home  news  search  vre  contact  sitemap
 Capacity building resources

Resources aimed at helping researchers build their careers

Alan Brown

Alan is a Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick.

How to reference this page

Aims of this resource

The UK research councils see attracting the best students into research careers and improving the employability of early-stage researchers as a key part of their strategic goals: see Research Careers: A strategy for success . One way to achieve this has been through the UK GRAD programme which aims to support the development of the potential of young researchers. Amongst a wealth of material, two strands are particularly relevant. The first is the development of Vitae , a new initiative to champion the professional and career development of researchers, which was launched in June 2008, alongside the new Concordat to support the career development of researchers. Funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and managed by CRAC: The Career Development Organisation, Vitae builds on previous work by the UK GRAD Programme and UKHERD to build capacity in the HE sector to support researchers. Delivered in partnership with our regional Hub host universities, Vitae will work with higher education institutions, researchers and employers to make real and positive change.

While Vitae is a national initiative, t he UK GRAD programme also has a section on Researchers Careers that places these in a European context. It highlights how o ne of the central initiatives of the Lisbon Agenda to make Europe the most dynamic and competitive knowledge economy in the world by 2010 is to increase expenditure on research and development in Europe to 3% of GDP . The Lisbon Agenda recognises the importance of the researcher in achieving this objective and the European Commission has adopted several new instruments aimed at contributing to the development of a European labour market for researchers:

These overarching sites contain practical advice on building a research career: for example, the Vitae site contains a booklet on The Balanced Researcher: strategies for busy researchers contains practical information on Strategies to be more effective in your work; Strategies to balance work and other parts of your life; and Specific actions that will have a big impact on your work and life. The authors of the booklet use an evidence-based approach to self-management that is based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Coaching and have produced other material in this vein, see, for example, Kearns and Gardiner (2007) Is it time well spent? The relationship between time management behaviours, perceived effectiveness and work-related morale and distress in a university context . This article highlighted how having a clear sense of career purpose was most important for perceived effectiveness at work, followed by planning and prioritizing. If the aim of using time management strategies is to improve performance and reduce stress, researchers need to learn to identify the purpose in their career and then plan their time accordingly.

CRAC (the Careers Research and Advisory Centre) were contracted by RCUK to scope and define user requirements for a web-based resource to support research careers, a national ‘research career mapping tool' ( RCMT ). The RCMT should ‘provide information regarding different research career paths, and … aim [to] make career structures in research more visible to early-career researchers (e.g. at PhD and postdoctoral level).' Their Research Career Mapping Tool Report (2006) pointed out that at that time: ‘there was no overarching ‘framework' on which to contextualise the mapping of research careers. This lack of framework for research careers was recognised at the 2005 UK Presidency conference on the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment. The outputs from the conference stressed the need for “substantial cultural change in the way researchers are perceived, managed and conduct themselves. The recognition of research as a profession - with researchers recognised as well as recognising themselves as professionals - is a key aspect of this change in perspective”.' (pp 7-8).

Two important issues in trying to map research careers were clear from the RCMT Report: their international dimension and the range of possible destinations. Many early career researchers in the UK were from other countries and similarly there were opportunities for UK researchers to work elsewhere: there is a significant international labour market and this adds a layer of complexity to mapping research careers. Secondly, careers of researchers could be mapped against widening horizons in terms of a continuum of increasing distance from the familiarity of HE settings and the type of work undertaken. Thus an early career researcher in HE could continue on the research (project) path; move across to an academic career which combined teaching and research; switch to research work elsewhere (e.g. industry, government, charities); move to a job using their specialist knowledge & understanding but not in research) and move to a job using transferable skills rather than specialist knowledge. Now the problem for those seeking to offer guidance to career researchers is that it those who were considering shifts away from research who were likely to need the most support. One suggestion was therefore to consider how expertise, professional relationships, responsibilities and skills develop within and across organisations as a career progresses through different stages.

One consequence of this is that the Vitae site has developed resources explicitly to help with Managing your career . Career management is not just about making job moves, but also about the long-term commitment to building your skills and experience to meet the requirements of current and future roles, so the resource is structured to offer advice and resources covering the essentials of continuous career management. The UK GRAD Programme provides management support to the Rugby Team, a sector-led working group, drawn from a cross-section of HEIs and other relevant stakeholders, with a mission to 'propose meaningful and workable ways of evaluating the effectiveness of skills development in early career researchers', who produced in 2007 a comprehensive overview of Employers' views of researchers' skills . The main themes are: The relationship between universities, early career researchers and employers; Postgraduate researchers and research staff issues; Career progression categorised by generic studies and discipline specific studies; Remuneration and salary; Differentiation between the first-degree graduate and the research postgraduate experience; International perspectives; and Skills analysis.

This territory of how researchers develop their careers was also investigated by Purcell and Elias (2006) in research for ESRC on Employment of social science PhDs in academic and non-academic jobs: research skills and postgraduate training . However, as well as multiple possible exit points for researchers, t he ESRC recognises that Educational Research in the UK is a broad and diverse field with multiple career entry points for new researchers. As a result it demands a capacity building approach that recognises the complexity and scale of the discipline and that it is responsive to emerging opportunities and new ways of working. The ESRC has been working with key stakeholders in the field to develop a strategy which aims to ensure that Education has the required research capacity to develop new knowledge and understanding about Education. As part of this strategy ESRC is in the process of commissioning pilot networks in the UK with the aim of examining new forms of collaborative activity designed to enhance educational research capacity. The overall aim of the pilot networks will be to test whether collaborative networks of this sort provide the basis of a sensible model for building a coherent research infrastructure on a larger scale in Education: see Building Capacity through Collaborative Networking in the Field of Education- Strategic Training Initiative .

The ESRC have also put in place a Researcher Development Initiative designed to support the training and development of researchers in the social sciences at all stages of their career. The Researcher Development Initiative (RDI) is linked closely with other ESRC training activities and resources, such as the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM), and supports the provision of: training and development activities for research students and researchers throughout their career; regional training activities; and new tools and packages for training purposes. As well as researchers requiring support for technical skills development, the development of ‘project management skills' is an area where there are often requests for support, and TLRP researcher Anne Edwards gave a presentation on Managing Large Projects at an RDI event in 2006. At a TLRP RCBN event Rosemary Deem (2003 University of Bristol ) presented Building a Research Career in which she offered advice and guidance on how to build a successful research career. The RCBN Building Research Capacity Journal Issue 9 (May 2005) focuses exclusively on ‘Contract Research Staff and TLRP' following a major conference on researchers' careers.

The predecessor of NCRM, the ESRC Research Methods Programme (2002-2007) aimed to improve methodological quality by funding research that directly enhanced methodological knowledge and developed tools to enhance research quality. It also disseminated methodological developments and good practice through training courses, on-line resources, seminars and awareness-raising events. Given the considerable resources put into these initiatives, the RDI and the Quantitative Methods Initiative (QMI), ESRC has set up ReStore . This project aims to build a prototype of a service for sustaining online resources; establish a service to sustain online resources in the field of research methods; and lead the development of a long-term strategy for ESRC in sustaining on-line resources.


How to reference this page: Brown, A. (2007) Resources aimed at helping researchers build their careers. London: TLRP. Online at (accessed )

Creative Commons License TLRP Resources for Research in Education by Teaching and Learning Research Programme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License




homepage ESRC