- Communication: Email
Emails were used for:
- Reminding the cohort of activities on a monthly and mid-monthly basis
- Evaluating the cohort experience by issuing personalised survey links
- Keeping career coaches in the loop
- Informing PIs/Managers of researchers of ongoing activities
- Communicating with the Prosper team
Details: Monthly and mid-monthly emails sent to cohort to remind them of upcoming sessions, prompt engagement with the on-demand versions of past sessions and to circulate that month’s reflective journal prompt. These emails also highlighted other major events, outside of Prosper of interest to postdocs, such as national postdoc appreciation week. Career coaches also received these postdoc cohort emails to keep them informed.
Once a quarter cohort postdoc were emailed with a personalised link to complete an evaluation survey. See the evaluation page for more details.
PIs/Managers of researchers of cohort members were sent quarterly emails giving them a flavour of the career development sessions that had gone on during that time period.
Cohort communication with us – postdocs emailed our group email account firstname.lastname@example.org about anything related to the cohort. They also messaged us occasionally on the instant messaging platform.
- Communication: Cohort-only instant messaging
Cohort-only instant messaging was used for:
- Weekly reminders
- Ad hoc messages about specific sessions
- Private career coaching group chats
- Peer to peer intelligence sharing around specific jobs
Details: We used either Microsoft Teams (pilot cohort 1, University of Liverpool only postdocs) or Slack (pilot cohort 2, postdocs from across our three partner institutions)) for instant messaging. A regular, brief reminder was sent on a Friday of sessions in the week ahead.
Ad hoc messages were sent to add extra prompts to register for particular sessions.
Individual, private, sub-channels were set up for each coaching group within the cohort so they could continue their group conversations.
A postdoc in our second pilot cohort requested a specific sub-channel to be created around ‘ethical and altruistic careers’ which a number of the postdocs joined and shared information about jobs and contacts they made in this area.
The cohort also used instant messaging to rapidly communicate to us (and each other) if they’d struggled to log in to a Zoom session or lost the session Zoom login details. This did mean on occasion we had postdocs who’d not registered for a session attend, but luckily this never pushed us over the attendee limit set by the supplier.
- Other communication routes
- University news channels
- External blogs or online articles
- Social media (Twitter)
Details: University wide news stories were disseminated via staff news channels as the pilot cohort/s began and ended. Good to raise internal institutional awareness of Prosper.
Twitter was used to advertise specific sessions, engage in discussions and promote others national postdoc career development focussed events, such as national postdoc appreciation week.
LinkedIn was used to keep in touch with our two pilot cohorts specifically around longitudinal evaluation. We strove to add cohort postdocs to our LinkedIn group and collect their on-going email addresses before the cohort ended.
As we had funding from Research England to develop Prosper we had resources for both people and commissioning sessions. We had between one to five research staff developers, as part of a larger project team (around 13 team members in total at its peak) based across the three partner institutions. See our page on how we ran our two pilot cohorts for details.
- Scheduling cohort sessions and interactivity
As we were co-creating Prosper with our two pilot postdoc cohorts we had to retain a good deal of flexibility to allow us to rapidly respond and adapt to their feedback. We aimed to timetable sessions three months in advance. We felt this struck a good balance between allowing the postdocs enough notice to juggle their commitments around sessions they wished to attend and enough agility for us to commission or plan sessions in response to their input.
Sessions were advertised on a dedicated events calendar on the prototype Prosper portal, included in the monthly and mid-monthly emails and via the weekly reminders sent on the instant messaging platform.
Session frequency – We aimed to not schedule more than one development session per week as a maximum. We aimed to not have more than three sessions in total per week. Our aim was to balance choice against overwhelming participants. We scheduled our sessions to fall within core working hours (10:00 to 16:00). All career development sessions had an on-demand version so postdocs unable to attend live were not disadvantaged.
The career coaches were responsible for timetabling their sessions with their groups/individuals. We asked the coaches to share the times/dates of their group sessions so we could avoid clashes as far as possible.
We moved sessions time, day and duration to not disadvantage any participant with regular fixed commitments. The minor drawback this had was to lose a sense of rhythm or a pattern in the minds of the participants, ‘oh it’s Thursday afternoon there must be a Prosper session’.
Table 1. Example distribution of session types across a postdoc career development cohort year. This is loosely based on the intensive two pilot cohorts Prosper ran in 2021-2023.
Table 1 shows an example of the type and number of sessions across a possible cohort year. The numbers indicate the number of that session type per month. See our page on how we ran our two pilot cohorts for more details on the different session types.
We ran 12-month long cohorts as we were co-creating Prosper with the postdocs but your cohort doesn’t need to run for this long. Below we’ve provided an example quarter, so you can see the relative proportion of each session type run over a three-month period.
- Evaluation and engagement monitoring
Tracking cohort participation
Session registration was only required if one of the following occurred;
- Participant numbers were fixed by the supplier
- Participant numbers were needed to determine if the session was to go ahead or not
- Participant numbers were needed to plan the activity, for example the CV speedreading session.
For the small number of sessions we held in person we had a printed register. For all online sessions we recorded the attendance (or asked our supplier to provide the attendance list) from Zoom. Each team member was responsible for inputting the registration/attendance to their session into a tracking spreadsheet. The tracking spreadsheet was also used to record if participants had completed the evaluation surveys.
This tracking spreadsheet was reviewed periodically (once every three months). This allowed us to see if any cohort members had not engaged or their engagement had decreased and we could email them to see if we could help them to reengage. It could also be readily cross-referenced with the career coaches attendance spreadsheets.
- Cohort space (virtual and/or physical)
Virtual space – We created a dedicated MS SharePoint site where each cohort postdoc had a dedicated private* folder to save their reflective journal entries to. It was also occasionally used to share useful documents or resources with the cohort. This was in addition to the Prosper portal and the instant messaging service used.
*It was clearly stated to the postdocs that their personal folders would be accessible by them named individual, the Prosper team and their named career coach, none else.
Physical space – For our first pilot cohort we needed no physical space as we held no face-to-face events. For the small number of in person sessions we held with our second pilot cohort we booked suitable rooms at the University of Manchester. We paid for the travel costs of any cohort members attending from the University of Liverpool or Lancaster University. As the sessions were interactive, we booked rooms that could be arranged cabaret style, had audio/visual equipment and wall space so paper-based activities could be displayed on the walls during the session. We also booked and paid for catering including hot beverages.
We’ve found room hire to be anything from free, a few hundred pounds, or up to several thousand pounds depending on size, within or external to a HEI and the facilities available (prices correct as of 2023).
Catering costs for lunch, plus hot beverages and pastries for 20 to 50 postdocs was in the region of £13 per head (price correct as of 2023).