The long drive to bring early-career researchers in from cold

February 16, 2007

Preparing researchers for careers in and outside academe has been a longstanding issue for the Government, research councils, universities and employers alike.

But the topic came to the fore with the publication of SET for Success , a report that highlighted the problems faced by researchers in developing their careers.

The 2002 report of the Research Careers Initiative - a strategy group developing policy and practice for research staff that was chaired by Sir Gareth Roberts from 1997 to 2002 - provided a blueprint to address the key concerns of young scientists and engineers.

The Government accepted all the report's recommendations in relation to postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers and provided about £250 million in additional funding to the research councils in the 2002 and 2004 spending reviews. The Roberts report led to the research council's offering higher stipends to postgraduate researchers and training in transferable and career development skills.

The Research Councils Academic Fellowships programme also sprang from the report. It was launched in 2004 with £25 million for 1,000 five-year fellowships and was designed to give researchers a guaranteed academic post after the report highlighted the problems of postdocs in finding secure posts in UK universities.

The Research Councils UK Research Careers and Diversity Unit was established in April 2005 to move the agenda on and to report back to the Government on the impact of Roberts money.

The unit runs the RCUK fellowships and the Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Awards scheme for top doctoral candidates from developing countries. It spends about £2 million a year on the UK Grad programme, which helps to integrate personal and professional skills development in research degree programmes.

UK Grad runs training courses, regional hubs to support universities and events, as well as analysing where PhD graduates end up. It also holds annual policy forums - "the Rugby Team", a group set up to look at ways of evaluating the effectiveness of the skills training researchers get, arose out of one of such meeting.

The group has established a database of good practice in training researchers, and this is hosted by UK Grad.

Chris Park of Lancaster University, the team's chair, also piloted and plans to launch the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey in March. This will, in effect, be an attempt to create an equivalent of the National Student Survey for postgraduates.

Details: www.ukgrad.ac.uk

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