Episode 4

Published on:

7th Dec 2022

(S2E4) No workshops!? Individualised coaching to retain talented researchers in research.

In conversation with Dr Tanvir Ahmed: In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? In Season 2, we are in conversation with a number of presenters from the Researcher Education and Development Scholarship International Conference of 2022. In this episode we look at changing the culture of researcher development programmes:

  • Individualised approach to researcher development
  • Workshops and lack of learning 'sticking'
  • Heutagogy - self determined learning
  • No workshops!?

Be sure to check out all the episodes in this season!


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If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch: academicdev@leeds.ac.uk


Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be? You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


Hello, I'm Tony Bromley and welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered Podcast season two. Uh, in this season we are talking to presenters from the Researcher Education Development Scholarship Conference in 2022, and the conference itself, had a theme of 'How do we stop losing talent in research careers?

Um, today I have with me Tanvir Ahmed from Coventry University and Tanvir's um, presentation title was 'Finding Yourself to Change the World, Retaining talented Researchers by an individualized Coaching led approach'. So Tanvir, hello!


Hi, Tony. Thanks . How are you doing?


I'm okay. How are you today? You okay?


Yeah, I'm fine.


Good, good. Um, just, well, you know, we were talking earlier actually, you mentioned you were an avid, uh, reader, and I just wonder is there is a particular genre that you like?


Uh, science fiction, thrillers, um, it's stuff which are complex and take me away from my day to day work complexity of life.


Let's get to the main body of, of what we're gonna talk about.

So, um, again, just coming back to your presentation title, 'Finding Yourself to Change the World, Retaining Talented Researchers by an Individualized Coaching Led Approach'. So I just wondered, uh, what's led you toward an individualized coaching approach with researchers? So, what's the background? How did you arrive at, at doing this?


So before,

That's a good question. I mean, before answering that, I think I need to clarify that, uh, this is an approach which is developed by, by also two other people. One is my line manager, Dr. Heather Sears, and the one is Dr. Iveta Simera. And the presentation is, will also be contributed by the three of us in the, in the REDS although,

you know, I'm leading the research, uh, in evaluating this approach. But as I said, it's a, it's a kind of, uh, team effort to develop this approach. Anyway, you ask about what led us to this individualized approach to research and development? So actually in the past we noticed a lack of retention of learning from different workshops and trainings that we offered.

People tried to attend most of the topics which are offered, but in situations where they didn't, they did not manage to apply what they have learned or experienced. The learning or development was gradually forgotten and they couldn't, in our understanding, they couldn't get a, get a return of the time and effort they invested on the first place.

And we then realized that one reason, maybe the lack of evolutional element or an absence of a strategy to implement the learning of the learned experiences. And the second issue was the matter of ownership. Since, uh, they didn't have a strategy in place where the development or learning plays an important role, the limit of ownership might not be there.

And because the topics were offered based on common practices and popular demand, I mean, people asked us for certain topics and we offered those, but, uh, it wasn't part, for them it wasn't part of a, a strategy or, or their development plan. So considering these factors, we aimed to take a different approach and we developed what we call an individualized approach to researcher development, which is based on a learning philosophy called heutagogy

Which is about self-determined mind and self-directed learning, right? Yeah. And the primary aim of this philosophy is to develop learner autonomy, capa, and capability, which is actually aligned with our researcher development goal. We aim to develop researcher capability, which is not only skills, but we consider it as a combination of knowledge, research competencies

and the freedom and ability to determine appropriate courses of action. Based on these factors, we decided that we would encourage, uh, our research colleagues to first create their strategy in the form of an individual development plan and consider what knowledge, skills, and support they would need to reach their goals.



So I mean, it all, it sounds really interesting and, and you know, we, we've had conversations before, so this is, this is good for me to hear because I, you know, I, I agree in terms of the, in individualized approach and, and in my own way I'm sort of heading that kind of direction as well. Um, but I wondered about the practicalities.

So, you know, our person listening to us, um, may well think about how does it work, what do you do? So, How many people are you involved with? Do they have a, an opening? Do you have an opening day when you speak to everybody? How does it all work? How, how does the program, is it a program, would you call it?

How does it all work?


We, we call it, uh, an approach. We still, we are not calling it a program. It's part of our larger researcher development program, but this bit we are calling is still as an approach. So the, as I said, the key aspect of the approach is creating a strategy and having some goal in mind.

So it is delivered in two ways. Coaching first one is coaching. It's offered to researchers and they're supported in developing their strategy through structured conversation with the qualified coach. The second way or format is, uh, called Transition, which is a two weeks course for early career researchers, and it includes a introductory webinar and after two weeks, a whole day face-to-face workshop.

So in the webinar, we introduce people, uh, researchers, uh, with the self-learning materials and key concepts. And the materials and prework are uploaded in an online learning platform. The key focus is developing competencies of reflection, to gain self awareness of their own motivations, values, career goals, his strengths and own development areas.

So in the, and then in the face to face workshop, they get the opportunity to listen to experienced or established researchers usually who are principal investigators, having experience in getting and managing large grants, usually in professor poistion. So these talks from established researchers focuses on different developmental and career aspects.

So after that, we take the workshop participants, uh, through a process of facilitated reflection and they're encouraged to start working on their individual development plan. And we ask them to think about their motivations and how they want to see themselves in future. And, uh, we encourage them to set their goals.

And coaching is also offered at that point, we just, uh, let them know that, uh, it's something which is, uh, there if they want.


So this is, Sorry, I, I keep interrupting you . No worries. I just wondered how many, uh, how many people you work with in, so if you have that face to face session, how many people are there in that room?

Is it 10 people? 20. A hundred? How many people you work with? In, in as one group?


I mean, with the first cohort in their webinar we had 17, and in the room we had, I think nine. But with the last cohort, which, which we just ran in the first two weeks of September, we had 20 in the room, 20 allocated researchers.


So there's, there's, there's the, as you described there, the coaching, there's the opening, um, session there. Um, does the, the coach, is the coaching offered over a period of, of years or time or is it one coaching session or is it something you keep letting people come back to?


It's usually decided with the, with the coaching client and how many hours they need, but it's not, usually not that long, Not done year long.

It may be six or seven sessions with the one participant.


Yeah, I just wondered if there was, uh, touch points, I guess, um, as people, uh, progress and hopefully taking ownership. Um, so is a. I dunno, do you have a session, six months out or something where you get people back together? Or do you just ask how people are doing?

Is, is there continuous touch points? A bit?


We are working to create those follow ups and usually in our strategy that the, we are engaging people to check their, their progress or follow up their progress with their line managers. And also if they want, they can do it with us, and have a conversation with us, maybe a follow up, a one-to-one session or having a coaching conversation.


Yeah, no, that sounds good. Um, so I just wondered how, uh, how this is being received. Of course, you know, we all have, um, plans and we have ideas and we start putting them into practice and we hope that people love what we do and sometimes they do, sometimes not sure, perhaps, but how is it being received among your researchers, do you think?

Have you had, um, some good feedback?


I mean, there has been some good responses. Uh, generally they appreciated the opportunity to learn from experienced researchers and the space to start working on the only strategy and the plan. They like the opportunity to reflect on their career trajectory and the research practice, especially they could see,

they could understand their own values, their strengths, and what they need to, you know, develop to reach their goals. So they appreciated the, that opportunity and that reflective practice because we made it clear that it, it does, it doesn't, it doesn't only contribute to your career, but also to your research practice, so they liked it very much.


So I know, I mean, that's, that's good to hear. I wondered if you were targeting, particularly researchers? Is it open to anybody? Is it open to post-graduate researchers, postdoctoral researchers, staff? Do you target groups or...


So it's a post PhD, allocated researchers, and we are also looking to design and deliver similar initiatives for postgraduate researchers.

Ok. Especially those who are nearing the completion.


Oh, so looking at the, would this be looking to future employment or the, the next role that, that kind of thing you think?


Yeah. Future employment or next role, what they want to do. Whether, I mean, whether they want to be in academic role or in, in the industry or in, you know, public services.



Um, so I wondered if, if I wanted to put this into place, I mean, I wondered what the sort of learning that you've had from your fir the first experiences of it. Is there any, just as a way of summary, bring things together, um, are there particular points that you'd of advice or particular learning points you've had from doing this?


I think. I mean, we had to think carefully when we started this initiative because we had to break away from that regular practice of, uh, you know, people are used to being in workshops and then going away. Yeah. But we tried to break away from that practice and, uh, you know, we have been asked whether we'll be offering training or workshops on

on, let's say project management, proposal writing and grant management. So we had to make it clear to them that, uh, these are some, this is something which you can learn on your own or from workshops, but unless you develop some kind of a strategy in your mind or on paper, it would be very difficult for you to retain that learning or use that learning in practice.

So I think that was one, one aspect of the initiative that we had to make clear to the researchers.


I find it interesting because, um, I know obviously we, we've had conversations in the past and I think the taking ownership aspect is, is an interesting one to, um, to sort of get fostering in people.

So, and it sounds like you, you, you do, you are in, in the approach that you have similar ideas that, rather than us as, and I say us, and we're both working the development of researchers. So we're on the professional development side. It's rather than us saying, this is what you should be doing. Yeah. Uh, which is traditional in a sense, and it's saying, 'Well, I can support you, I can help you, but you have to decide what you should be doing'.

And that's quite a shift, isn't it? So, Yeah. I, I, And you know, that can be difficult for people to say, Right, well, I've gotta take responsibility. So, and I guess that's what you're alluding to there, is it that people can't find it that difficult, that transition?


Yeah, I think that was my, that was, I, I'm trying to say that it's a shift from the general or common practice and also it's, it's different from how we, we experienced the school, college, or university. Even in, in doctoral study. We had some kind, something to achieve at that time and uh, but largely we were guided through that process. But after the PhD, it's there, I mean, we have, we are in charge of developing ourselves. So it's a shift from the regular practice of offering and attending courses.

So, but we think it's important for researchers or academics to develop that kind of self-awareness because it can help them to understand and clarify what they want to achieve and, and because they're setting their own goals themselves and deciding what they would need to learn and develop to achieve those goals, I think there is a greater sense of ownership.

Which includes participation and engagement also in, you know, training workshops and all as well as retention of learning. Actually, there has been some interesting research done in the past about, uh, academics, motivation to engage in research and it, I mean, it showed that when there's an alignment between researchers' own values and institutional strategy and values, they're more motivated.

Yes. In their work and in their own development. So that is what we are also trying to do. We're asking them to be more aware of their goals and values. And also aware of the institutional goals and values so that they can create something which is, which is like, you know, aligning both.


Yeah. And that's back to I guess, where we started in terms of, um, taking ownership in the, in the support for the individual rather, rather than perhaps that more generic approaches that we may have had in, in the past. Um, well, I'm just, you know, keeping a check on the time then. I, I think we perhaps need to bring things to an end if we can. So thank you very much for talking to us. It's been really good to listen to you this morning and really appreciate you joining us on the podcast.

nters from REDS conference in:

Tanvir 00:17:07

Goodbye. Thanks Tony


Thank you very much.


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About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

Unless specified in the episode shownotes, Research Culture Uncovered © 2023 by Research Culturosity, University of Leeds is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. This license requires that reusers give credit to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. Some episodes may be licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0, please check before use.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

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I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Taryn Bell

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I work as a Researcher Development Adviser at the University of Leeds. My focus is on career development, with a particular focus on supporting funding and fellowships. I previously worked at the University of York as their Fellowship Coordinator, developing and growing the University's community of early career fellows. Get in touch if you'd like to learn more (T.L.Bell@leeds.ac.uk)!

Katie Jones

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I am a Researcher Development and Culture Project Officer at the University of Leeds, where I lead projects within the Researcher Development and Culture Team. My role involves managing projects that enhance the development of researchers and foster a positive research culture across the University and the higher education sector.

Tony Bromley

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I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on www.tonybromley.com !! Also why not take a look at https://conferences.leeds.ac.uk/reds/

Ged Hall

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I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

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After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

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I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.