York Researcher Festival

The York Researcher Festival celebrates the contribution that postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers make to research, culture and community at York. The programme is researcher-led, with the majority of sessions devised, designed and delivered by researchers - with input from academic and professional support staff. Lasting for a week and with over 20 sessions on offer, the Festival enables researchers to take stock and focus on personal goals and career aspirations, learn from each other and academic staff and develop and enhance skills. In 2022 over 400 researchers took part and gave an overall satisfaction rating of 93%; 95% would recommend the event.  

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

A research-intensive university with approximately 800 early career researchers and 100 Research Fellows. York has held the HR Excellence in Research Award since 2010. 

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

In previous years the University of York held an annual research staff conference which took the form of a day or half day campus event attended by a modest number of research and professional support staff. The York Researcher Festival represents an expansion of these earlier events, in response to two main factors:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic led the staff conference to be held virtually and in doing so prompted the format to become more accessible and flexible to a larger audience, facilitating wider contribution from across the University (including postgraduate researchers).
  • A motivation to support the wider aims and objectives of the University research culture action plan, by establishing this annual event as an institution-wide initiative that actively encourages researchers to dedicate and prioritise time for professional development.

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

The inaugural York Researcher Festival ran over two weeks from 20 September - 1 October 2021 to coincide with National Postdoc Appreciation Week (20-24 September). Following a successful inaugural year, the Festival ran for the second time between 17-21 October. The 2022 Festival programme featured 24 separate events (an increase from 19 in the previous year), this time across a single week, with the majority taking place online due to a strong preference for this mode of delivery among research staff.

As part of the University’s institutional commitment to supporting the career development of researchers, the Festival is promoted as a time to take stock and focus on personal goals and career aspirations. The Festival programme is researcher-led, with the majority of sessions devised, designed and delivered by researchers. Academic and professional support staff also contribute to the Festival which further endorses this valuable opportunity for professional development.

The Festival is an important platform for raising awareness of the Researcher Development Concordat, for example providing dedicated opportunities for researchers to share best practice from across departments and co-create the University Concordat, and more recently the Research Culture Action Plan. Contributions from the Rainbow Alliance (the staff equality social and support network), the Staff Race Equality Forum and the Women in Research Network seek to integrate researchers within the University community where diversity is recognised, valued and celebrated. In addition to aligning with the Environment and Culture and Professional Development Principles, the 2022 programme included ‘Being a researcher at York’ which was a session delivered by HR colleagues, highlighting the employment policies, entitlements and benefits available to researchers.

Further highlights from the Festival include researcher-led sessions on the following topics: 

  • Opportunities and challenges of interdisciplinary research
  • Introduction to sustainable research
  • Looking after your mental health in academia
  • What are early career fellowships, and how can they help you develop your career?

To support continuous professional development highlights from the most popular Festival sessions have been professionally edited and promoted as an ‘on-demand’ resource so that researchers and PIs can access and revisit them throughout the year.

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

One of the main challenges was providing administrative support to ensure that the large number of (often parallel) online events ran smoothly. To reduce workload for session contributors a member of our researcher development team was responsible for each event and available to support with administrative and technical tasks. 

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

The Festival was evaluated primarily using participant feedback via online surveys shared during and following the individual events. Attendance figures for each event were also recorded, in addition to the number of expressions of interest to our call for contributions, the number of events in the programme and the number of contributing individuals.

Researcher Festival events were attended by 273 people (staff and students) in 2021 and 399 in 2022. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive for both events. In 2022, 95% of those who provided feedback said that they would recommend the event they attended to others and 93% rated the event as useful or extremely useful. Between 2021 and 2022, the response to calls for contributions increased, resulting in the number of events in the Festival programme increasing from 19 to 24. In 2022, the Festival featured contributions from 20 researchers and 16 academic staff, plus professional support staff and external consultants. 

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

The range of responses we received from our open call for contributions was really diverse, both in terms of the topics proposed (from niche areas of interest to those that were broader and more loosely defined) and the career level of contributors (from PGRs to senior academic staff). This resulted in a rich and varied programme of events which we hope appealed to our diverse group of researchers.

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

Empower the audience (in this case, researchers) to shape the design and format of the event. Involving our Research Staff Liaison Officers (RSLOs) in the earliest stages of planning has helped us to create something that resonates and interests research staff. It’s also important to recognise that establishing an institution-wide event can take time, and that growing the event each year allows us to progress towards having the cultural impact we aspire to. 

Beneficiaries: Research staff Postgraduate researchers Research and teaching staff Managers of researchers

Stakeholders: Researchers Professional staff

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Professional and career development

Keywords: Training Professional development Research culture