Dr Alice Dubois leads Queen's Postdoctoral Development Centre (PDC), which ensures that postdoctoral researchers across the University are equipped with the support and guidance they need to enable them to fulfil their potential.
What does your role as Postdoctoral Development Centre Manager involve?
My role is principally to set the PDC’s direction as well as develop and manage the implementation of its strategy; deciding what our priorities will be, what we are going to organise and when, within the resources we have and in line with other University strategies and plans. I’m heavily involved in the establishment and application of the institutional ‘Researcher Development Concordat’ Action Plan, working with colleagues in People & Culture, Research & Enterprise and staff representatives. I chair the PDC Representatives’ Network, a group of about 40 postdocs and academics from our three faculties, and we work together to address the PDC objectives in a way that is relevant to all and consistent across Schools. I also represent postdocs and the PDC on university committees, and network with colleagues at Queen’s and in other institutions to share good practice. While my role is now mainly focused on management, I still 'do' some of the ground work, notably by facilitating inductions for research staff and providing one-to-one support and feedback to research staff.
How does the PDC help postdoctoral researchers get the best out of their time at Queen's?
The main thing we do is provide them with the information they need. Postdocs are often relatively new to the world of research and/or new to the UK and Queen’s. The University provides a lot of support, but it is so big that it can be very difficult to understand what is available and who can help with what. We help postdocs navigate this by answering their questions, regrouping and communicating opportunities that are especially relevant to them, signposting to internal and external resources, and introducing them to the appropriate people at Queen’s. We provide tailored development resources, such as workshops, events and online content, especially related to career development, and support research staff with the organisation of their own events and initiatives. Career planning is important for research staff, as most of them are employed on fixed-term contracts, so we notably showcase different career options to them, and provide one-to-one support, such as feedback on job applications and personalised interview preparation.
A less visible part (but as important if not more!) of what the PDC does relates to promoting a supportive environment and research culture, so that postdocs have a positive experience at Queen’s. This involves reviewing policies that apply to them, developing good practice guidance for them and their managers, as well as ensuring that their many contributions to the University are appropriately recognised. The relevance of what we develop is ensured by the involvement of postdocs and academics from the PDC Representatives’ Network, who also promote their consistent implementation across the institution and shape all we offer.
What is the best bit about your role?
That’s a very hard question to answer!
I love many aspects of my role, from what it enabled me to experience and learn, to specific tasks I enjoy, and some of the rewards I get. When I was appointed, the PDC didn’t exist and I was given complete freedom to establish it the way I pictured it, from scratch. This was an amazing opportunity! I also love creative tasks and had a lot of fun designing the PDC website, posters or posts for events, and even teaching myself to edit podcasts, which I would never have done otherwise. I do less and less of that now that my role is evolving, and that I’ve been joined by the fantastic Erin Davidson, but I still find creativity in developing strategies and plans to address specific issues. The researcher in me loves a bit of problem solving, and the changes we are trying to bring to research culture and the experience of research staff have real potential to benefit people, which is really exciting and rewarding.
All that said, nothing beats the instant rush I get when a postdoc I helped prepare for interview emails me saying they got the job; making even a tiny contribution to someone’s happiness is an amazing feeling!
What are the challenges?
There’s not enough time in a day to do all that I’d like to do!
Meaningful change takes time, and developing viable proposals involves much research, consultation and co-creation, as well as colleagues in multiple areas of the institution. This is a very time-consuming process and tends to move relatively slowly. It is essential to prioritise, and we can’t efficiently tackle all problems and ideas at once, but this can be frustrating considering the comparatively short time most postdocs are working at Queen’s, and the fact that some of them will have left before being able to benefit from some of our work.
What makes you most proud about your contribution to our University community?
I’m proud when something I’ve been involved in makes a difference for other people, whether it’s one person who got the confidence they needed to ace their interview, or a wider group of people feeling recognised as they should.
I’m also proud when I can help colleagues achieve their work objectives by providing feedback, joining committees and collaborating with them. My work relies a lot on others engaging with what I do and I know how difficult it can be to achieve, so when I can spare some time for colleagues, I gladly do. A recent example of that was the “Riddel Hall Chronicles” project I was involved in for the Queen’s Gender Initiative Executive committee; researching the history of the place, hosting podcasts, writing scripts and going on camera. It was way out of my comfort zone but I’m proud to have done it!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I bought a sewing machine a couple of years ago with the intention of trying to make clothes and I love it! My problem is that I’m always tempted to modify patterns, but without any dressmaking background the result isn’t always wearable! I’m also drawn to patterns of historical dresses, but there wouldn’t be any occasions for me to wear them. That said, my little interpretation of Victorian fashion made it to the “Riddel Hall Chronicles” mentioned above!
Beyond that, I like cooking, trying to 'do yoga', and growing food in the garden (despite the slugs ruining everything).
What is the best advice you've ever received?
"In your career, do all your can to contribute to a role or area, then find a new challenge."
At the time I was told this, the PDC was still a Faculty pilot initiative and, while I was working in this direction, there was no guarantee it was going to become a long-term University-wide structure. It had only been a couple of years since I had moved out of the research lab to join the administrative side of Queen’s, and I needed to feel a sense of security in my career, so the suggestion of changing again was not what I wanted to hear! I’ve always kept it in mind though, and now embrace the possibility of taking a different direction in the future and re-invent myself when I’ll feel that I’ve given the PDC all I could. The unknown can be scary but also exciting.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just started The Cat and The City, by Nick Bradley; it's too soon to really say anything specific about it, but it follows a cat interacting with strangers in Tokyo and sounds original (also, I love cats!). I also have How to Read a Dress by Lydia Edwards on my coffee table, with pictures and descriptions of dresses from the 16th to 21st century and read a few pages here and there.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
Not as high-tech, but I’d say my garlic press. It may sound too much like a French stereotype, but I really use it all the time!