Melissa Westwood and Colette Fagan: Prosper, unlocking postdoc career potential
Our institution is one of three spearheading the Research England-funded Prosper project. In partnership with the University of Liverpool and Lancaster University, we are working to redefine how the UK HE sector approaches postdoc career development. We aim to open up the huge talent pool within the postdoctoral community to the benefit of postdocs, Principal Investigators, employers and the wider economy.
This summer, Prosper’s resource portal for postdocs and Principal Investigators will be launching here in Manchester. In September, up to 90 postdocs from across the three partner institutions can apply to join the project’s pilot career development programme.
The demand for permanent academic positions exceeds supply, yet the career development provision offered by institutions can reinforce that demand, by privileging the academic pathway above all else. As a result, there are many highly skilled professionals who have the potential to add value and thrive in a variety of career paths, but for whom academia is the only route they have considered or feel equipped to fulfil. However, we know that adaptable, intelligent and highly skilled people like postdocs are vital for employers and the economy as a whole, especially as we enter the post-pandemic world.
Reports such as Wellcome’s ‘What researchers think about the culture they work in’ demonstrate the need for a new way of thinking about postdoc career trajectories and how we give parity of esteem to whichever career path is chosen. So Prosper aims to offer an innovative approach to career development.
Employers have long understood the benefits of bringing on board graduates, but what about postdocs? Employers have been slow to access the talent pool of the highly skilled and motivated postdoc population, which is often invisible beyond academia. Prosper is working with employers, putting postdocs in the spotlight as some of the best and most able future employees there are.
The early fruits of this work have shaped Prosper’s first postdoc career development pilot, and University of Manchester postdocs will have the chance to apply to join the pilot career development programme in September.
Creating space and access
The Prosper team’s research has shown that many postdocs want to engage with development activities but have felt unable to engage with everything that is on offer, whether because of caring responsibilities, lack of managerial support or other barriers. Perhaps one of the greatest barriers for postdocs considering their career development is time. Finding time to think ‘what else?’ is often a luxury that busy researchers can’t afford and is frequently trumped by the more immediate question of ‘what next?’ that’s demanded by a career path characterised by short and fixed term contracts.
Prosper aims to avoid traditional barriers and open up new ways of delivering for postdocs. While the arrival of Covid-19 brought real challenges for us all, we learnt new ways of working and engaging with one another. These lessons are informing how we ensure multiple access routes to our approach.
The Prosper portal and career development pilots will curate resources and interventions that postdocs can be confident will offer them development that will make a difference to their careers. By applying our employer insights, we can ensure postdocs are well-prepared to succeed in any career they choose.
Recognising the role of Principal Investigators
Principal Investigators are key to empowering postdocs to use the time, afforded through the Researcher Development Concordat, to take the right action to develop their careers. The Prosper project will work with PIs to create the resources they need to bring out the very best in their postdocs and support their career development.
Accessing the resources
Prosper’s goals are ambitious. Ultimately, the project aims to create an approach that transforms the career development landscape for all postdocs, but success depends on culture change and co-creation of resources.
From July, you can access the Prosper portal via the link below and applications to join the Postdoc Career Development Pilot will be open from September. The Prosper team would love to hear your feedback. If you have thoughts, experiences or reflections relevant to Prosper you can leave a comment here or you can contact the Prosper Manchester lead, firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet us @ProsperPostdoc.