The TRANSPEER project (2017 – 2020) took as its starting point the pan-European problem of researcher employability. Research skills, largely derived from publicly-funded research degrees and projects, are often not fully utilised by researchers, and, consequently, society at large fails to benefit optimally from its investment. Many researchers struggle to develop their potential within the academy, or to articulate their skills to non-academic employers, and so their potential is not fully realised.

TRANSPEER sought to address this issue through a transnationally-informed training programme, developed by a consortium led by Karlstad University (KAU, Sweden) in conjunction with the Inland Norway University of Applied Science (INN, Norway), ITQB NOVA, New University of Lisbon (ITQB, Portugal), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU, UK), and the Polytechnic Institute of Santarém (IPS, Portugal).

TRANSPEER project staff at INN’s Hamar campus in April 2018

There is considerable variation in how different countries’ HEIs support the professional development of early career researchers (ECRs). Work from the European Research Area (ERA) has highlighted that ECRs are often poorly informed about non-academic career paths and are not equipped with the skills needed to gain rewarding wider employment. Results of recent European University Association (EUA) surveys on doctoral programmes have indicated that in programmes where training was provided, the mandatory component was focused on subject-specific skills. Transferable skills that might promote personal development or be more useful outside academia were mostly voluntary, and thus participation was much lower. The survey results also highlighted that many doctoral supervisors did not feel equipped to help their students develop a career plan, especially if that career was non-academic.

The focus of the TRANSPEER project was the creation of a programme to enhance the skills awareness and employability of a cross-disciplinary cohort of 36 participating researchers, drawn from the partner institutions. The programme focused on ECRs, but participants also included doctoral candidates and supervisors, to encourage students to consider these issues at an early stage, and to ensure that supervisors have the tools required to support them. The same participants attended all sessions, enabling the development of an international cohort, who benefited both from the training, and from their interaction with each other. In addition to enhancing the skills and knowledge of researchers, the project added to the professional development of the support staff involved, through their exposure to the different areas of expertise and methodologies of the other partners.

Cohort members develop their problem-solving skills (Hamar, June 2018)

The training programme materials produced during the project may be found, together with other resources, here. The programme covers both academic and wider careers, and benefited greatly from the transnational nature of the project consortium. While many elements of research support are recognisable across Europe, the focus often varies from country to country, with the result that different areas of national expertise are developed. A transnational project allows the sharing of best practice in these areas, with the creation of a training programme stronger than one based on a single, national experience. The intention is that the programme will be embedded in the training provision of the TRANSPEER partner institutions, and all materials have been made available for it to be fully reproducible at other universities now that the project has concluded. A range of ongoing career-tracking surveys will add to the continuous improvement and evaluation of the TRANSPEER training programme post-project.

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