Training for Research Excellence

The Centre for Academic Practice has been tasked with making sure that all academic staff are qualified teachers. They’re making plans.


Off they went, thinking about how to ensure that all teaching staff at the University were in possession of some kind of accreditation of their teaching skills.  Clearly, Hazel intended this discussion to be productive brain-storming. Chris wondered if it would be more accurate to describe it as defeatist whinging.

“We could try workshops, but nobody will come.”

“Can we get HoDs to make it compulsory?”

“We could do all of the support online.” Chris snorted involuntarily and tried to disguise it into a coughing fit. He turned to the wall slightly and rolled his eyes in a direction nobody could see. Hell was likely to freeze over before anybody at Burston Central completed an online course.

The brainstorming session was well into its third cycle of repetition before Hazel decided to call a halt.

“Well, thanks, everyone! Some great ideas there.”

Chris closed his eyes, the better to roll them in peace. He really didn’t think the cheery tone was warranted.

Hazel continued. “Ruth, I saw you taking lots of notes. Could you write us a little summary before our next meeting, please?”

Ruth looked pleased. “Sure. Although I may have written down what I wanted to hear more than what was said, haha. I was just taking notes for myself, really.”

“I’m sure they’ll be terrific.” Hazel looked down at her iPad again. “Now, we really must move on.  What’s next? Oh, yes, research.”

There was a collective groan, followed by the Pavlovian response triggered whenever the team heard the word ‘research’.

“It would be fine if we had time.”

“I’d love to do more, but we haven’t got the right journals.”

“Well if the conference budget would only stretch…”

“What would you like us to stop doing instead?”

“With the quality of most research in Academic Practice, I’m not sure it’s worth bothering.”

Hazel sighed and waited for the familiar responses to be fully rehearsed. She cleared her throat. “Well, I’ve had a meeting with the Research Director, and he agrees with me that we don’t really have anything to contribute to any of the obvious units of study for the REF. Or any units of study, in fact. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.”

She looked round the room. This was a new topic. She wondered if there would be any novel responses. “The Research Director has suggested that we work with, er, with HR…”

She was rudely interrupted.

“Work with HR? Ha bloody ha.” Rich had, after all, found a familiar refrain. “That’ll be the day. They have glacial timescales for getting anything done.” There were murmurs of agreement.

Hazel ignored him. “Work with HR,” she continued more strongly, “to improve the package of support for research staff. The Research Centre wants to aim for the, the,” she looked at her iPad again, “the HR Excellence in Research Award from the European Commission. To get that, we need to, er, have robust implementation plans to show how we attract, manage and develop research staff.”

She looked up. “So, our part of that would be the ‘developing’. We need to put together a special academic practice programme for research staff. HR will probably carry on with all the usual stuff about induction to the university, plus some generic career development material, but we need to think about things like, er, ‘what it means to be a researcher in 21st century Burston Central’, or maybe ‘standing in for your supervisor when je can’t make a lecture’ and that kind of thing. Any other ideas?”

Nobody commented. Chris closed his eyes again. Christ on a crutch. It was hard enough being a PhD student or a post-doc without having pointless staff development inflicted on you. He suspected that wasn’t the kind of comment Hazel was looking for.

“Well, great. Rich, you’ve got research experience. I’d like you to take the lead on this one, please. Can you canvass some views, set up a meeting with the head of Training in HR, and the Research managers for the Schools, and get some ideas together by, say, the last staff meeting of this month?”

Rich preened slightly. “Well, it’s nice to see my previous work being recognised. I’ll do my best to squeeze this in. Does anyone else want to contribute?”

Nobody commented. Chris, the only person in the room with a PhD, sat silently. No chance. Whoever took this on would be lucky to get away with mild abuse of the ‘Those who can, do research. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, become Academic Practice tutors’ variety. Rarely would so little be inflicted on so many. He was pretty confident nobody would remember his research credentials.

Rich smirked. “Oh, OK then. Well, I’ll see if I can get some active researchers to give us some ideas.”

Hazel winced. She wondered if Rich was the most tactful choice. But in all honesty, it wasn’t top of her list of priorities, and he was probably safer on this than on the HEA accreditation. She’d had complaints about his teaching observations before.

Rich read her mind. “Not sure how much time I’ll have for the HEA stuff, though. Sorry, chaps.”

Hazel nodded. “Well, you can’t do everything, can you?” She smiled weakly, and checked her iPad again. She brightened. “Right, everyone, I think that’s all I wanted to tell you about. Anything else anybody wants to chip in?”

It was nearly lunchtime. Nobody said anything. People started to close their notebooks and pick up phones and keys. Chris caught Carol’s eye. She looked as though she did have something to say, but had lost the will to bother. They grinned sheepishly at each other. Rumbled.

“OK, well, thanks, everyone. Same time next week.” Hazel was already almost out of the door.

Chris waited for Carol at the door. “What were you going to say?”

“Oh, nothing really. Just that I got a paper accepted for the HEA conference in July.”

“That’s great, Carol. What’s it on?”

“You know that student partnership thing I was working on? I did some evaluation and wrote it up. Thought it might be worth a try.”

“Brilliant. You should have announced it. I bet nobody else is doing any proper research.”

“Oh, proper research. I don’t know about that. It was just a bit of evaluation.”

Chris smiled at her. “Don’t be so modest. It’s more than most people can manage. Shouldn’t you be contributing  to Rich’s project? It would give a bit of credibility, recent research experience and everything.”

Carol winced. “I seem to be a bit too busy…”

They both giggled. “Fancy a coffee?” said Chris. “We can have a therapy session. No, I mean we can talk about professionalising the academic workforce. Make plans.”

“Good idea. I’ll just get my coat.”

They headed off to the campus coffee shop.


Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebookto be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send me accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, which has a bit more of a narrative, see the‘About’ page.

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One thought on “Training for Research Excellence

  1. Lovely. The award-winning HR department will be so proud. Here’s this week’s offering from the NTU website:
    “Welcome to Global Week – a celebration of the rich cultural diversity on campus – running from Monday 11 to Friday 15 February. Opening with the dawn of the Chinese New Year, we’re putting on a festival of food, music, dance, cinema and drama from around the world. Expect everything from Bollywood dance workshops and Korean movie nights to African story-telling, Tai Chi and much more”.
    Could Chris and Carol get it on with a little salsa dancing?

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