Research Staff Association

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.

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

Research University

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

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.

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

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:

  • represent research staff from all faculties,, schools and institutes;
  • provide a platform for communication and networking amongst research staff both within the schools and institutes, as well as across faculties and the wider university community;
  • co-ordinate central support for researcher development with that provided locally by faculties, schools and institutes;
  • facilitate a borderless community for researchers to make the most of their time at UoL.

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.

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

  • Sustaining engagement of the core committee and ensuring that the activities and input of the RSA in matters affecting researchers in representative of all faculties and disciplines are key challenges.
  • Designing all roles and tasks to be undertaken collaboratively to reduce the burden of voluntary commitments on single individuals is essential. Having at least two representatives assigned to each role (so that responsibilities can be shared) takes into consideration the periods of time during all research projects where members of the committee may need to reduce their involvement.
  • Frequent contact with the researcher community in an informal setting, such as coffee meetings, as well as building relationships with researchers that attend development activities increases the visibility of the RSA and the roles available in the core committee to researchers across the university.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

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."

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

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.

Beneficiaries: Research staff Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Researchers Professional staff

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Employment Professional and career development

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