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An article by Saira Law, Bioscience Impact Team

I wondered, when I went to training and networking events, why I never came across staff on Grades 1 & 2 at them. Then I heard about the University Diversity Fund and decided to apply to try and find out why. Success. I secured £1,500 to set up focus groups of colleagues in those grades.

In October 2020, I had the great opportunity to do the focus groups in person as the Project Lead in the Pitt Building.  A total of 15 people attended who were predominately from the School of the Biological Sciences. What a lovely bunch of people they were. Participants included a Cleaner, Laboratory Assistant, Receptionist, Caterer and Glass Washer. These staff are key to our community.

By its method, the focus group was designed to gather staff experiences, anecdotes, subjective and objective understanding of the University and their progression within it; hence a small sample and a qualitative focus. They were provided with lunch and a £30 voucher as a thank you for their time and input. Four men attended and 11 women. The groups were ethnically mixed. The following are their reflections and specific recommendations.

Overall, their experience of their department was good in terms of how other members of staff and students treated them. Administrators tended to get better access to information than cleaners and other support staff. The University is positively trying to support staff, for example through ourcambridge and work with trade unions; however, more needs to continue to happen for staff on Grades 1 & 2 by targeted support via their Head of Department, line manager and HR functions.

Several staff said that some of those on higher grades, such as managers and academics, can be more hierarchical and assume they are the moral and behavioural gatekeepers for staff on Grades 1 & 2. Certain higher grade staff expect special treatment compared to those on lower grades.  For example, more time off to be on training. Certain students can be dismissive of Grade 1 & 2 staff because of their role.

They would appreciate better careers advice, bespoke training and guidance about jobs at Grade 2 and beyond and managers trained to encourage this would be ideal. Having a training budget per head, to be able to do some training in worktime and access to a work computer would also help.

A few receive information through their managers and team meetings but there could be better consistency, for example being emailed directly with targeted information about opportunities. Someone had not had a Staff Development and Review meeting in three years, so there needs to be a way of ensuring this happens annually.

Some teams are smaller and more staff are needed because they are doing more work. Others stated that they simply chose not to go to events and networks.

It was a pleasure to have worked on this focus group and again a massive thank you to all of you who made it possible.