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How to run a buddy scheme

What to consider and recommendations

A buddy scheme groups postdocs together (3-4 postdocs per group) to meet a fixed number of times over a fixed time scale.

You may wish to run a buddy scheme as a low-effort way of encouraging networking, peer support and accountability in your postdoc community or cohort.

We’d like to thank Jennifer Thomson at the University of Birmingham for inspiration from the PERCAT Pot luck Café and discussion.

How we ran buddy schemes

We trialled different ways of running a buddy scheme with both of our cohorts.

What we kept consistent in all the ways we trialled;

  • groups of 3 to 4 postdocs
  • groups were randomly assigned
  • groups meeting durations of 20 to 30 minutes

We tried opt-in, and compulsory expecting the buddy groups to meet once in an approximately 3-week period, before re-opening and mixing the buddy groups.

We tried opt-out, expecting the buddy groups to meet three times in an approximately 3-month period, before re-opening and mixing the buddy groups.

Below we give our considered pros and cons of each method we tried.

Ways to run a buddy scheme

Recruitment method:

  • Opt-in: postdocs need to opt-in
  • Opt-out: assume all postdocs take part unless they opt-out
  • Compulsory: assume all postdocs take part, and assign them to buddy groups

Group size:

We suggest a group size of about three to four postdocs, as this is small enough to get nice interaction but large enough to counter any drop-outs/lack of engagement so two or three will be able to meet.

Method of grouping:

  • Randomized
  • Disciplinary area

You may also ask postdocs about their preferences for being grouped by the same/different or specified disciplinary areas.

Duration of meetings:

20 to 30 minutes duration. This duration was suggested as a compromise between being disconcertingly long and not so short that the postdocs can’t have an effective conversation.

Frequency of meetings:

Every 3 weeks? Monthly?
Do you want the same buddy group to meet multiple times over a period of time?

Frequency of running the buddy scheme:

More frequently?

What to do next:

  • Advertise the buddy scheme to your postdocs
  • Assign postdocs to buddy groups
  • Collect feedback to evaluate how it ran
  • Repeat as desired

General comments and findings

Postdocs that make time and embrace the experience can get a lot out of the buddy scheme.

Irrespective of the type of buddy scheme (opt-in, opt-out or compulsory) some postdocs will not engage with the other members of their buddy group. This can negatively impact on that whole group.

The timing is never right (be it ~ 3 week or ~ 3 months). Postdocs are busy and some individuals and groups will struggle to fit in a buddy group meeting into their schedules.

Postdocs requested optional prompt questions to be provided in case they struggled to get the conversation going.

Some will not see the benefit of a buddy group. A small number of postdocs will regard the buddy scheme as unnecessary or not really being a practical help for their career development. This can, to some degree, be countered by how you frame the buddy scheme, providing testimonials and peer recommendations.

We found that the postdocs were mostly hesitant to independently arrange to meet as a buddy group beyond the end of the buddy scheme round, despite finding it valuable and getting along. Our experience is you can’t give too much encouragement for them to take the initiative and do this if they’d like to do so (they appear to need permission).

Associated documents

Opt-in emails

Buddy group optional prompt questions

Feedback forms

If you have a large number of postdocs to assign into buddy groups or a fixed number of postdocs that you’d like to mix multiple times so they get grouped into new configurations without repeats (as far as possible), you may wish to use our buddy scheme group maker code.

We’d like to thank Dr C Collins (University of Liverpool) for writing the code.



  • Run a buddy scheme and see how your postdocs find it
  • Get postdocs involved in your buddy scheme
  • Get postdocs who’ve found the buddy scheme useful to recommend it to their peers
  • Evaluate your buddy scheme
  • Encourage postdocs to take ownership of the buddy scheme and continue or expand the scheme


  • be afraid to modify and adapt how you run a buddy scheme at your institution

Case studies

The University of Liverpool Research Staff Association ran a buddy scheme based on Prosper’s established scheme, but open to all postdocs and ECRs across the institution. They selected an opt-in buddy scheme, which opens for expressions of interest twice a year. They aim for a group size of 3 to 4 people with an expectation that they meet once over a three-week period. Participants are then sent a feedback form and a brief evaluation report is written.

Associated documents and links:

University of Liverpool Research Staff Association (RSA) buddy scheme where you can also download evaluation reports of previous rounds.

University of Liverpool Research Staff Association buddy scheme webpage text (example from 2022) download

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