Often, as an Early Career Researcher (ECR) at the lower rungs of the academic hierarchy, it can feel like your university’s research culture are set for you, not by you. At the University of Liverpool, a signatory to the Concordat, a more collaborative and inclusive approach is being taken.

The University of Liverpool offers ECRs the opportunity to get involved directly in setting the aims, actions, and what a successful roll out of the Concordat would look like. This is achieved by having at least two ECR representatives from each separate faculty sit on our Concordat Steering Group. This is not just lip-service. The informal, working-group style of the Concordat Steering Group puts Faculty Pro-Vice Chancellors and ECRs into small groups to discuss these initiatives, disrupting hierarchies and inviting ideas from across the spectrum of those working in Higher Education. Being on the Concordat Steering Group empowered me to feel that I was one of the key stakeholders shaping research culture.

This sustained, active engagement with the Researcher Development Concordat also shaped how I approached my own professional development. I committed to make space for my professional development (rather than pushing it down a never-ending to do list). It also became a cornerstone of my annual professional development discussions with my Principal Investigator, who as a Manager of Researcher is also a core stakeholder of the Concordat. Co-creating these training possibilities, strengthened both my choices and my commitment to following through.

The Concordat commitment also scaffolded and helped make a case for institutional support for initiatives spearheaded by Liverpool’s Research Staff Association (RSA), a group of volunteer postdocs and ECRs. The Concordat’s set of expectations for researchers offers formal, sectoral recognition of ECRs’ important role in shaping research culture. The Concordat principles asks researchers to help create ‘supportive, fair and inclusive research culture, particularly to newer researchers and students’. This recognition is important as postdocs are often at the forefront of informally mentoring PhDs and more junior scholars. At Liverpool, the RSA tried to embed these supportive, inclusive practices more widely and formalised them – launching a RSA Buddy Scheme, hosting monthly virtual coffees aimed at new starters, and running online networking events in the lead up to the National Postdoc Conference 2021.

As leaders within the Liverpool RSA, we wanted to signpost and champion active involvement by ECRs in shaping research culture and how this aligned with the Researcher Development Concordat principles. We organised a panel led by ECRs themselves called ‘UK Concordat to support the Career Development of Researchers: What it actually means for research staff at Liverpool’. This allowed ECRs to hear first-hand how research culture can be shaped from the grassroots level. We signposted avenues to input directly into research culture at an Institute, Faculty, or University level and flagged up opportunities on offer at the University of Liverpool as a signatory of the Concordat. Most importantly, though, we wanted to change junior scholars’ mindset – helping them see research culture as emerging from us collectively, without offsetting the responsibility of our institutions (agreed to as signatories of the Concordat) to create inclusive research cultures. Ultimately, they can only do so if they recruit, listen to, and prioritise the voices of researchers at the bottom of the academic hierarchy.

Dr Katy Roscoe is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool. She is former Co-Chair of Liverpool’s Research Staff Association and acts as ECR representative on the University’s Concordat Steering Group, Race Equality Charter Steering Group, and the Humanities and Social Sciences’  Research and Impact Committee. She won the Alan Beeston Early Career Researcher of the Year at the University of Liverpool Staff Awards 2022.

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