People and Talent Strategy Advisory Panel (PAT SAP) Researcher Subgroup

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) recognises the need to support researchers in academia, industry or elsewhere to maximise an individual’s research effectiveness and potential.

The People and Talent Strategy Advisory Panel (PAT SAP) has a researcher subgroup that focuses on issues related to researcher careers and contributes to the development and implementation of BBSRC strategic programmes for researchers. The objectives of the subgroup are set out in the terms of reference.

The subgroup maintains a close relationship with PAT SAP to encourage a two-way conversation, ensuring consistency amongst discussions and that a researcher perspective is given to PAT SAP.

Topics discussed by the group

Examples of topics the subgroup has discussed:

  • implementing UK Research and Innovation’s Concordat and Technician Commitment Action Plans for BBSRC and the biosciences
  • researcher exchange programmes and their potential benefits and risks
  • guidance for BBSRC fellowship applications
  • mentoring and sponsoring of early career researchers: availability and best practice
  • the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on researchers and how they can be supported
  • equality, diversity and inclusion in bioscience researcher populations
  • recognising informal supervision
  • the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) narrative CV

Previous meetings

Alongside dedicated researcher subgroup meetings, our members are also invited to attend PAT SAP meetings when appropriate. Please see further details of the most recent researcher subgroup meetings below.

March 2023

This was the first meeting in over a year and so the group, which contained new members, were provided several updates on the subgroups operations.

One of the key discussions was the R4RI narrative CV, in which the subgroup provided thorough feedback, as per the request in the previous meeting. This feedback was collated and shared with the UKRI team responsible for the CV pilot.

The group also discussed in detail the topic of informal supervision, with a specific focus on their personal experiences and with the aim of gathering information for future discussions.

February 2022

The group revisited discussions surrounding the involvement of early career researchers (ECRs) on BBSRC panels and committees and were asked to provide feedback on what junior researchers could provide in these positions.

The group was introduced to policy labs and were invited to provide feedback on their usage moving forward. The group were also introduced to the R4RI narrative CV and BBSRC staff requested thorough feedback from the group on its usage.

December 2021

This meeting covered several updates pertaining to the subgroups operations, particularly recruitment and the approval of subgroup attendance payments.

The group discussed the researcher co-investigator role and the involvement of ECRs in BBSRC panels and committees.

The group also discussed researcher engagement strategies and were invited to provide advice and recommendations on how BBSRC could engage with the community.

May 2021

One of the key discussions from this meeting was a researcher exchanges project which was designed to invite feedback from individuals who had undertaken a Flexible Talent Mobility Accounts (FTMA).

The subgroup was invited to provide comments on the project and its findings. The group also discussed BBSRC’s plan to implement UKRI’s Researcher Concordat and Technician Commitment Action Plans. The group was invited to ask questions and provide feedback.

February 2021

The key discussions from this meeting were the FTMA and recommendations for building a successful Discovery Fellowship Application. The group were also consulted on recruitment approaches for the Subgroup and the formation of an ECR Forum.

For further information regarding PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup membership, please see our terms of reference or contact us via the details below.

Our members

Learn more about our PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup members:

Dr Rebecca Boulton

I am a BBSRC Discovery fellow at the University of Stirling. I am an evolutionary ecologist, and my research focuses on understanding how mating behaviour influences evolution.

I am also interested in how breaking barriers to inclusivity in my field can advance the study of sexual selection by challenging untested assumptions based on human perceptions of sex and gender.

I joined the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup because I believe funders like BBSRC are in a unique position to effect change in research culture. Such change is vital for scientific and social progress; we must break barriers to inclusivity in research careers and for this to happen research culture must change so that being a researcher does not require massive personal sacrifice and compromising mental and physical wellbeing.

By joining the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup, I hope that I can contribute to creating a thriving research community that is diverse, happy and engaged.

Dr Emily Breeze

I am a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. My research investigates how infection by phytopathogens affects the morphology, dynamics and function of the plant endoplasmic reticulum and, ultimately, the ability of the plant to produce an effective and timely immune response.

I have studied and worked in academic research for over 20 years as a technician, PhD student, facility manager and now postdoc. I have experienced first-hand the unique set of challenges and barriers faced by our diverse and heterogeneous community.

I joined the BBSRC PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup in 2021 to voice these issues and to try and engender change through BBSRC policy and initiatives, such that early career researchers can reach their full potential. I am also a strong advocate for improving research culture and for increasing mental health awareness.

Dr Fatima Madugu

I reintegrated into academic research after a four-year career break with the support of the Daphne Jackson Trust and BBSRC. I am a postdoc at The University of Manchester, working in the biochemical and bioprocessing engineering group.

In my research, I study microbial cells, with a particular interest in computational modelling to optimize cultivation for biofuels, carbohydrates, and protein production.

I joined the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup to share my experiences as an ECR within a higher education institution and contribute with suggestions that would help address the challenges faced by early career researchers.

Among the many issues I am interested in are:

  • the lack of visibility of ECRs within the institutions
  • the underrepresentation of women in research due to challenges with work-life balance and caring responsibilities
  • the fact that ECRs are employed on fixed-term contracts
  • what supports can be put in place to help ECR’s achieve academic independence

Dr Cynthia Kusin Okoro-Shekwaga

I am a BBSRC Discovery Fellow and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. My research interest is in advancing biological systems for the conversion of organic wastes into clean energy and other environmentally useful products.

For my Discovery Fellowship, I am working on the production of high-grade biomethane fuel as a direct replacement for conventional vehicle fuels.

I have a passion for working within research networks, as it helps explore an idea from multiple angles and enables a rich research culture. However, I have observed that the cultures underpinning research networks as a team don’t always filter down to the individual researchers within the group (especially postdocs).

I joined the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup to share my experience and learn from the experiences of others in networking engagements. I also want to work towards initiating strategies that will promote supportive and productive research culture and environment for researchers in BBSRC-funded projects.

Dr Stephen Marshall

I’m a postdoc in the Chemistry Department at the University of Oxford. I work at the interface of chemistry and biology, using biophysical and structural biology techniques to work out how enzymes perform complex chemical reactions.

I joined the BBSRC PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup because I recognise there are issues in academia. Foremost is the career instability for postdoctoral researchers including, short-term contracts, the highly competitive fellowship field, and the need to be mobile, all have impacts on your work-life balance.

Becoming a parent helped me realise that, generally speaking, academia doesn’t promote stability. It would be good to know that you can continue to support your family in a year or two’s time, without needing to move to a new city.

I believe academia needs to consider changes it can make to ensure highly talented people can continue working in the sector, and funding bodies, including the BBSRC, need to facilitate these changes.

Dr Claire Colenutt

I am a senior postdoctoral scientist in the Transmission Biology Group at The Pirbright Institute. I joined the Institute after completing my PhD in 2014 and since then have been involved with research on foot-and-mouth disease and other viral diseases of livestock.

As part of the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup, I’m particularly keen to understand and influence how research can be made more accessible, to a more diverse group of researchers. Furthermore, how the culture of research can be improved to facilitate this.

I’m optimistic that through groups such as this, researchers can have a positive influence on processes that will affect both current and future researchers.

Dr Jordan Cuff

I am a postdoctoral researcher at Newcastle University. My research focuses on using molecular methods to identify interactions between invertebrates to determine what drives these interactions, particularly in agricultural systems in the context of biocontrol.

I am passionate about ensuring the views of researchers are heard across institutions, particularly given the precarious career paths involved and how these especially disadvantage historically excluded groups.

Through the BBSRC PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup, I hope to contribute positively to future BBSRC strategy to improve research culture, reduce precarity and increase representation of researchers in decision-making processes.

Dr Svenja Tidau

I am a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth studying the sensory ecology of animals and how human pollutants interfere for instance with animal’s interactions, behaviour, physiology and growth. My current focus is to quantify the impacts of artificial light at night.

I joined the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup because I felt that many decision-making processes in research and science do not seem to consider (enough) the implications for postdoctoral researchers.

Many postdocs work on short-term contracts (less than a year, for example), which makes it even more challenging to understand an institute and help to drive positive change.

Funders like BBSRC can have real influence in setting standards. For instance, even though the Researcher Concordat is signed by many universities, line managers do not necessarily know about it (such as postdocs having the right to 10 days personal professional development).

I am interested in finding mechanisms and monitoring systems to make sure these rights are implemented.

Dr Jack Rowbotham

I’m Jack Rowbotham, a Discovery Fellow in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. I’m an inorganic chemist by training but came to biology a few years ago during a postdoc at the University of Oxford.

Now my research covers the design and application of metalloenzymes in synthesis, particularly looking for ‘new to nature’ biocatalysts with relevance to industry.

I joined the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup in 2022, and I’m keen to improve opportunities and working environments for postdoctoral level researchers in the UK (in industry and academia). The challenges faced at this level can push a lot of talented people out of science.

I’m hoping my membership on the PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup will help to make research-focused careers more accessible for a wider range of people. Improving working environments for early career researchers will lead to a better life for a wider range of scientists and, ultimately, better science.

Dr Hamish Symington

I am a Junior Research Fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences, Queens’ College, Cambridge. I am interested in pollination and plant-pollinator interactions, and my PhD (also at Cambridge) involved investigating these using the garden strawberry as a model system.

My study characterised the floral variation between cultivars of strawberry and tested bumblebee responses to extremes of that variation to determine their preferences and inform future plant breeding strategies. I also spent many hours watching bumblebees drinking and offloading the sugar solution in the nest, giving a better understanding of how nectar foraging affects bee energetics.

I started my PhD when my daughter was two and, while the university and my department were flexible and supportive, I was surprised at the lack of support for postgraduate parents from the government. I am interested in the research culture around student and early career researcher parents, as well as student mental health in general.

Dr Santosh Kumar

I am currently a beamline researcher at Diamond Light Source and a visiting researcher at Imperial College London. My interdisciplinary research expertise and interests include advanced characterisation, wastewater treatment, photo(electro)catalysis, biomass utilisation and renewable energy.

I have published more than 40 research articles and four book chapters with over 5000 citations and 32 h-index, to date. I am a fellow of Higher Education Academy United Kingdom and a chair of the SHARE network within Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Over the years, I have learned about the complexities of departmental administration, institutional governance, and research culture. I believe that I am well equipped with expertise, experience, and motivation to provide strategic and scientific advice to influence future funding opportunities and other BBSRC activities. I am also looking forward to gaining experience for my own career development, particularly in communication, negotiation, and persuasion.

Dr Joe Sallmen

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. I study the biology of Actinomycetes with particular interest in how these organisms grow and divide.

Actinomycetes are comprised of bacteria which are prolific antibiotic producers, human pathogens, and with complicated life cycles. Understanding how these organisms grow and divide contributes to our ability to access untapped metabolites and combat pathogenic bacteria more effectively.

I joined PAT SAP Researcher Subgroup because I am passionate about addressing issues facing ECRs and helping to adopt changes for the future. ECRs have a plethora of challenges to overcome, in terms of training and development, short term contracts, and future career paths. Addressing the evolving needs of ECRs is of critical importance to science and its role in our society.

Ask a question about the PAT SAP Research Subgroup

Emily Finnegan


Last updated: 17 August 2023

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