Episode 3

Published on:

5th Jun 2024

(S8E3) The Power of Group Based Career Development Programmes

In this solo episode, Ruth Winden, the Careers with Research Consultant at the University of Leeds, shares her insights of designing, facilitating and expanding the range of group-based career development programmes for the university's researcher community.

Over the last decade, Leeds has built a strong track record of creating impactful cohort-based career courses, from "Career Architect", "Career Accelerator", to "Career Catalyst", and now the "Fellowship Accelerator" and the "Career Navigator" programmes. The latest venture into providing peer-to-peer based development is for Research Adjacents, via our new "Research Adjacent Career Conversations" programme.

Here are some benefits of group-based career development programmes that don't get enough attention:

1. Enhanced Support and Connection:

- Group-based programmes foster a strong sense of community and belonging, reducing isolation and making career challenges more enjoyable and less daunting. One participant observed, already after the first session, "I feel less lonely now!" 

2. Momentum and Optimism:

- Group members inspire and energise each other, with shared progress boosting everyone's motivation. Witnessing a peer's breakthrough can rejuvenate your belief in the possibility of positive change. 

3. Broader Perspectives and Networks:

- Diverse groups bring a wealth of ideas, experiences, and networks. This collaborative environment enriches learning, encourages sharing, and strengthens career management skills beyond traditional one-to-one coaching. 

For more information on some of the programmes, head to our website:

Here is the link to the promised handout on HOW to design group-based programmes, based on Ruth's workshop at the Career Thought Leaders Symposium in Lisbon in April 2024.

If you want to share comments, thoughts, challenges about this episode, please connect with me. I'm always eager to talk to colleagues about the fascinating world of group-based development! LinkedIn ruthwinden and @ruthwinden on X/Twitter

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Introduction [:

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.

Ruth Winden [:

Hello. I'm Ruth Winden, the Careers with Research Consultant at the University of Leeds. In this solo episode, I want to go a little bit deeper into something that we have expanded in our provision at Leeds over the years. Our group based career development programmes for our researcher community. What I call group based programmes, you might refer to as cohort based programmes or maybe peer to peer learning programmes. Of course, we also offer webinars, workshops, and day long programmes at Leeds, and they absolutely have their place. Not everyone needs a long deep dive into a careers topic. Often, a short input will address our researchers' needs.

Ruth Winden [:

But there are areas where I see that working together in a group to tackle career related challenges over a longer period is ideal. Especially for the kind of challenges where colleagues can get stuck, when they want to explore a possible change of direction, develop their academic career, build visibility in their organisation and in their field, or manage their career well. And by well, I mean being well informed, strategic, and confident. Let me give you some examples of what I mean by group-based career development programmes. You can find more info on our website, www.researchersupport.leeds.ac.uk, and I'll also put the link into the show notes. Our very first group programme, Career Rrchitect, is now in its 11th year. It really has stood the test of time. It's for groups of 12 to 16 postdoctoral researchers from any research background. They're all at a crossroads, and they want to find a new career direction.

Ruth Winden [:

Participants are keen to explore options and opportunities so they can decide which direction to take and move into new roles and often sectors. It's not just our oldest, but also our longest program. 12 bi-weekly sessions, so it lasts for 6 to 7 months, and it is intensive for a reason. Career transitions do take time, and this programme gives our researchers a clear structure and a safe space in which to work through the challenges of career transitions. Then I created Career Accelerator for those postdoctoral researchers who know what kind of role they want, but who welcome support in realising their aspirations. And it won't come as a surprise that often it's a lectureship they are after. The programme is of similar size as Career Architect, but it's quick in comparison, only 4 months. But again, finding your next position and especially a role as sought after as a lectureship takes dedication and focus, and it's a lot more fun to do when you're surrounded by like-minded peers.

Ruth Winden [:

Our largest cohort and our most diverse programme is Career Catalyst, which Tony Bromley, Rachael Clark, and I created in 2022 to help colleagues master LinkedIn as a digital career management tool. To bring a wide range of members of our community together and create more collaboration across faculties, roles, and grades, we invite up to 50 technicians, postgraduate researchers, postdocs, fellows, and lecturers to join us in this modular program. Of course, with a group of this size, the feel, delivery and learning process is very different from smaller programmes. But Career Catalyst has proven to be an effective way of scaling our offering. And the content is also available as an independent learning path on LinkedIn Learning. Most recently, Ged Hall and I piloted a group programme for what Sarah McLusky calls 'research adjacents'. For colleagues in professional services who are not researchers themselves, but nevertheless, an essential part of our research activities at Leeds. The programme is aptly called "Research Adjacents Career Conversation"s, and we co-developed the content in direct partnership with our group members, session by session, to ensure that the content meets their needs.

Ruth Winden [:

Career Navigator is another pilot I've recently designed and this time for the Coach Academy in LICAMM in the Faculty of Health and Medicine, for Lynn McKeown. What is different in this programme is that it is for an Institute, where participants know each other either well or just vaguely, but they do know each other. In these circumstances, it is essential to discuss and agree professional boundaries early with the group about confidentiality, conflict of interest, and anything else they want to bring in so they can feel safe, they can develop trust, and they can have open and honest conversations. I applaud participants for how positively they responded and co-created such an engaged, supportive, and joyful community of learners. And there's more to come. Taryn Bell has just created our very first Fellowship Accelerator programme, another group-based, modular programme for those who want to get ready for a fellowship application. And then Helledd Jarosz-Griffiths is offering a new group programme to help postdoctoral researchers achieve the UKCGE recognised associate supervisor award. So, yes, we are certainly exploring, applying, and adapting the concept of group-based career development at Leeds.

Ruth Winden [:

I'm blessed to work in a team and in an organisation where we can learn and develop our expertise in this area and benefit so many in our community.So what makes group-based careers programmes so impactful? Firstly, there are many positive outcomes beyond the core benefit of enhancing one's career. A well facilitated group can provide strong support for its members. It can make the challenge ahead more enjoyable, and it can also help people feel less isolated and more connected. When I asked participants recently at the end of our first group session how they felt about joining the programme, one group member exclaimed, "I feel less lonely now!". This sense of belonging at a time of uncertainty is priceless, especially when colleagues are unsure of their career options and direction. Feeling safe in a group, going through the same challenges, can be a real game changer. Secondly, it's about momentum and optimism.

Ruth Winden [:

In well-bonded groups, group members support, inspire, and energise each other. Seeing each other's progress can make a real difference in their motivation and optimism. When that first colleague has a breakthrough, it shows to others that change is possible. In my experience over the last 20 years of facilitating these type of programmes, there's always someone who leads the way, and that is inspiring for the rest. Thirdly, the way group based programmes foster career management skills. When participants get the chance to go more in-depth in their career exploration in a supportive group environment where they can learn with and from each other, the learning sticks. They go through activities, conversations, and coaching scenarios alongside each other. And the questions, comments, and insights from their peers all add to their learning.

Ruth Winden [:

The group process also avoids the overreliance on the sole input from a careers expert, which is often us as researcher developers. In one to one career coaching or consulting, colleagues often regard researcher developers as the expert. And, yes, as a career professional, of course, you and I, we have that expertise to share. But for me, it's important to have colleagues recognise the career management skills they have already and then build on them. It's not just about me and my expertise. And I always say to them, if you were not already good at managing your career, you would not have made it here and not made it as far as you have. The group setting allows members to recognise their own career management knowledge when they work through challenges together and when they give each other constructive feedback, when they provide emotional support, and when they cheer each other on. When group members get to know each other, they often point out each other's achievements, their strengths, and their expertise.

Ruth Winden [:

As human beings, we're often not able to see our own achievements so easily. We're just too close to them. So receiving that validation from one's peers, in addition to the researcher developer, is priceless. Fourthly, it's the breadth of different perspectives, experiences, networks, and potential leads that make a group programme so powerful. If you work with a group of 10 or 12, you get a myriad of ideas, viewpoints, and, of course, probing questions. That's where a lot of the good work happens. And when a group has worked together for a while, when they've built that trust in each other, it's that willingness to collaborate and support each other that can make a real difference. It's much harder to create such a strong spirit of sharing in a one off workshop or webinar.

Ruth Winden [:

Fifthly, there is a benefit that surprised me. "The programme gave me the confidence I needed", is what many participants say to me. To be honest, I did not expect confidence to be the most significant outcome when I started out in this work. I thought their biggest gain would be their greater self awareness or their newly developed career strategies or their fabulous new CVs, cover letters, application forms, or LinkedIn profiles, or even their new job. But no. So often, their increased confidence was the biggest win for them. And with greater confidence, they say they can make the impact they wish to make. I still got the odd LinkedIn message from people who attended the early Career Architect programs, say 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 years ago.

Ruth Winden [:

And they still refer to "what the programme gave me at a critical time" in their lives. And so often, it was that strong confidence that made them go for the big goals that they had.And there is one more reason why group programmes matter in my view. Whether participants stay at the university or move on to new roles in other organisations or sectors, they build strong networks that they can nurture and maintain going forward. Regularly, we receive offers to help the next generation of participants because our cohorts feel invested in by the university for having had those opportunities. So often, they come out of the programmes feeling they want to give something back. That kind of connectedness and the goodwill coming out of a positive group experience can make a real difference to their lives, but also to our efforts to create and sustain a more collaborative, positive research culture. Now that I've shared so much about the plus side of group based career development programmes, I must, of course, also share the limitations. And there are definitely a few.

Ruth Winden [:

First, these programmes are not for everyone. Some colleagues prefer the exclusive attention from a mentor or a careers coach. They're less likely to engage in a group setting and enjoy the experience. Some colleagues have a much greater need for privacy and are less comfortable sharing something as personal as their career and often personal challenges with their peers. And then there are people who prefer to dip in and out of programmes, which is not good for themselves and definitely detrimental to the group. When colleagues sign up to group based programmes, we're very clear about what we expect in terms of their commitment and contribution levels. We want individuals to succeed, but me we must also ensure that the group gets the engagement and continuity from its members that it needs. Only when group members are invested in the process and show up ready to engage, can they build trust and foster relationships and succeed together.

Ruth Winden [:

Second, of course, group based programmes need resourcing. And they are rarely a way to save time and effort in comparison to individual support like 1 to 1 coaching. People often get excited and see group programmes as a way to save resources and time and personnel, but it is never that straightforward. Yes. There are in there are efficiencies as you don't have to explain the same processes repeatedly, the same strategies repeatedly, but there are also additional challenges and demands on your time. You need designated planning time. You need to think about managing group dynamics. And depending on the group size and complexity of the delivery, you need to double up facilitation roles.

Ruth Winden [:

And thirdly, and I want to be upfront about it, group based work requires enhanced learning design, coaching, and facilitation skills. The process requires solid understanding of career coaching and group facilitation, group dynamics, and group communications. The ability to help a group build trust, cohesion, and accountability and eventually achieve results is absolutely key. So sometimes you also need the ability to deal with disagreements and conflict. Success lies in the ability to carefully balance the group's and individual needs and learning preferences, whilst facilitating group relationships and individuals' progress. And I know that sounds a lot and it is a lot, but I tell you it gets much easier with practice. I want to emphasise that facilitating group based career development programmes is a learnable skill, and it's hugely satisfying. Otherwise, I would not have done this for 20 years, and I want to continue for as long as I can.

Ruth Winden [:

If I have not put you off yet, here are some ideas to get started. First of all, participate in a group based careers program yourself. Enjoy it and review your experience, what worked and why, what did not work and why not. What can you learn from your experience? But, obviously, use the inspiration, but never copy someone else's programme. Then as a second step, consider group coach training and/or facilitation training. There is so much out there that you can take part in. That's a really good second step. Then I'd read, I'd read up on group based learning and group coaching as a craft.

Ruth Winden [:

Again, there are, many resources out there. And as a 4th step, I would then shadow a colleague and take on manageable smaller parts of the programme so that you get real experience of being part of delivery. Then I'd partner up with a colleague and co-facilitate a program as a 5th step. And then finally, the 6th step, you're ready to design and facilitate a programme yourself.Learning as part of a well supported, trusted, and engaged community over a longer period is where I believe the real power of these programmes lies. If you're interested in learning how to create group based programmes and what to look out for, I have uploaded an extensive handout in the show notes for you. I presented my approach at the Career Thought Leaders conference in Lisbon in April this year. And within less than 2 months, 2 attendees launched their own group based programmes.

Ruth Winden [:

That's really impressive. And it also shows it's all doable. Let me know your thoughts. Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? And feel free to comment on the accompanying LinkedIn post. And finally, here's my motto, if you don't ask, you don't get. If you enjoy our podcast, then we'd love for you to leave us a review on your favourite platform.

Outro [:

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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.