Practical and logistical considerations for running a cohort 

You’ve decided that you want to run a Prosper cohort at your institution, so here we focus on the detailed ‘how’ of running a cohort. We provide some prompts and recommendations to aid you in planning the practicalities of how you’ll manage the delivery of your cohort. No way of running a cohort is judged to be better than another. 

You don’t have to run a cohort to deliver Prosper and you can to choose your mode of participation/delivery 

You may find it helpful to check out information on recruiting a cohort and onboarding a cohort before reading on. 

Practicalities of running a cohort 

Resources

What time, money and staff are you dedicating to running your cohort? The resource you have available will have an impact on all the aspects of running your cohort as it’ll determine the number of sessions you offer, as an example.

Scheduling cohort sessions and interactivity

You need to decide how many sessions you’ll offer your cohort. To decide this, you’ll need to be clear on your dependencies (people time or money) and identify any overlaps with your existing career development offering. 

Once you’ve fixed on the number of sessions, consider which Prosper sessions you’ll offer. Are there specific topics or themes you’d like to focus on? What mix of development and community building sessions will you offer? You may wish to see how we ran a cohort .

How will Prosper fit into your existing offer? Will you fix all your sessions in advance or have some flexibility? Having flexibility gives you the option to rapidly respond to cohort feedback or requests. However, the drawback with being flexible and scheduling sessions at short notice is that it may negatively impact on the audience's ability to attend.  Will you hold sessions at fixed time or day of the week or not? 

How will you avoid timetable clashes around other events at both your institution and nationally (such as the biannual National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) conference)? If you’re offering career coaching to the cohort, how will you ensure you don’t have session clashes?

How will you share this calendar of sessions with your cohort? Will you open up sessions beyond the cohort to your broader community of researchers? If so, how will you share this calendar of sessions? 

Cohort space (virtual and/or physical)

Will your cohort be in person/virtual/hybrid? Or a mix? Consider what practical (and financial) impact your choice will have. Will you offer anything to cohort participants unable to attend sessions live? 

Will you need to share documents/resources/files with your cohort? Consider what virtual platform may best suit your needs. Does your institution already have a platform, such as MS SharePoint, that you can use? Using such a platform may have additional beneficial functionalities like a shared channel calendar and instant messaging

Communicating with your cohort and beyond 

Communicating and prompting cohort engagement and reengagement

Will you regularly keep in touch with your cohort to encourage their engagement? How do you plan to do so? You may wish to send regular monthly email reminders for them to engage with the career development offering, adjusting the frequency as necessary for your cohort.

How will you encourage postdocs to reengage with the cohort and their career development if their engagement has flagged?

Communication between cohort postdocs

Building a sense of community within your cohort will aid the postdocs career development (Steen et al., 2021) and encouraging peer to peer communication can boost this. How will you encourage peer to peer interaction between cohort postdocs?

How will you facilitate cohort members to support, communicate, pool intelligence, encourage and provide accountability to each other? This could be simply by providing a space, such as MS Teams, and occasionally prompting them. See more information on starting and maintaining a cohort.

How will cohort members communicate with you?

Who is the point of contact for the cohort? What methods do you want them to communicate with you? How quickly do you want to respond to queries? Set their (and your) expectations early. 

Communicating to your entire postdoc population

Will you open sessions to non-cohort postdocs and the wider community of researchers at your institution? If so, how will you let them know about this? Will you promote forthcoming cohorts to your wider postdoc community, how? 

How will you encourage cohort postdocs to advocate for engaging with Prosper career development at your institution? See information on recruiting Prosper Ambassadors.

Communicating to your stakeholders

How will you keep your stakeholders informed of what’s happening with your postdoc cohort? Stakeholders may include principal investigators, managers of researchers, employer partners, senior management, alumni and so on. 

Evaluation and engagement monitoring 

Did you specify any expectations on attendance in the cohort participant agreement? For example, did you expect cohort members to commit to attending all, some, or a stated proportion of these sessions? How will you monitor their attendance? Will attendance below a certain level result in any action on your part? For instance, if a cohort postdoc hasn’t attended for a while would that prompt you to reach out to them to understand the reason or encourage re-engagement? 

How will you collect evaluation data? Will you use an online tool such as Jisc online surveys? 

How will you incorporate your evaluation feedback into improving your cohort delivery? On what timescale will you review and analyse the data to do this? 

How do you plan to analyse your data and then communicate your findings? Check out our page on Evaluation for some ideas. 

How and where will you securely store and process the data following your stated UK GDPR terms of use and local best practise? 

How will you determine how long you need to store this evaluation data for before it must be anonymised or deleted? 

Do you want to collect evaluation data from cohort members beyond the end of the cohort? How will you communicate with them to do so? How will you encourage or incentivise their engagement? If you’ve funds available, you may wish to offer a voucher for those who complete the survey. 

Do you want to collect any testimonials from cohort members to use to promote forthcoming cohorts? 

How we did it

Example cohort programs

The resources can be put together in whatever way best suits you and your audience. Here we present some example programs to get you started.

Building your self-awareness – a focus on self-reflection
1. Identity matters
2. Finding the time: Exploring what’s getting in the way of your career development
3. Introduction to self-assessment
4. How to develop self-confidence and reach your potential
5. Building your skills inventory
Building your awareness of employment sectors
1. Skills for the future
2. Thinking like an entrepreneur
3. Commercial awareness
4. Exploring the career clusters – career exploration strategies
5. Informational interviews
Skills: Mapping, developing and marketing
1. Building your skills inventory
2. Skills for the future
3. Career exploration strategies
4. Secrets of story telling
5. Presentation skills
6. How to stop self-sabotage and trust in yourself
7. How to write the perfect CV
8. Getting noticed by recruiters
Developing in my postdoc role
1. Introduction to self-assessment
2. Identity matters
3. Skill spotting/identification
4. Networking (lots of options!)
5. Thinking like an entrepreneur
6. Skills for the future
7. Negotiation and influencing skills
8. Leadership
9. Intercultural competence
Growing and developing your research
1. Creativity/how to have your next great idea
2. Skills for the future
3. Knowing when to cut your losses
4. Secrets of story telling
5. Communicating your research to non-specialists
6. University spin-outs
7. Commercial communication
Your own program!
Choose whatever resources and topics your audience want.

You can also find a list of session guides here which you may find useful.

Recommendations

Balance the frequency and length of your communications to the cohort postdocs. If your messages are too long or information-dense they may not read or take it all in. Too infrequent and your cohort can lose a sense of momentum. Too often and the messages can become an annoyance.

Create a dedicated virtual space for the cohort only if there is clear need for one. Where possible use an existing platform the postdocs at your institution are already familiar with. 

Consider delivering a mix of in-person and virtual sessions. Think about which sessions lend themselves best to the delivery format. We in-person works best for sessions which rely on a high degree of discussion, networking and community building. 

Encourage peer to peer interaction and communication between cohort members as an important aspect to aid their career development. 

Consider the barriers you may introduce to engagement in the way you deliver the cohort. Is there anything you could do to mitigate these? For example, is the physical space suitable for all? If participants can’t attend live is there an on-demand version?  

Get your plan for evaluation in place before you start so you know; 

  1. How you’re collecting the evaluation data  
  2. When you’ll evaluate the cohort, including beyond the end of the cohort (if desired) 
  3. Where it’s being stored (securely if identifiable)  
  4. When you’re going to review and analyse it 
  5. How you’ll implement your findings 
  6. How you’ll share and communicate your findings 
  7. When you’ll delete or anonymise the data 

Decide if you need to monitor each cohort members participation or not. If you do wish to record this, set up your process to capture this before the cohort starts. 

References

Steen, K., Vornhagen, J., Weinberg, Z. Y., Boulanger-Bertolus, J., Rao, A., Gardner, M. E. and Subramanian, S. 2021. A structured professional development curriculum for postdoctoral fellows leads to recognized knowledge growth. Plos One, 16.

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