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How to recruit a cohort

There are numerous factors to consider, when recruiting participants for a Prosper cohort. Read our list to find out how to get willing participants to engage in your Prosper cohort. We also include resources and our recommendations from our experience of recruiting. 

We have also prepared this comprehensive recruitment checklist if you just want to dive straight in and get started. 

1. Questions to answer in advance of recruitment: 

  • What is the aim of the programme? 
  • How will your programme meet this aim? 
  • Do you have stakeholder buy-in for this intervention?  
  • How can you leverage stakeholders? 
  • What evidence will you need to collect for stakeholders? 
  • What will your postdocs get by being part of a cohort?  
  • What will you offer? 
  • What commitment do you expect from the postdoc participants?
  • How do you want them to show this commitment? 
  • Who’s eligible to apply? 
  • How will you communicate the opportunity to the postdocs?  
  • How will you select successful applicants? 
  • How will you know that your cohort has been a success?  
  • What are your success criteria?  
  • How will you measure this? 

2. Benchmark the potential participants and set targets for recruitment 

Things it may be useful to measure: 

  • Proportion of remote workers 
  • Proportion of part-time workers 
  • Proportion of postdocs within each faculty 
  • EDI breakdown of your postdoc population

3. Define your cohort

What size will the cohort be? 
Are there any limiting factors you need to consider, such as wanting to offer career coaching, that may limit the capacity available.

How much time will participants need to spend to take part?
The concordat for researchers stipulates a minimum of 10 days of career development per year which is equivalent to a minimum of 70 to 80 hours per year. 

How often will a cohort run?
What, if anything, will you offer to postdocs who cannot participate in a cohort?

What criteria will participants need to meet to be eligible? 
You may wish to consider criteria such as minimum time left on contract, whether they wish to leave academia or not and so on.

We have written a couple of blog posts that you may find useful in defining:
What is a postdoc? - part 1,
What is a postdoc? - part 2 

4. Logistics and Resources

  • How will you run the cohort day to day?
  • Who will be responsible for the running of the cohort?
  • How much working time will this take up?
  • How will you schedule times/sessions? How will you communicate this scheduling to the cohort?
  • How will you deliver the content (hybrid/face-to-face/blended)?
  • How will you communicate with your cohort during the programme– instant messaging/social media/email?
  • Will there be any compulsory aspects?
  • How many hours do you expect/want to stipulate participants need to agree to?

For more information on logistics and resources see our page on practical considerations.

5. Set your recruitment criteria

Suggestions for how you might do this:

  • First come first served
  • A written application detailing their motivation, and commitment to participate
  • Previous session attendance or prior attendance as a pre-requisite.
    For example, if you run Prosper as three separate, sequential cohorts around Reflect>Explore>Act would attendance at ‘Reflect’ be mandatory to joining ‘Explore’ or not?
  • Will you explicitly require PI/line manager approval?
    We suggest that if desired, this approval is sought after the postdoc has been accepted onto the cohort, as for some postdocs this can be a barrier to applying to join the cohort.
  • Extra things to consider – Don't inadvertently put people off by judging the quality of their written English if you are requesting a written application. Will you stipulate how long you expect the postdocs to participate in the cohort for as part of the recruitment process? Do you have any other requirements you’d want a prospective cohort member to be aware of and agree to at this stage? Will you preferentially select postdocs with shorter/longer contracts?

For written applications:

  • What selection process will you use?
  • If you use an assessment panel – do you need more than one assessment panel member?
  • What deadlines will you set for reviewing, shortlisting and selection.
  • How will you communicate to unsuccessful/successful applicants? Will you offer feedback or any alternative career development to unsuccessful applicants?
  • What data do you need to collect? For example, do you want to collect EDI data from your postdoc applicants? How will you use and report it? Ensure that all data you collect complies with GDPR, best practice and all local guidance on data collection and reporting (so it’s non-identifiable). See the evaluation pages for more detail.

6. Advertise the opportunity

  • Explore the most effective communication routes for postdocs and line managers of postdocs within your institution. This could be direct email, staff newsletters, local department level messages, both to line-managers of researchers and postdocs themselves
  • Organise drop-in session/s (virtual or in-person) to promote the opportunity and answer any queries around your application process to join cohort
  • If you’ve run a cohort previously use local peer recommendations/Prosper advocates
  • Do you have senior management level buy-in? Leverage this for communication of the opportunity (top-down)

7. Postdoc cohort selection

  • Run your recruitment process, communicate the outcomes to the successful/unsuccessful candidates.
  • If explicit PI or line manager of the researcher approval is required either communicate with them or if you require each postdoc cohort member to do this provide them with a template of how to do so. You may wish to secure an endorsement from a senior or influential person at your institution. This could be in the form of a letter written by them for circulation to PIs/line managers of researchers.

8. Measure success criteria at the start of the cohort to establish a baseline to track progress

  • You may wish to gather data to assist you in evaluating the reach of your activity. Data you may wish to collect may include; number of years postdoc experience/post-PhD, discipline and EDI data.
  • All personal data collected must adhere to UK GDPR legislation. You must ensure that the participants are made aware of how their data will be processed, stored and used. Carefully consider what data is necessary and what can be anonymised.
  • Consider how you’ll disseminate your findings so that it’ll reach the widest audience or have the greatest impact at your institution. This could be via a blog, institutional news article, social media post and so on.
  • What do you want to measure so you can quantify a change in your cohort of postdocs? What will success look like for you and what will you need to be able to measure to show you’ve achieved this? Perhaps you want to measure a shift in the postdocs attitude or confidence or willingness to consider roles beyond academia?

9. Consider whether you need to create participant agreement or not

Be explicit about the expectations you have for postdoc cohort members. Is there a fixed number of hours or sessions you expect them to attend? Will anything happen to a participant if they don't adhere to these expectations? For example, if as a cohort member they get some privilege not available to the rest of the postdoc community at your institution, like coaching, will this be revoked?

For an example participant agreement see here.


  • Do widely advertise and promote the opportunity, both directly to postdocs and to their managers and departmental heads to cascade the opportunity
  • Do link up with staff groups, research staff associations, researcher concordat implementation groups and others to help disseminate and advertise
  • Do carefully consider when (or if) explicit PI/manager of researcher approval is sought in your cohort recruitment process
  • Do hold informal drop-in sessions to answer questions and encourage postdocs to apply/join your cohort
  • Do consider requesting a motivational statement from your applicants
  • Do think about the time of year your cohort starts and ends, does this clash with a period of intensive teaching at your institution for example? Consider the likely best month to start your cohort
  • Do use previous cohort members as advocates for subsequent cohorts
  • Do consider how you’ll share the news of your recruited cohort and your successes at your institution
  • Don’t inadvertently limit your pool of postdocs or place unnecessary barriers to postdocs applying to join your cohort

Further information and recruitment resources




Selection Panel


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