Researcher Development Officer
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Job title: Researcher Development Officer

What exactly does a Researcher Development Officer do?

I work for seven Schools, including the School of Earth and Environment, at the University of Leeds, providing training for PhD students and Research Staff. We aim to develop researchers’ non-technical skills in areas outside of their discipline, to help them become outstanding scientists or social scientists. This means training in media, communications, presentations, reading, writing, publishing, IT, and programming skills amongst many others. Many people at the moment are concerned with job or research grant applications, and we help with these as well. I do some of the training myself, but for the more specialist courses, I have to persuade others to help out!

Apart from formal qualifications, what other skills or characteristics do you need?

My background in research certainly helps: I finished my PhD seven years ago and have been lecturing or postdoc-ing since. Having this experience means that I understand the needs and wants of the people who take our courses. To do this job you have to be a confident, clear communicator, who can explain things well to people from all over the world with a range of academic backgrounds and levels. You have to be enthusiastic, well motivated, extremely well organised, and most of all have a sense of humour. I am also still very active in Earth science research and will take part in an expedition to Spitsbergen this summer. To do my research I have to work hard and be dedicated, because all of it is done in my “spare time”! Mass extinction study is my passion though, so it’s not too hard to motivate myself.

What advice or information do you wish you’d had before starting this career?

I’ve chopped and changed careers quite a bit over the years, and only started this part of my career 6 months ago. It’s hard to know at this stage what advice I needed. Looking at the people I work with now though, the PhD students at the very start of their academic careers, I would say “Have a 10 year plan and look at where you want to be, and then work bloody hard to get there!” I also have a gold mine in northern Canada (not as glamorous as it sounds) and maybe I should have been advised to work harder at that, and I’d be relaxing somewhere hot by now. Finally, I’d say to people that starting a new job when you’ve got a 3 month old baby is really tiring!

Background image: Thin section of rock viewed under the microscope; Credit: Chd / Wikimedia