Traditionally, research in the field of higher education has focused on teaching and learning by prioritising the needs and experiences of those who consume, rather than those who provide, higher education services. In recent years, the field has expanded to include the needs and experiences of educators themselves, particularly in their capacity as researchers. This newer field of researcher development (Evans, 2011) recognises the need to sustain research excellence by investing in the skills and competencies of researchers, and focuses specifically on the learning requirements of the individual researcher rather than seeking to simply maximise their outputs (Nagy, 2011).
In 2014 AUT launched a Researcher Development (RD) project to develop an integrated and comprehensive programme of researcher development by building on areas of existing strength. The project involved identifying and increasing the visibility of current development opportunities, and then assessing the composition and balance of the AUT RD programme as a whole. The project considered both academic staff and postgraduate students as ‘researchers,’ and assessed the skill development opportunities provided to each group separately. However it could be argued that the skills necessary to conduct research span across the staff/student divide. According to Åkerlind (2008), the process of developing as a researcher involves building confidence, recognition, productivity, and sophistication; these needs correlate roughly to postgraduate, early, mid, and late career stages respectively, although all four needs are expressed by researchers at all career stages.
This roundtable will consider the professional development needs of researchers throughout their research career. Questions for discussion will include: How do developmental needs differ for early, mid, and late career researchers? What is the value in segregating or integrating staff and postgraduate student researcher development programmes? How can universities enable supportive research networks and facilitate the sharing of expertise between staff and students at all levels?
The policy and management contexts impacting on university researchers have shifted radically in the past few decades (Mora, 2001). In New Zealand, the nature of academic work has changed and academic careers have become less stable and more complex (Sutherland et al., 2013; Waitere et al., 2011). The skills required for a research role have also shifted, with researchers now expected to be highly productive, measure impact, communicate to diverse groups, and optimise research portfolios. While most Universities offer professional development opportunities to help researchers navigate their increasingly complex research environment, accessing appropriate opportunities can be challenging. Support services are often spread across Universities, and development activities may be managed by Faculties, Schools, Libraries, Research Offices, human resources groups, and external agencies, among others.
The AUT project aimed to cut through this scattered provision by offering researchers visibility of all professional development opportunities available to them. One effective way to ‘package’ the opportunities of greatest relevance to an individual researcher is to correlate potential needs with career stage. This approach acknowledges the incremental development of researcher expertise. This roundtable will shed light on how best to help researchers navigate their development options at different stages in their career.