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Career conversations

It is a reasonable expectation that researchers will have career conversations with their managers. This is highlighted in Vitae’s Researcher Development Concordat, which states that managers of researchers must ‘actively engage in constructive performance management with their researchers’ and further that they must ‘engage in regular career development discussion with their researchers’ and ‘support researcher in exploring and preparing for a diversity of careers’. (Vitae, 2019, p. 7)

It’s really critical to discuss career aspirations to help shape that postdoc into a career or profession that they are really interested in going into.”

Prof Bavik Patel, Prof of Clinical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, University of Brighton

What is a career conversation?

Having distinct and frequent career conversations can be beneficial to both your postdoc and yourself, particularly given the short-term nature of the majority of postdoctoral contracts. These conversations offer a chance to consider aspirations and possible pathways, and to plan development in a directed way.

They should be:

  • Separate to the PDR process: a career conversation should provide a dedicated space for a researcher to consider their career options.
  • Future facing; this is an opportunity to talk with your researcher about what comes next and where that might be.
  • Exploratory: the researcher may provide an agenda for the meeting, but there is room to expand into other areas.
  • May have not specific outcomes attached to it: the researcher may not take away specific outcomes from the meeting.

Points to remember

  1. Requesting a career conversation may have been a big step for your postdoc.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude during the career conversation
  3. prompt your postdoc with open questions may help the career conversation to flow.
  4. It’s possible that your postdoc isn’t fully aware of all of their strengths and skills.
  5. Consider exactly how you pose your questions, elicit further information and check your understanding of what your postdoc is trying to communicate.
  6. Signposting: There may be other people better placed to discuss career progression

What help can I provide to my researcher/postdoc?

One of the reasons that Prosper is working closely with PIs is to provide a clearer sense of where to direct postdocs. However, the following questions may help evaluate the immediate career development support you could offer your postdoc:

Who, what, how?

  • Who do I know that I could put my postdoc in touch with?
  • What opportunities exist within my group/department which could allow my postdoc to develop skills and experiences relevant to their career interests?
  • What training and development opportunities do I know of which sound relevant to their career interests?
  • How can I ensure that my postdoc knows I’m taking on board their interests, regardless of whether they are inside or beyond academia?
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