conditions Career management Diverse careers Leadership development Research assessment Recognition Research staff association (RSA) Community building