Many people (especially researchers in the UK) will be familiar with the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF). If you aren’t, it’s a tool that helps researchers understand the competencies required to improve their development as a researcher. It’s not new, but if you haven’t discovered it before it’s a useful yardstick by which to gauge your strengths and weaknesses. In this post, I want to look at the RDF through the lens of collaboration (this is the Piirus blog after all!), to show how collaboration can enhance your work.
The RDF highlights four key domains that, based on extensive research by Vitae, have been identified as vital to unlocking your potential: (1) Knowledge and intellectual abilities, (2) Personal effectiveness, (3) Research governance and organisation, (4) Engagement, influence and impact. If you break down each of these areas into specific competencies (as outlined in the diagram below) you will soon see the road to effective researcher development is no mean feat, and you may start to feel a little overwhelmed!
It’s important to be rational at this point and remember that we all have strengths and weaknesses: some of us are great with people while others are not, some people have an insane amount of knowledge on a specific subject while others are still gathering this knowledge. You can’t be everything, so try to be strategic.
Collaboration brings a whole new dimension to the RDF, after all by working with others you are exposing yourself to a different set of competencies and skills, and the domains within the RDF that you find most difficult may well be a strength of your collaborator(s). Suddenly a whole new world of opportunity presents itself and you are surfing a wave of potential ‘research excellence’. Let me demonstrate this by looking in a little more detail at the four domains identified within the RDF.
‘Knowledge and intellectual abilities’ – There is little doubt that to be a successful researcher you have to have a certain amount of confidence in your knowledge and intellectual ability – but we should not be blind to the knowledge of others, which could well be greater, or highly complementary to our own. As Isaac Newton once pointed out ‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants’. Now I know he was referring to his forefathers here, but I think the relevance of this message stretches to underpin the benefits of working with others and giving our work the cutting edge. Let’s also not forget that through this process our own knowledge is likely to be greatly enhanced.
‘Personal effectiveness’ – I will admit it, there were times during my research career when I became a little hermit like and not that keen at coming out of my shell. In fact, I only really ‘came out of my shell’ when I left the research world and became a research intermediary. Then I had to speak to people and form good relationships as part of my every day work. Not everyone is prone to being a hermit like myself, but if you are collaborating with others this may prove an effective means of making sure your social skills are well honed and encourage you to push your own personal effectiveness.
‘Research governance and organisation’ – This domain that has the potential to leave you scratching your head! It covers competencies like health and safety, legal requirements, project planning and financial management – competencies often synonymous with larger research grants. If these don’t sound like your strong point, or you have no idea how to address some of these demands relating to your research, imagine the relief of sharing this burden, or better still know that your collaborator has experience in these areas and can guide you in the right direction.
‘Engagement, influence and impact’ – Possessing the knowledge and skills to work with others to ensure the wider ‘impact’ of research is increasingly critical to career development. Not all research grants have the benefit of a significant budget for research engagement and communication. This means many researchers have to be their own bellwether – identifying important connections, communicating effectively with different audiences and in some instances navigating policy making processes. Quite simply, it’s hard to do this stuff on your own, and while some researchers would argue that this is not what research (in the fullest possible sense) should be judged upon, the reality is that it increasingly is. Collaborating with other researchers can undoubtedly help, especially if you are strategic and do your best to take advantage of existing connections.
Collaboration opens up a world of opportunity
If you are not collaborating, then it’s time to start thinking about making new connections and developing relationships with your peers. We might not get to work with the Isaac Newton in our field, but you don’t know what wonderful collaborations are possible until you try, or where indeed they might take you.