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In a post-‘rona world, what conversations could I be having with my researchers?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

GrantEd Managing Director, Kirsten Bartlett delivers our career development program. Now that the chaos of the first four weeks of semester has died down, she writes about what she's found during her coaching sessions that many researchers need at the moment (apart from the obvious).

A number of the academics I coach have been relieved to have a conversation about a post-COVID world and plan some achievable activities to make sure they don’t lose too much ground. Talking through ideas, being pragmatic about what can be done this year and throwing in some new ways of connecting with people have been the basis of my sessions over the past few weeks. People are craving:

  • Support to get back on track with important research projects, both the planning, the delivery and the writing up of projects

  • Ideas to help where traditional data collection can’t be conducted

  • Time to re-prioritise 2020’s planned activities

  • Clever new ways to engage with peers, end-users and beneficiaries of their research

  • Encouragement to see beyond the current restrictions to a time when some semblance of normal will return

Research can be quite an isolated activity to begin with, let alone under the current conditions. Even before ‘rona reached our shores, researchers have told me they don’t get many opportunities to just sit and chat with someone, shoot the breeze if you like, about their career, especially long-term research plans.

If you have responsibility for other researchers, for example being their performance supervisor or head of department, take the time to reach out and have a meaningful (and by that I mean more than a cursory 10 minute catch up about the perils of teaching via videoconference) discussion. Now is a great time to settle in with a cuppa, switch on a funny Zoom background and spend some time just chatting.

My tips on how to get the most out of these conversations include:

  • Try not to be too quick to fill the silence in the conversation, sometimes not jumping to the solution yourself enables the other person to find the answer or idea on their own.

  • Use ‘you could…’ more than ‘you should…’ (people are feeling overwhelmed and this subtle language difference can be important).

  • Encourage new ways of communicating their existing research to audiences they haven’t reached yet (I’m sure the editors of The Conversation are desperate for topics other than ‘rona).

  • Gently identify action-oriented thinking and summarise briefly at the end (I take endless notes because my memory is sometimes reminiscent of Dory’s in…what’s that movie with clown-fish?).

  • Help them to manage their action list with a healthy dose of realism. If they’ve come up with ten things, see if they can tell you which two or three could be prioritised and are most achievable.

  • Be willing to show your human side too. Talk about how the current situation has challenged you and what you’re thinking about doing to help your own activities move forward.

Above all, reassure your researchers that everything they are doing is enough.


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