What’s in a researcher induction kit?

"Pool of Knowledge" (Detail from the "Pool of Knowledge" sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo
“Pool of Knowledge” (Detail from the “Pool of Knowledge” sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

When I started a new research fellowship in a new institution and city, it took me at least a semester to find my feet.

In that time, I felt the full force of ignorance as I flailed around trying to find out who should review my grant applications (beyond my own collegial networks), what I might be entitled to as a staff member, and trying to get a handle on the new university’s structure.

More importantly, I needed to spend time learning the culture of the place: the person who occupies a certain role may not be the person you’d expect to do the work, etc.

Any expectations that a new staff member (in this floundering state) is going to immediately be productive and successful are not the most realistic. Even if they’ve got grants that they’re carrying over from one place to another, there’s a lot of information that they’ll need to establish themselves.

The earlier that incoming researchers know this information, the more quickly they’ll be able to gain momentum for their research planning and writing.

For a new-to-institution researcher orientation kit, then, these are the basics that I’d include:

1. Grants office contacts and other information for research application development and submission needs

This may well be more than one person, and they may be spread across different units. It’s essential that new-to-institution researchers know who, on the ground, can help them with reviews, let them know about internal sign-offs and deadlines, and help out with research project calculators and budget work.

For example, in some places, researchers may be referred to finance admin staff who have expertise in research project budgeting; in other places, there is no such staff member. It’s good for researchers to know who it is before grant application deadlines are looming!

New incoming staff would also need to know about major grant review processes that might be underway at the time they start. Many will have already started the process at their old institution – don’t miss the opportunity of a good submission because of uncommunicated information!

2. How to contact the ethics advisors

As well as a staff and contact listing for this area, it’s also useful to include:

  • a 1-pager about the institution’s ethics application process, and
  • a calendar of meeting dates for the ethics committee so researchers know when they need to submit applications for consideration at the next meeting.

The sooner researchers know about these essential processes, the better.

3. What research money might be available internally

Many institutions have new staff grants, and I think these are an excellent initiative that shows a university is serious about supporting their new staff. As I’ve said in a previous post on internal research funding:

When new researchers start at your organisation, whether they’re fresh out of their PhDs or coming from overseas or finding their feet at a new place/city/state, supporting them to kickstart a research program in that space is a no-brainer. It doesn’t have to be much – enough for some collaborative work, hours from an RA, or preliminary research steps. It’s goodwill in the bag, and having your researchers on their way with their work.

In addition, there may be central or faculty level conference funds, seed project grants, or publication awards and payments. New staff need to know about all of these sources as soon as they start, to ensure they get a strong base for their research activity as soon as possible.

4. What’s required, research-wise, for promotion

It’s always good to find out as soon as a person starts what the criteria for promotion to the next level will be. Staff need to know this not because they’re necessarily thinking of compiling a promotion document right then and there, but because the information will provide the basis for their research track-record planning.

Does promotion to Level C require a certain level of international or industry engagement? If this doesn’t appear on someone’s CV at all at the moment, they’re going to need a few years to develop this aspect with integrity.

Similarly, if they need to build towards publishing at least 2-3 papers a year (as they’re currently managing 1-2), they’ll need to have a long look at what might need to change in their week-to-week research activity and possibly negotiate workloads with their Heads of Schools or other work supervisor.

5. How they can access all the development/education/info literacy they need

All institutions want their researchers to be productive, well regarded, and well equipped to take on a wide range of research activities.

Some (many?) research organisations now have research education and development (or training) staff who are responsible for helping researchers be successful in writing and publishing, finding funding, research planning, building partnerships, career-planning, communicating their research, research leadership, and more. That’s exactly the work I do with the RED team at La Trobe University, and it’s always frustrating to hear from staff who’ve been at the university for a few years and they’ve never heard of what we do (and they desperately want to take advantage of our assistance!).

As well as staff development programs, I would include a bounty of blogs and other online resources (such as this one!) through which researchers can find out anything they need to know at the time they need to know it. There’s so much good stuff already out there!

And never forget the need to point researchers to the institution’s Library services and staff as soon as their feet touch the campus!

6. How to start supervising straight away, or transfer existing postgrads over

New-to-institution researchers need to know how to get onto the supervision register (if appropriate) as soon as they can to be able to start taking on research postgraduates.

At some institutions, this may require doing additional training and development and, whatever is necessary, it’s good to get onto it soon after arriving. These additional elements can take 6 months to complete, and you don’t want potential supervisors left out in the wilderness for too long.

Similarly, if incoming researchers have postgrads who want to transfer to where they are now, it’s good to know and act on this straight away for the sake of that researcher, their students, and the institution.

Beyond the basics, what else would be in my new-to-institution researcher induction kit?

  • Information about researcher networks at the institution – for example, groups that are for Early Career Researchers, specialist methodologies, ‘Shut up and write’ sessions, or particular regional interests (e.g. ‘Asia-Pacific’ researchers).
  • A contact list and FAQs for how the organisation helps researchers disseminate their research, including developing social media presence – institutions shouldn’t wait for big breakthroughs to encourage their researchers to engage and cultivate broader audiences. The value of well connected researchers reaches beyond a good headline.

Have I missed anything that you would include?

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