Messages from the plenary lecture at the Vitae Researcher Development Conference 2009.
Posted by emmakimberley on 14 September, 2009
The plenary speakers were each concerned with reminding researcher developers of their formative role in equipping future researchers with the skills needed to enter a changing research environment in the digital age. Interdisciplinarity, web 2.0 and blue-skies research were high on the agenda.
Prof. Ian Diamond (chair of RCUK) emphasised that the UK requires a research force who think across disciplines, as well as achieving excellence in their own fields, in order to face the new challenges ahead. These researchers need to be “responsive to new knowledge, new technologies and new strategic economic and social needs”.
Prof. Brigid Heywood (Pro VC for Research and Enterprise at the OU) shared her vision of a future researcher capable of reacting to a fast-changing digital academic environment, embedded in an active research community, interacting with other academics and the public on both local and global platforms. This researcher engages in a range of new academic behaviours in a web 2.0 environment. Examples of projects included:
Prof. Alexandre Quintanilha (Director of the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Porto) urged the academic community to place less emphasis on the traditional methods of evaluating the quality of graduate training (publication output, funding, etc.) and to focus on training researchers to address some of the major challenges of the 21st century. These challenges often require a mixture of blue-skies thinking and applied thinking, as well as an interdisciplinary approach, involving research methods that have been seen as risky, vague and a threat to disciplinary foundations. Prof. Quintanilha outlined the obstacles facing postgraduates who wish to enter these areas of research that are the most valuable in terms of long-term impact, but frequently also the most challenging in terms of immediate career progression (because of difficulties in publishing and getting funding because they cross evaluation boundaries; unclear departmental affiliation; accusations of lack of focus), and called for graduate training programmes that recognise their role in producing what the research community needs:
- Curious, imaginative people willing to move across disciplinary and geographical boundaries to follow their dreams
- People excited about tackling new challenges
- People prepared for the complex challenge of tackling major world problems of the 21st century
All three speakers agreed on the importance of developing communities of researchers across disciplinary boundaries, championing academic role models who visibly practise what they teach, and training future academics to be adaptable and responsive to the challenges of a new digital research environment.