Tuesday 17 October 2017

CIRCLE at the ACU Developing the Next Generation of Researchers workshop

By Verity Buckley - CIRCLE Programme Officer

In July 2017, I attended the ACUs Developing the Next Generation of Researchers workshop. Hosted by the University of Lagos, the workshop explored innovative approaches to academic mentoring and career development for emerging researchers. I was not only looking forward to the content of the event, but also the opportunity to meet with some of the CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs) who were helping to facilitate the programme. Eight CVFs were scheduled to deliver sessions on areas such as mentoring, research cooperation, professional development and the role of the researcher in a global research environment. The CVFs were well suited to deliver these sessions, having made substantial achievements and progress in their careers since completing their CIRCLE fellowship, despite facing a number of challenges.

The CIRCLE Fellows and NextGen Organising Committee

Researchers face a range of obstacles throughout their careers, particularly during the early stages. The importance of immediately taking responsibility for one’s own development was highlighted throughout the workshop – solely relying on an institution to provide opportunities can be risky and participants were encouraged to look for other ways of building their experience. Their contribution to the wider “research effort” was discussed, as well as the importance of considering the impact that research can have on local and global issues. It was stressed that researchers must view themselves as part of a wider international research movement.

The establishment of a Professional Development Plan (PDP) can be a critical step in continuous professional development. Commitment to an action plan helps the researcher to progress, and the creation of milestones and goals can help them to keep track of their progress. As well as advice on attitudes and personal development, the use of constructive tools and approaches to the PDP were explored, including the importance of writing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) objectives and finding ways of providing evidence to demonstrate progress.

Prof. Ogundipe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics & Research) addressing participants

Many academics ultimately strive to become effective researchers and global leaders in their field. During the workshop, participants proposed and discussed various tactics that would help the researcher towards professional leadership. These included research uptake, mobile research and utilisation of technology and communication for networking and dissemination, as well as the importance of learning from role models within the workplace and wider academic fields. Role models can come in many forms, but within the academic research environment these are most likely to appear in the form of mentors. Researchers may find that they take on the role as mentor, as well as mentee. During the workshop, the CVFs offered personal anecdotes on their experiences as mentors, as well as professional tips and advice. Utilising the experiences of mentors could be critical in planning career development within an institution. Senior members of staff and personal managers could potentially give advice and support to their mentees, providing important guidance in seeking promotion or research opportunities.

CIRCLE Fellow Catherine Nnamani delivers a session

Nevertheless, finding time for development opportunities amidst a heavy workload within a research department can be difficult, especially for those who take on more administrative and teaching responsibilities at growing or overstretched institutions. The CVFs had ample experience as both mentees and mentors, and facilitated excellent discussions. The various debates that arose during the workshops were very thought provoking, but specific issues were highlighted as being particularly acute in Nigeria such as the lack of international networks and opportunities for collaboration and the growth of younger institutions struggling to build the capacity of their overstretched members of staff. Each participant had their own unique experience to contribute, and their innovative ways of overcoming their obstacles were inspirational for all that attended.

After an intensive 3 days, the workshop drew to a close. Not only had the participants developed tools to further establish their academic careers, but they had managed to create networks and potential routes through to future collaboration. As the participants filed out of the lecture hall, the atmosphere was bubbling over with anticipation (and not only due to the tea and biscuits that were waiting outside).

It was a pleasure to attend the workshop, and a wonderful opportunity to meet the CVFs and workshop participants. Make sure you keep an eye on the blog as we will be featuring CVFs profiles in the following posts.

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