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Module 2: Commencement and Collaboration – Putting Ideas Into Practice

5.4 Orientation and induction

Issues of management of people are dealt with more comprehensively in Module 7. This topic will concentrate just on getting your team oriented.

Once you have recruited your staff, you will need to conduct a range of activities to ensure the smooth commencement and conduct of your research project. These may seem time-consuming – but time invested with your staff at this stage will be repaid down the track as the project runs smoothly. These activities include:

  • Engaging and introducing staff – orientation and induction process
    There are many approaches that can be taken to introducing new staff to your research team, department, faculty/school/centre, and university. These include using a written induction manual, using a face-to-face tour and discussion of the working situation, allocating a 'buddy' or a 'mentor' to a new staff member, or encouraging the new staff to 'shadow' you (or another team member) for a period of a day or so to see what is involved in the research project.

    Even if you are recruiting just one student or postdoc, it is important that you ensure you orient and induct them well. Don’t assume that if the person has studied or worked at your university they will be familiar with all the conditions of working there.
  • Clarification of expectations
    All members of your research team require clarity in their understanding of what to expect while working on your research project. Expectations surrounding career path, opportunities for professional development and training, and performance should be the subject of regular discussions with your staff. It is important that team members consider their broader career path, and how your project fits within it. Universities routinely have organisational divisions that provide information to assist with career path discussions. These include Human Resources (HR) and Academic Development Units (ADUs).
  • Performance management and monitoring
    Further to the discussion that takes place with your staff in terms of clarifying expectations (above), you should also regularly discuss performance and provide constructive feedback. These discussions should take place from the commencement of the project and should include regular performance review during any staff probationary periods.

    For more information on performance management see Module 7 Leading and Managing People in the Research Context.

You also need to consider the particular needs of postdocs and students as you orient them to your team and project.

Postdoctoral researchers. The postdocs you employ on your project are junior researchers who, usually, do not have sufficient track record to apply for their own grants. The way in which you involve them should contribute to their overall research training, and you (or another senior researcher) should assume the role of mentor, providing them with advice and support. Make sure they contribute to publications so they can enhance their track record. As part of their training, you should consider giving them a specified level of project and financial responsibility, which will be written into your management plan. Not only will this help you, but it will provide them with practical experience.

Students. All students receiving a stipend from a research grant will be required to comply with university procedures relating to admission, candidature, enrolment, and thesis preparation and submission.

  • Recruitment. Payment of the student stipend cannot commence until all agreements/contracts are fully executed. In the case of ARC Linkage/Project grants, commencement can sometimes be as long as a year after the grant was awarded. While this is an extreme case, frequently there are delays to the start of a project and students cannot wait around indefinitely. A student should not resign from any paid position he or she may hold until contracts are signed and you can advise a definite start date. If you have other funds available to employ the student until the grant commences, by all means do so, but as grant funds cannot be applied retrospectively you will not be able to recoup any funds expended prior to the commencement date.
  • Supervision and training. Your proposal will have identified the training that will be provided to students involved in the project and will have nominated the supervisors. It is important that suitably qualified supervisors are available to guide and advise the students for the duration of the grant/degree. If the original supervisors are no longer available, you must find replacements. Your management plan should include regular progress meetings and student involvement in team meetings.
  • Student agreements. You need to remember that a student is not an employee of the university and therefore is not bound by the obligations taken on by the university under the contract in the same way that employees are. Therefore if you need to bind the student, which will usually be the case where there are intellectual property and confidentiality obligations, there needs to be some additional arrangement between the university and the student. The form of this additional arrangement will vary from institution to institution. Some institutions make it a condition of enrolment, while others require a separate legal agreement to be entered into on a case-by-case basis with each student. (The information in this paragraph is based on Contracts Issues for Non Lawyers by Kerrin Anderson and Tania Kearsley, Francis Abourizk Lightowlers, Commercial & Technology Lawyers, 300 Adelaide St, Brisbane, for an Australian Tertiary Education Managers (ATEM) training program; please contact the authors if you want a copy.)

Reflective activity

Take 10 minutes to reflect on your own induction and orientation to your current position. List what was useful, what would have made your start in this current role easier, and what would have helped you become productive in the role more quickly.

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