Opinion: Data-informed decisions to deliver engaging researcher development

The Centre for Postdoctoral Development in Infrastructure, Cities and Energy (C-DICE) is driving a step-change in postdoctoral development. Kathryn North, C-DICE Director and Sharon Henson, C-DICE Project Manager discuss how the Centre has created a data-led researcher development strategy to provide unique and personalised training support.

The C-DICE programme brings together 18 higher education institutions, with the aim of enhancing the development of postdoctoral researchers. Providing access to funding and world-class facilities, and affording membership to an exclusive collaborative network, it is uniquely positioned to address the net-zero carbon challenge.

black framed eyeglasses and black pen

Photo by Trent Erwin

When it comes to professional development, we go far beyond running box-ticking exercises. We are proud to be an organisation that holds itself to account, and we recognise that we need highly skilled people to be able to make progress against our net-zero targets. There are thousands of post-doctoral researchers across the UK often working in isolation, and we recognise the importance of offering them better support, resources and opportunities to develop.

One of our strategic goals is to enable our post-docs to manage their own training and development, and for them to view it in an holistic way. As professionals, they often find themselves in precarious or temporary employment: in our view, encouraging them to take command of their own development will help them to navigate this stage of the careers and make the most of their potential.

Filling in the gaps

For the C-DICE team, we recognised that we needed to register and monitor attendees to our training courses more efficiently. We needed something that people could book onto, giving us more capability to manage their needs. But we also wanted to identify who we weren’t targeting with our training content so we knew where the gaps were, and we wanted to establish a database of researchers so we could understand the impact of our programmes and how we could improve them over time.

We therefore needed not only a mechanism for researchers to register for events, apply for placements and secondments, and book training, but also a platform in which ‘our’ researchers could stay registered and continue to interact with our programmes and other initiatives.

Partnering with Inkpath, we implemented a membership, monitoring and booking platform, which made the development experience much more engaging for our post-docs, and captured crucial data about their activities, giving us the insights we were looking for to help put their development at the forefront.

Today, more than 650 researchers are now registered with C-DICE via Inkpath, and we’ve awarded £637,000 in grants, fellowships, sandpit prizes and secondments, which support decarbonisation projects.

We have delivered £555,000 of developmental events and activities, including bespoke training programmes, three conferences, and four C-DICE sandpits which are all tailored to achieving decarbonisation and/or post-doctoral researcher development.

The capacity to do what we do best

We have now provided circa 410 days-worth of post-doc development activity with 210 distinct activities. We can provide unique and personalised training support, because researchers can track their activities, create a pathway for their own professional development, and plan for their next career steps. In short, working with Inkpath and the Inkpath team has given us the capacity to do what we do best, and that is to develop people.

Our primary piece of advice for organisations looking to adopt the same approach is to put equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) front and centre from the start. Whatever your plans, goals, needs and wants, you must design everything around EDI.

C-DICE has created multiple, new and unique opportunities for post-docs and the benefits are wide-ranging for industry, research and innovation, and decarbonisation. Our goal for the months ahead is to increase our evaluation activity, doing more to follow people’s evolving careers, so we can learn more and help inform good practice around post-doctoral support for our partner institutions and beyond.

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