This guide is designed to help those who have been asked to, or are thinking about, taking over administration of a research group. Here Lauren Thompson talks you through the benefits and responsibilities of convening a research group, along with a few useful tips.
Becoming a convenor
The role of convenor comes with a lot of responsibility but has many advantages to offer the postgraduate researcher. These include:
- experience in an academic administrative role
- looks great on your CV
- the chance to build up close links with the members of the group – often including academics from different career stages, disciplines and institutions
The jobs required of you will vary from group to group, dependent on such things as the size of the group and how often you meet but here are a few of the most common responsibilities of the group convenor:
- Communicating vital information to members both electronically and in hard copy
- Scheduling and planning meetings
- Writing and distributing the agenda
- Taking minutes during meetings and distributing them afterwards
- Dealing with enquiries from outside parties, including potential new members
- Selecting and distributing readings
- Making tea – it’s not glamorous, but someone’s got to do it! And when have you ever not been grateful for a cuppa?
If you are to be administering an already existing group, here is a handover checklist. If you don’t have the following information, try and talk to the previous convenor or group leader.
- A list of group members – preferably, this should include their email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers.
- Information on meeting timetables – how often does the group usually meet? At what time? Where? Do these times vary or are they fixed?
- Current research – does the group have any projects on the go? What has the group read recently?
- Budget for expenses – such as photocopying, stamps, refreshments – does the group have one and how much is it? How do you access it?
Much communication is done electronically these days. This is great in terms of time management and resources, but can present a real headache too. Here are some tools to aid the smooth running of your group:
- Set up a unique folder in your inbox for group related correspondence, and send all relevant emails there.
- Create a shared email list, so that all members can communicate instantly with one another.
- Google Groups is one of the most popular and user friendly ways to do this. They also offer several detailed guides on how to use the service. Perfect for technophobes and technophiles alike!
While it is a wonder of modern communication, email can also be a potential minefield of manners.
- Check that your members are happy to be contacted in this manner.
- Avoid bombarding members with numerous emails – try and remember all the points you want to make and organise them into one email.
- Use bullet points or a numbered list if you are worried about getting every point across.
- If you are sending an attachment, double check that you’ve attached it before sending.
- Be polite, warm and friendly. There is generally no need to be overly formal – you do know these people after all!
A shared folder on a service like Dropbox is an easy and accessible way to share documents and folders with members of your group. Use it to share readings, agendas, minutes, which your members can access from any computer. Members can also then upload their own files into the folder – ideal for sharing recently published articles. As with emails, keeping your Dropbox organised is key – use subfolders for different categories.
An agenda sets out chronologically the order of business for the meeting in a numbered list. You may devise this yourself or in consultation with the group leader. Make sure you include all the things that will be discussed at the meeting for example, set reading, presentation by a group member, discussion of the group’s current project. Start with the most important items then work down. Finish with A.O.B. – any other business.
Image German Federal Archives, Wikicommons