Looking to the future during National Postdoc Appreciation Week

Posted on: 21 September 2020 by Dr Annette Bramley, Director, N8 Research Partnership in Blog posts

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In the first of our guest blog series, Dr Annette Bramley, Director of the N8 Research Partnership, takes a look at how postdocs are vital to the North's Covid-19 recovery.

This week is National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW), an annual initiative set up to shine a light on the contributions of postdoctoral researchers. As the celebration reaches its 11th year, it’s important to consider both recent achievements and forthcoming challenges.

It is no secret that it is a particularly tumultuous time for researchers across the country. As we continue the fight against Covid-19, we have seen the demand for some types of research increase, whilst other projects may have been put on hold for a variety of reasons.

For some postdocs, especially those who are unable to work from home due to their living arrangements or due to the specialist equipment their research requires, this means the possibility of interruptions to their funded project and the requirement for grant extensions. Other pressures, such as bereavement, mental health conditions or home schooling have also impacted on their well-being. Recent research shows that over two thirds of postdocs believe that the global pandemic has negatively impacted their ability to conduct necessary research, and over half are finding themselves at a disadvantage by being unable to share ideas with peers and colleagues.

Despite the huge uncertainties caused by Covid-19, there will be opportunities for research and innovation that will drive a green economic recovery from Covid-19. The Northern Powerhouse will be a fantastic place for postdocs to progress their careers within the low carbon goods and services sector, part of the economy which is set for massive growth over the next few years in response to the challenge of reaching net zero by 2050.

Postdocs within N8 Universities are carrying out vital research into sustainability, biodiversity and decarbonisation and to reach net zero, we need to scale this up and out. A pan-Northern collaboration led by the N8 Research Partnership universities, Net Zero North (NzN), looks to do just this. A potential £300m investment by government to connect the Northern Powerhouse’s science assets, skills providers, and businesses to forge a green recovery from Covid-19 would put the UK at the forefront of the global drive for net zero carbon. The most significant and immediate economic opportunities to drive a green recovery and form regional innovation clusters are found at the intersection of the N8+ universities’ world-class science assets, businesses that can compete at national and international scales, and strategic investments by local and national actors from the public and private sectors. These are:

• positioning the UK to lead the world in adoption of hydrogen
• driving a revolution in the use of land in the North of England

Net Zero North’s aims focus on the restructuring of the Northern Powerhouse economy to support high quality jobs and on combining the region’s best in research, industrial capacity and investments into renewable energy to set us apart as a practical, prepared, global leader in the move towards net zero carbon emissions. Postdocs will be a crucial part of this initiative, beyond and within academia across the Northern Powerhouse region.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly had a huge professional, emotional and financial impact on many postdocs and their families. It is an ideal time to take stock and to thank our postdocs for everything that they have done to support Covid-related research and testing, for their resilience throughout the last 6 months and for their commitment to ensuring that their workspaces are able to operate in a Covid-secure way, both within our universities and in businesses across the region.

The #N8Postdocs hashtag on Twitter and our social media campaign this National Postdoc Appreciation week shine a light onto the breadth of skills, vibrancy of groups and the commitment to world class research undertaken by postdocs. We are acutely aware, however that issues that postdocs have faced over recent years such as short-term contracts and relatively low numbers of permanent positions within academia have not gone away and may indeed have been exacerbated by the pandemic. It is important, now more than ever, that we continue to recognise the role and needs of postdocs as we navigate through the unique landscape we have found ourselves in.

One example of the support being developed is Research England funded Prosper, led by the University of Liverpool. It does valuable work equipping postdocs with skills and experiences that will open up a wider range of potential careers. It also works with academics through its PI network, to help them better prepare their team members for success, beyond and within a university setting. It is an initiative we’re proud to part of and excited to see its progression as the resources being developed get rolled out more widely across our universities.

Right now though, we need your help to reach out and show postdocs and the world what a fantastic job our postdocs are doing. The N8 universities, a cluster of world-class research excellence, recognise how important postdocs are as part of their research bodies. We are hugely proud of them and would like to take this opportunity to let the whole world know, but especially to show our postdocs themselves how grateful we are.

So this week join us in sharing your thanks to your #N8Postdocs on Twitter, helping us show our appreciation to the thousands of postdocs who work in the N8 universities. Here’s how to get involved:

• Click to download our N8 Postdocs ‘Thank you’ poster, Twitter graphic and Twitter animation
• Fill out the poster with the name and a note to one of your Postdocs and take a photo
• Tweet your thanks using the poster, graphic or animation!
• Don’t forget to use the hashtag #N8Postdocs and tag your team!


More about the N8 Research Partnership

The N8 Research Partnership (N8) is a strategic collaboration between the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York, and aims to maximise the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation.

The N8 universities receive around 80% of competitively awarded research funding in the North of England, or around £1.2bn annually, and employ more than 18,000 academic staff, forming the largest research-pooling partnership in the UK.

N8 creates programmes involving a critical mass of world class academics which form networks of innovation excellence with partners in other sectors, to drive investment and economic growth.

N8’s main research programmes include N8 AgriFood, the N8 Policing Research Partnership, the Centre of Excellence for Computationally-Intensive Research (N8 CIR), and DecarboN8 (an EPSRC-funded network focusing on tackling surface transport emissions).

For further information contact: Tom Carlin at carlin@thisisinfluential.com

More about Prosper

Based in The Academy, Prosper is a new approach to career development that unlocks postdocs’ potential to thrive in multiple career pathways.

Our ultimate goal is to open up the huge talent pool that exists within the postdoctoral research community, to the benefit of postdocs themselves, Principal Investigators, employers and the wider UK economy. And this is of particular relevance now more than ever. Unlocking postdocs expertise and experience can be a vital part of how the UK moves into a post-Covid 19 world.

The Prosper portal

The prototype Prosper portal is now available to all University of Liverpool staff and can be accessed using your university username and password. The portal will be available at our partner institutions, the University of Manchester and Lancaster University, in summer 2021, with national roll-out in 2023.

The portal’s career development resources are designed specifically for postdocs and Principal Investigators. This initial set of resources are aimed at enabling postdocs to reflect on their existing skills and values and the career pathways that these open up, both within and beyond academia, and the action they can take to pursue these further. Similarly, PIs can find information to support them in their role in postdocs’ development and success.

We will be developing and expanding these resources based on feedback from postdocs, PIs and our employer partners as the Prosper model evolves.