After 7 relatively fun years I was promoted to Associate Professor, with my HDR role a central tenet of my claim. But to be honest I’d grown a bit tired of the role and had taken on another larger administrative role in the meantime. It was time to hand over the role. And of course it became my job to start the process of finding someone. I identified a person that I thought would be good because I reflected on my previous role as an active researcher and the need to do some admin role and I thought the HDR role would be a good one for this person to do.
For this, we planned a six month handover period where I was helping him out. But it didn’t work out. One of the reasons was person-related; this person was just not as hands-on as me. I’d thought about the role as a win/win, it’s a win for the department and candidates because hopefully there are more completions and the candidates have a better experience. But it is also a win for the research education community and it is good in a career sense too. Ticking the boxes is not going to get you promoted but doing something good, or doing something different, will enhance your career. Unfortunately I assumed people would approach this thing the way that I do. But that was not the case. So some of the activities like research workshops and follow-ups began to fall off the agenda.
Another reason was I’d actually put, probably to my detriment, things under the radar rather than a formal requirement on the books because that was just the easiest way to do it, e.g., the coursework requirements were expectations rather than mandated. So unless you were keen on following them up, there was no mechanism for them. And subsequently the department was restructured and became much larger. So another person took over the role but again an active researcher who just wanted to do things to minimise work. So the things they saw as more ‘bells and whistles’ got lost, including all the mentoring, the retreats, all the focus stuff to build a cohort and to build a cohort of supervisors. It disappeared and became much more of a perfunctory ‘yeah fill in the forms, do this, allocate resources, deal with space, deal with problems’.
To be fair the institutional expectations of the role did change over time and it now has more of a managerial one, with more of a focus on a reporting line process. But I still regret not managing the handover better. Perhaps it was just part of the transition process from a small department to a larger one. When I’d taken the job on we were a smaller place and I was asked by the department to take on this role. I think that if there had been something like a position description they’d have said ‘this is what we want you to do’. A position description would encompass those broader things and not just include the operational processes, e.g., ‘do the annual reviews’, ‘do the budget’, ‘do all those managerial things around managing progress’ but also ‘how are you looking after that person/that issue?’ and ‘what is the research environment now?’.
I probably could have documented what I did much better and the process and why I did it so that I could communicate that better to the person taking over, because in retrospect the first person came from an active research environment but not the university sector and really struggled with university because we’re very bureaucratic. So it’s more about having a sense, a clearer definition of the non-managerial aspects of the role and its opportunities, and its potentials. I wouldn’t call it ‘nurturing’: if you started talking about nurturing to people in the Science Faculty they’re just like ‘what’s she on about?’. It’s about making sure people see the link between happier researchers and more fulfilled researchers, and achieving a better research output.
On reflection, I would say that it’s partly around identifying the person but providing them with the imagination of the position rather than the confines of the position but also having institutional structures from the department up to institutional level. I also think it’s the institutional structures and institutional workload; you have to have a sense of what is the workload. In the Faculty of Science 50% teacher reduction is in fact three hundred hours a year – that’s eight weeks’ work, which is not bad.
The timing of my departure coincided with departmental changes as well; three departments were merged into one. I’m not sure if anything would have survived that transition but I also think it would have been easier if there had been particular structures in place. One of the issues is this work is labelled as admin in universities, and my colleagues are always reluctant to take it on. By calling it ‘admin’ they forget that a lot of it is actually curriculum development work and should be categorised under ‘teaching’.