Researchers – How To Get The Most Out Of Them

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The short-term nature of funding and the transient nature of research staff employment means that it is important to make the most out of the 2 or 3 years that a researcher is with you for.  You want to make sure that the aims of the project are fulfilled, including publications and data for further grant income. The researcher will want to develop their career by achieving results, publishing papers and developing new skills.  How can you ensure that you both get what you need out of the project? Here are a few ideas: 

1)    Recruit the right person for the job

This may sound obvious but it surprising how often this doesn’t happen. Think carefully about exactly what you are looking for in a candidate before you advertise the job. Is it important that they have knowledge of a certain technique? Do you want them to have experience at writing for publication? Make sure you think about “essential” and “desirable” criteria, as putting too much in the former category can limit the pool of potential applicants but too little and you may end up with a mountain of applications. Think carefully about what it is important to find out about at interview and ask in-depth questions so that you don’t fall for a “sales pitch” from a candidate. Ask them to give examples – behavioural questions can be good for this, for example “give an example of a time when you had to solve a problem and talk about how you approached that…”. Most importantly, if you don’t find someone right for the job, don’t recruit. Getting the wrong person for the job will only end in disappointment for all concerned and a lot of wasted time.

2)    Set expectations from the start

Once you have someone in post, sit down and discuss expectations – and this means yours and theirs. You should have started this conversation during the recruitment process but this is the point at which you can be much more specific.  Ask them what they want to get out of their time with you. How can you match their needs with yours?  Make clear what “doing a good job” looks like and how you will measure whether they are doing this.  Do you want them to update you at a monthly one-to-one, present data in a team meeting or will you expect periodic written reports? Ask them about their approach to work and what they need from you to support them?

3)    Meet regularly

Meeting regularly with your member of staff allows you to keep abreast of what they are doing and any problems they are having. Problems caught early are much easier to solve but some people are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being seen to fail. For this reason, it is also important to make it clear that you want to know when there is a problem so that you can help rather than criticise. Having said all this, be careful not to “micro-manage” as this can stifle creativity and independence. It is important to support your staff to learn and to solve their own problems and therefore once the person knows what they are doing, taking on more of a coaching can be more appropriate. Try to have an agenda for your meetings, set by you and them, and let the researcher know well in advance if there is anything you are expecting them to bring to the meeting.

4)    Support their development needs

Whatever career a researcher aspires to in the future, they will undoubtedly be at an important stage in their career development which means it is very important that they are supported to develop transferable skills and to explore their options. The more open you areto discussing their career aspirations and supportive towards them undertaking development activity, the more motivated and committed they will feel. This ensures that these activities are more likely to support rather than interfere with achieving what you want from the project.

These are just some suggestions but the key message is around communication - making sure everyone is clear about what they want from each other and what is expected of them.

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