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Vitae 2015 Plenaries

DAY 1 Vitae 2015 Opening Plenary – Dr Janet Metcalfe (Vitae), Irmela Brach (ERA), Emilda Rivers (US HRS), Chris Millward (HEFCE)

Having introduced to the context and landscape for the conference and congratulating the new and re-awarded HR Excellence Framework universities, Dr Janet Metcalf, (Chair and Head of Vitae) introduced the following speakers. 

Irmela Brach (Policy Officer, European Research Area – ERA - Policy and Reform Unit, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission).

One of the main things that Irmela Brach presented was a new European political priority/strategy “OPEN”, which has three focus areas:

  1. OPEN to Innovation (linked to the European Innovation Council)
  2. OPEN to Science
  3. OPEN to the World

She also discussed the international context and supporting researchers through the HR Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R) to be published mid-September. Highlighting changes in the HRS4R, and mentioning a potential Gender Equality Plan (similar to the HR Excellence Framework, linked to ATHENA Swan). noting the following areas as important for supporting researchers within the ERA:

At the end she noted that

Janet disagreed with this and was supported in saying that she thought the sector needs to learn “how to present our product” as there is a high value and skills demonstrated by the quantitiy and high quality of the researchers produced.


Emilda Rivers (Director of Human Resources Statistics Program (HRS), National Science Foundation, USA)

Emilda focused on data for all science graduates collected by the National Centre for Science Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

Since 1973, NCSES issues questionnaires every 2 years to researchers who have completed their doctorate until they are 75 years old. This means that they capture a wealth of useful data from entry into doctorate to entry - and exit from - the workplace.  The statistics can then be used, for example, to look at how different stages of researcher development are impacted, and what means for policy.

Not only is this a massive task which provides a wealth of useful data, but the response rates are truly enviable! 76.4% (for the bi-annual response rate) was by no means the highest % response for some of the data shared…

Emilda highlighted that this data – due to be published in 2016 (and given a world-exclusive premier at Vitae):

One of the key messages Emilda left with was that access to data such as this


Chris Millward (Director of Policy, Higher Education Funding Council for England - HEFCE)

Chris addressed the conference by contextualising the UK environment and highlighting the importance that a Masters route was becoming for those entering postgraduate research arena:

And with 44% of students in England indicating they are “likely” or “certain” to go on to PGR, Chris noted that the key concerns for those entering, and the barriers to those considering entering, were mainly linked to finance, e.g. the cost fees, resultant debt.

Highlighting that the UK government’s Autumn 2014 statement (supporting student loans) and the  March 2015 budget (with a commitment to 'broaden and strengthen support' for PGRs are both positive measures in support of research., and driven by the Treasury interest and acknowledgement of the value these researchers bring to the country as a whole as well as to productivity and the economy.

Chris also noted future government policies and spotlights, such as


DAY 1 - Half plenary session 2: Research staff: experiences and talent management - Indi Seerhra (LSE), Dr Robin Mellors-Bourne (CRAC), Professor Ritsert Jansen (University of Groningen), Dr Miguel Jorge (University of Strathclyde)

The second plenary was split into two group, one focusing on doctoral education, and the other on research staff. I attended plenary 2, chaired by Indi Seerhra (Director of Human Resources, London School of Economics and Political Science) who introduced the session and highlighted the EU scheme - RESAVER : a single European pensions arrangement for all researchers - due to launch in 2015, further promoting multi country and multi employer equality and mobility. See http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/index.cfm/links/singleNews/46910

Dr Robin Mellors-Bourne (Acting Chief Executive Officer, CRAC)

Robin commenced the half-plenary with a discussion on career aspiration vs career expectation. This was based on the CROS and PIRLS 2015 outcomes which indicate that circa 75% of respondents want to be an academic; something which is unrealistic given the number of posts available. Furthermore, there was a discussion regarding how these staff are supported by universities and their line managers, and how well equipped their they feel to support others.

This was important as two-thirds of research staff are getting appraisals now (an increase but not yet inline with the corporate sector), which mean that challenges exist linked to the confidence, importance and skills that line managers have in developing research staff, managing finances and managing other research staff’s performance/people management skills.

The next speaker from the University of Cambridge, Karina Presad (Head of Office, Office of Postdoctoral Affairs - OPdA) provided an inspiring vision for supporting research staff and allowing them more control and input into both the running of a posdoc community, and its’ logistics and organisation. The focus of this was for the “postdoc community … knowing they are not alone.”

Some highlights of this were:


Professor Ritsert Jansen (Dean of Talent Management, University of Groningen)

Professor Ritsert presented his views based on the Groningen models allowing researchers to:


Dr Miguel Jorge (Lecturer, University of Strathclyde)

Addressed the audience on the Voice of Researchers Conference, and suggested a few improvements to research staff support such as:


DAY 2 - Dr Janet Metcalfe (Chair and Head of Vitae), Professor Tristram Hooley (Professor of Careers Education, Head of ICeGS, University of Derby) Dr Pete Jones (Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists)

The schedule for Day 2 was just as hectic!

Day two plenary focused on “Challenging Assumptions”.  Dr Janet Metcalfe (Chair and Head of Vitae) led fascinating sessions about

  1. Image, identity and career image linked to job success (Professor Tristram Hooley, Professor of Careers Education, Head of ICeGS, University of Derby) – whether ‘halo’ or ‘beauty-is-beastly’ effects; and
  2. Unconscious bias within the research environment and how we are wired defines  (Dr Pete Jones, Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists) – understanding “what fires the brain” so we can “rewire” the brain, so that negative unconscious patterns don’t drive decisions in important or stressful situations.

Both of these raised interesting questions about understanding ourselves and others, and what projections and assumptions – consciously or unconsciously we attribute to others. Moreover they are of concern for researchers themselves as many blogs highlight, and occur within and across genders.

Understanding what drives or creates these assumptions allows us to try to control and reverse any negative or less-helpful responses in situations where we need to be - and have a duty to encourage others to be - impartial (e.g. in power dynamic fuelled relationships such as: CV-based selection, interviews, researcher selection, research evaluation, promotion).


For the remainder of the day I attended some really great workshop sessions - see my Vitae 2015 Workshops page  or Vitae 2015 blog for more thoughts.

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