Some Thoughts on the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2014 in Manchester
The annual Vitae Researcher Development International Conference, held in the Midlands hotel in Manchester, focused this year on the key conference themes of: policy developments, building institutional capacity, demonstrating value, and sustainable practice. Visit the Vitae RDIC 2014 website for more info. From a Fistral perspective, the conference is a great opportunity to learn about what’s happening in the sector and to meet new colleagues and a lot of people we support throughout the year and some of whom we have now worked with for more than a decade. As always there were lots of useful discussions and sessions, and lots to take away and consider in daily practice. For me, across the whole of the conference, the keywords that have remained centre around:
- Career Development
- Global Researchers
- Recognising Skills
- Skills Development
Individual’s ‘talent’ (versus the concept of individual’s research or other outputs) and the concept of ‘being talent’, managing and understanding your own or a team’s talent, and recognising or translating this into commercial or other spheres, was a more prominent area for discussion than previous years. Similarly, enabling researchers to recognise the existing and inherent skill-sets that they bring to academic and non-academic roles – as much as developing new skills – was discussed. Vitae has always had a focus on employability and skills development, and the area of ‘talent’ is very much aligned with a more commercial employment environment.
Another changing focus this year in comparison to other years I’ve attended – was on supporting researcher mobility – international, uni-to-uni, business-to-uni and vice versa. Again, promoting and supporting international researchers has always been high on the Vitae agenda, but this year there was more of an element on practical mechanisms and achieving general consensus and agreement regarding supporting the transition of researchers between national and global universities and businesses.
One further area that struck me as new ‘theme’ was supporting the softer skills of researchers – promoting resilience, encouraging better decision-making, and being more aware of differing communication styles and behaviours in order to enhance existing good practice and promote even more the equality and diversity agenda.
Vitae 2014 Workshop Sessions
In addition to attending some really thought-provoking plenary sessions on the ‘Strategic and global context for developing researchers’, ‘Research staff: talent management , appraisal, employability and destinations’, and ‘Challenging assumptions: next steps for researcher development?’; my Vitae workshop sessions this year included:
- Emma Sandon-Hesketh’s enjoyable workshop entitled ‘The Training Game’ showcased how the University of Central Lancashire hopes to engage more staff and better encompass training sessions through an immediately recognisable concept of a monopoly board.
- Paul Monaghan (Queen’s University Belfast) and Emma Sandon-Hesketh’s session on ‘How do we engage researchers in their professional development planning’ explored how to make CPD and professional development programmes relevant to researchers; the driving and restraining forces that both researchers and research developers experience when considering PDP, CPD; and how to use (or not) the variety of frameworks aligned with this to engage researchers.
- Dr Richy Hetherington from Newcastle University presented a thought-provoking workshop on: ‘Might increasing expectations limit the intrinsic attributes derived from a research degree?’ using a panel of experts with UK, European, Student and Employability interests to discuss whether separate training in transferrable skills was really needed (vs recognising the inherent skills developed through being a researcher); the need to translate these skills into the commercial sector – and the confidence of researchers in doing do; and whether particular funding models or criteria for funding DTCs (for example) influences, supports and/or can restrict the way in which skills development is approached by these centres and universities’.
- ‘Realising researcher potential – Introducing the CNA Confidence Needs Analysis!’, presented by Davina Whitnall from the University of Manchester, discussed how thinking about the impact of training on researchers could be approached by assessing their confidence in skills; the fact that confidence needs are misdiagnosed as training needs; and how this could be addressed by evaluating training in terms of confidence – demonstrated through a ‘Competency Cube’, ‘Training Triangle’ and ‘Capability Cycle’ model.
See the full Vitae 2014 programme for more information on all the plenaries, workshop sessions and presenters. And keep an eye on the vitae website for links to the actual presentations and papers which always follow this conference.
Vitae 2014: Three Minute Thesis (3MT) UK Final
An additional feature of the Vitae conference was the final of the UK Three Minute Thesis. Six brave individuals presented their ‘3MT’s to a packed room of hungry conference go-ers, and they were brilliant! Congratulations to every one of them for giving informative, clear and entertaining presentations of some highly complex topics. The judges’ prize went to Rachel Middlemiss form the University of Glasgow, whose thesis was entitled: ‘Saving the world with springs’. And the ‘people’s prize’ – voted for by the audience – went to Rhys Anderson from Newcastle University for his presentation on: “The role of DNA damage in ageing”. Both worthy winners! See the Vitae 3MT UK Final for the full list of entrants and their videos of all the presentations.
The Vitae 2014 Official Conference App
This year the conference launches the Vitae Conference App which – in the spirit of embracing new technology and saving the planet (and conference participants) from paper-overload, allowed attendees to “manage your workshop choices, view programme and plenary information, workshop outlines, contributor biographies, vote for the 3MT ‘people’s choice’ winner [see below] and much more!” (taken from Vitae’s email to attendees).
The only negative points for me were that you couldn’t use the back button when in the app or you had to start from scratch again; you couldn’t message your colleagues directly from the app; and there was no search function in the participant list (or paper versions available) which meant scrolling through a very long list to find colleagues.
Otherwise – as long as you’re confident with the technology and have a smart phone in order to engage with it – it was a very useful tool – thanks Vitae.
Thanks to Vitae Researcher Development International Conference Colleagues
An added bonus for me – in addition to all the plenary sessions, workshops and discussions in and out of the timetabled events – is meeting old and new colleagues. This year in particular, there seemed to be a lot of colleagues from near and far that I wouldn’t otherwise have got to speak with. With telephone and internet communication being the main form of contact, it’s lovely to put faces to well kent names and to start subsequent emails and phone calls with a face. It really makes a difference to day-to-day interactions if you know who you’re working with. Thanks to all those who joined me for some drinks, and to those who I met at lunch, breaks and during the sessions; including – but not only – colleagues and friends from the following universities: Aberdeen, Bath, Bristol, Dublin City, Dundee, Exeter, Heriot-Watt, Hiroshima, Leeds, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester, Newcastle, Queen’s Belfast, Queen Margaret, Strathclyde, Sunderland, and York. Looking forward to speaking and working with you in the forthcoming next year!