A year ago we launched the GetAMoveOn Fellows’ Programme – a professional development programme for a cohort of 10 PhD students, post-docs and other early career researchers, who each won a place on the 12 month programme following our call for nominations.
Our aim was provide support to the next generation of researchers whose research interests and activities align with the aims of the GetAMoveOn Network, specifically to enable Fellows to:
- Raise awareness of their work, enhance their academic profile and interact confidently with the media
- Improve their success in applying for grant funding
- Maximise the impacts of their research
- Participate in and help to develop a supportive community of scholars in a spirit of collaboration, to enable them to broaden their network of potential collaborators across different disciplines and increase their opportunities to contribute to projects and apply for grant funding for projects related to the GetAMoveOn themes
- A visibility workshop where Fellows learned how to communicate science to non-specialist audiences and made a video about their work
- An impacts workshop to help them write better impact sections for grant applications, maximise the impacts of their research and get their research into policy
- A collaboration event where they explored successful collaboration strategies, worked together in multidisciplinary teams to develop ideas for a project and pitched to win a share of the prize money to take their projects forward
- A writing retreat where they had dedicated time for writing and learned how to develop positive writing practices and habits using a model known to increase productivity and wellbeing
One year on, what have we achieved?
We spoke to each of the Fellows to get their feedback on the programme and find out what they each got from it.
What the Fellows gained
The overall feedback was very positive, as was the feedback on each individual workshop. All the Fellows really enjoyed the programme and thought that we achieved our aims. Without exception they thought it was worthwhile, personally rewarding, and would help them in their careers.
“The challenge as an early career researcher is trying to establish yourself autonomously, so this was a good opportunity to start to build an identity as an independent researcher.” (Dr Angela Carlin, Ulster University)
“Being accepted as a Fellow has been noticed and given recognition as an achievement in itself… I have learned a lot from the programme that will help me as an academic, especially about impacts and grant applications. It’s all going to help.’ (Dr Max Western, University of Bath)
“The media workshop was particularly valuable in terms of career development: it used to be ‘publish or perish’. You still have to publish obviously, but that’s not enough: it’s now ‘be seen or become invisible’. Being digitally visible and communicating your research is key. We have to learn how to be sales people, in a way.” (Dr Lyndsay Alexander, Robert Gordon University)
They also loved the diverse, multidisciplinary nature of the group. All the fellows mentioned the opportunity to extend their network with researchers in different fields as a significant benefit of having taken part, and could see themselves working on future collaborations with other Fellows. They felt that learning from other disciplines, how they work, and their different perspectives would all be useful in helping them to develop future collaborations.
“It’s wonderful to have that broad group of people to connect with. I feel I now have lots of skills and contacts that will help me not to be limited - part of something wider - access to a bigger community.” (Marion Lean)
“More and more people want you to have a national or international reputation in research and have those collaborations in place, so having a group of individuals that are all similar minded in research is a very useful thing. Having these new relationships in place going forward will help me to advance.” (Dr Cindy Forbes, Hull York Medical School)
“The interdisciplinary nature of the Fellowship was very important. Because of the connections I have made, I (as a behaviour scientist) am now running a workshop with a designer and a human-computer interaction researcher. For me, this is an amazing thing – to be able to learn from each other and to contribute my skills. We talk a lot about interdisciplinary working but it is easier said than done and the Fellowship created the spaces where I could connect with people from different disciplines to think about digital behaviour change interventions from different angles.” (Paulina Bondaronek, UCL)
All the Fellows are committed to keeping the Fellowship going somehow beyond the life of the GetAMoveOn project, and not to lose the connections and spirit that the programme generated. They foresee themselves working together on future grant applications and interdisciplinary collaborations. For GetAMoveOn team, that’s a great outcome.
What we discovered about the professional development needs of ECRs
Sadly, there won’t be the opportunity for us to run a programme like this again, because we only have a few short months of the GetAMoveOn funding period left. But somebody should definitely do something like this again: perhaps the most striking feedback was how hard it is to find training in the non-academic skills that are nevertheless essential for a successful academic career. There is clearly a gap in provision. Planning for real world impacts, communicating research beyond academia, building interdisciplinary collaborations and even making best use of the time you have to write, are all skills which there are scant opportunities for PhD students, post docs and ECRs to learn. People can learn through experience, but investing in the right training and development for ECRs could fast track the process.
What would we do differently next time?
If anyone wants to take up the challenge, here’s what we learned about how we might do things differently to make the programme even better:
- Be sure that participants have the support of their line manager. Those who did felt this had really helped them to commit to the programme. It was much harder for those who didn’t have that support.
- To help participants win the necessary support, organisers should provide applicants with a ‘case for support’ as part of the application pack to help them articulate the value of the programme and the significance of being accepted, to help them persuade their manager to support an application and release them to attend and commit to the programme.
- It’s really important to know the dates for events as far possible in advance so people can arrange cover and block their diaries out. This is especially important for ECRs who may not have much support from their department and may be using annual leave to attend sessions.
- Taking care of the organisational side of things, especially booking travel and accommodation for people, helps them to make the commitment: they can focus on arranging cover and freeing themselves up to attend.
- The diversity and balance of participants needs careful consideration. An initial introductory session is important to help everyone understand one another’s languages, interests, and how they work, so that all disciplines feel welcome, feel heard, and can see they have a part to play. A get-to-know-you session working together on a hypothetical project was suggested by one Fellow as a way to achieve this.
- The collaboration project (taking forward the project ideas funded by prize money awarded at the collaboration workshop) was a lot of extra work. Participants need to know about any such consequential commitments well in advance, so they can plan them in.
- Action planning sessions at the end of each workshop could help embed the learning and encourage participants to put it into practice, especially if they share their action plans amongst themselves so there is some accountability.
- Fellows clearly valued the face-to-face interaction and relationship building very highly. It’s not clear when that might become possible again, and if it isn’t for some time, careful thought needs to be given to the best ways to create online the spaces, opportunities and dynamics afforded by face-to-face contact. This is something we are all in the process of learning!
Thank you to all our Fellows for making the programme such a success, for entering into the spirit and starting to build that close, interdisciplinary research community we’d envisaged to take forward the GetAMoveOn themes after the end of the grant period. This is just the beginning.