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Career Development Days and PDR

Career development days policy for researchers

All Research staff at Queen's University Belfast, including postdocs, are entitled to up to 10 days per year to spend on activities benefiting their career development. This is a university Policy and applies to all research staff, whatever their funding source is.

These days can be used to:

  • attend PDC or QUB training courses or events
  • attend external courses
  • be involved in committees
  • contribute to the organisation of events
  • undertake a placement or work shadowing
  • generate preliminary data for a fellowship application
  • write a fellowship application
  • prepare for/attend a job interview

Etc.

These 10 days are not meant to be used for activities that are necessary or already part of the postdoc's work, for example attending relevant conferences, technical training used in the project (i.e. personal licence training), meeting partners and collaborators and attending local events the postdoc is meant to attend (i.e. PhD students symposium, School's seminars etc.).

Staff on part-time contracts (or contracts running for only a part of the year) have access to the relevant pro-rata number of days.

These days can be used when seen fit by the research staff, provided it doesn't "clash" with their contracted duties (e.g. a planned stakeholder meeting or conference they need to attend) and that their contracted work is up to agreed standards.

These days can not be carried-over to the next year in order to encourage staff to pro-actively develop their careers. These are not annual leave.

Staff should record how they use their development days, for example by using this form and discuss their development during their annual Personal Development Review (see below).

References:

  • Policy extended to all research staff (AC1 to AC3) and to all Faculties at QUB: agreed by the University Executive Board on 3 September 2019 (See P&C website).
  • Policy originally developed for postdocs in the MHLS Faculty: discussed at the MHLS Faculty Executive Board meeting of the 26th April 2017 and communicated to all postdocs on the 26th May 2017 via an official letter from Pr Aaron Maule, Dean of Research.
Personal Development Review (PDR)

All staff at Queen's undertake a Personal Development Review (PDR) once a year with their line manager. The PDR is an opportunity to have a conversation with your PI about your professional and career development. While a short part of the discussion is dedicated to looking at progress and setting objectives for the year ahead, the PDR shouldn't be focused on your research project, but on your development, skills, experience and career. It is a great opportunity to look back on how you have used your development days (see above) in the past year, and how you plan to use them in the next.

You are expected to fill a PDR form and share it with your line manager at least a week before your PDR meeting. The aim of the form is to enable self-reflection, structure the conversation and constitute a record. The conversation is the most important part of the process.

Bespoke PDR resources for research staff:

Research staff with permanent appointments or those on an established academic career track (e.g. Illuminate fellows) may find it more beneficial to use alternative PDR forms designed for Professional Services Staff or Academic Staff respectively (found on the People and Culture page, see link below).

How were the bespoke PDR resources for research staff designed?

The new form and bespoke PDR guidance rolled-out for all research staff in summer 2024 are designed to embed planning and reporting on 10 development days usage in the process, move the discussion away from research planning, and overall improve the benefit of the PDR for researchers.

They were developed by the PDC in 2023, following feedback from research staff and surveys indicating that engagement with the PDR process was low and that a significant portion of researchers found it was not beneficial and not enough focused on development and career. The PDC representatives and PROG provided useful feedback and resources were piloted in summer 2023 with by a group of volunteer postdocs and their PIs from across Faculties. Anonymous feedback was collected via a survey and focus groups were held.

Here are some findings from the pilot survey:

  • 11 postdoc participants had a better experience than with the previous form (and 1 had a similar experience; 0 found it not as good)
  • Line managers also found the experience better (13) or similar (6)
  • Out of 23 postdocs, 16 found the self-reflection required to prepare very useful, and 5 found it useful; similarly, 18 found the resulting conversation with their managers very useful and 4 useful
  • Out of 22 line managers, 17 found the self-reflection required to prepare very useful, and 4 found it useful; similarly, 19 found the resulting conversation very useful and 2 useful
  • Example of postdoc feedback: "I really found it beneficial to have a dedicated time slot to discuss career options and opportunities. These are topics that my line manager and I make regular reference to, although it was useful to work through things in a more formal setting. The guidance provided was great, especially the prompts that helped to guide our discussions."
  • Example of PI feedback: "The guidance and the form itself was extremely helpful in guiding conversation and also allowing a focus on training and career goals, very important in particular in the context for PDRAs. It also provided structure around conversations on other career options, contracts etc."

The resources were refined based on feedback from pilot participants and are to be used by research staff from Summer 2024 onwards.

General PDR resources for all staff:

The People and Culture intranet provides additional general information, guidance, forms and training sessions around the PDR process.

Visit the People and Culture PDR page

Frequently Asked Questions (specific situations)

The FAQs below are meant to help navigate situations in which the timing of the PDR is not ideal (e.g. close to the start or end of a contract), as well as the transition from using the 'Research and Professional Services Personal Development Review' form (used for research staff until 2023) to the 'PDR Form for Postdocs and Research Staff' introduced in 2024.

  • How do I transition to using the form previously used for professional services and research staff to the bespoke research staff form introduced in 2024?

    The sections of the new form don't always match those of the previous one, so the content from last year won't perfectly fit in this years' form; this is okay!

    Try to keep the essence of the plans you made last year, but don't overthink it. Some areas of the new form were not covered before, so you likely won't have made plans in this space last year; just reflect on what you have actually done when filling the form.

    Section 1 (new form):

    It is new and short and doesn't really relate to any part of the previous form.

    Section 2 (new form):

    It is new and doesn't really relate to any part of the previous form. If you have developed an Individual Development Plan (IDP), it will likely be useful to complete this section. If not, you may have to spend a bit of time reflecting on your career goals the first time you use the form (the following years will be quicker). If you don't know which types of careers to pursue, you way want to add 'career exploration' as an option now, and use the planning section to list actions to find suitable career options for you, instead of spending time identifying options when preparing for your PDR.

    Section 3 (new form):

    It replaces what was covered in sections 1 and 2 of the previous form, but in a different way and with additional considerations.

    Transfer of information:

    • Transfer the 5 priorities set in section 4 of the previous form to the 'role-related priority or objective' column of the new form.
    • Transfer the 4 development goals set in section 4 of the previous form to the new form, either in the 'Associated development / learning activity' of the role-related development section, or in the 'development goal / action undertaken' in the additional career development section, depending on where it best fits.
    • You will likely have to add activities that you carried out but had not been planned/captured the previous year, for example some development / learning activities related to some of your role-related objectives and/or some development goals and actions relevant to the 'additional development' section. 

    Section 4 (new form):

    It replaces what was covered in section 4 of the previous form, but in a different way and with additional considerations. There is no need to transfer anything as this is new planning.

    Section 5 (new form):

    It replaces what was covered in section 3 of the previous form, with slightly different content (e.g. work-life balance reflections) and additional considerations, such as likely next steps. Refer to the form and guidance document for content.

  • What should I do if I'm in the early stages of my contract, including still in probation (e.g. in post < 6 months)

    You'll mention this in section 1 ('specific considerations having impacted the review period') and will focus your preparation and discussion on planning for the future (sections 2 and 4).

    You should have set some initial objectives at the start of your contract (including as part of the probation process if you are new to Queen's). These can be replicated in section 4 and would most likely correspond to role-related priorities or objectives. You will have to complete these with associated development activities, which may also have been identified at initial meetings with your manager, and additional development unrelated to your role.

    It is OK to leave section 3 blank. Depending on how long you are into your contracts, you may have completed some short-term objectives that could go in it, but there's no pressure to do so.

    It is also OK to leave the summary in section 5 blank. You could however use it to reflect on your experience so far and introduce any issue or concern you have to be able to discuss solutions with your manager early.

  • What should I do if I'm in the final stages of my contract, including if I know I'm leaving soon?

    If you are leaving soon, completing a PDR may feel like a waste of time. It can however be useful to you in some circumstances, and you could use the process to have a discussion around what would benefit you.

    Normally, you would focus on the reporting aspects (sections 3 and 5), which enable summarising and finalising your work, instead of planning.

    It is OK to leave section 4 blank; depending on the amount of time you have left, you may still want to include a few short-term goals (e.g. related to finishing outputs, passing over to someone else, ensuring the data is saved properly, applying for another role etc.).

    It's up to you to let your manager know what you'd like to focus the discussion on. For example, you may want to get additional feedback on your overall progress to your career goal (section 2), or discuss 'next steps' in section 5 if you haven't yet secured further employment and would like to know more about upcoming opportunities in the department etc.

  • I took part in the 2023 pilot of the new resources; what has changed in the final 2024 form?

    First, THANK YOU for participating in the pilot, the feedback we received was invaluable to improve the form and guidance prior to the full roll-out in 2024!

    Very little has changed on the form, and it should be easy for you to use what you provided on the 2023 pilot PDR form to prepare for your 2024 PDR with the new form.

    Changes are as follows:

    • The instructions on the form have been slightly simplified, clarified and updated based on feedback to make it easier to fill.
    • In the table to capture additional career development activities in sections 3 and 4, the columns 'Development goal' and 'Action' have been merged into one, as the difference between the two wasn't always understood. When filling the section 3 using the new form, simply bring together in the same cell the goal and related actions planned in section 4 of the pilot form.
    • The actions relevant to the line manager are now captured separately. A table is available in section 3 for the manager to input on progress on their actions (when filling the section 3 using the new form, simply identify the actions listed in section 4 of the pilot form that were directed at your line manager, and place them in the first column, 'agreed manager action'). Now that you are using the new form, such actions will be captured as bullet-points in section 4 during planning.
    • The content for the summary in section 5 has been adapted and no longer directly refer to the institutional core values and staff charter, but directly mention work/life balance and your experience at work.

    The guidance documents, including examples, have been updated to reflect these changes, and include additional details (notably around funding for development and information about careers outside academia).