Starting a research group

Starting a research group can have numerous benefits, but can also be a daunting prospect. Here Lauren Thompson gives you some tips on setting up your own research group as a postgraduate researcher.
Benefits of starting a research group

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As well as the advantages associated with administrating a research group, setting up a successful research group will demonstrate that you are an enterprising individual, capable of handling responsibility. You also have the advantage of being able to ensure that the group that you run has the perfect focus – that it covers your areas of interest exactly.

As you start the group up, it is likely that you will also be in charge of administrating it, at least until the group becomes more established.

Key decisions

Before you can get started on setting up your group, there are a few important decisions to be made:

  • What will the focus be? What area of research? A theme, a theory, a subject area?
  • Will your group be interdisciplinary?
  • Will your group include other institutions?
  • Will your group be exclusively for postgraduates or are you looking to attract established and early career researchers?
  • What will the group be for? Presenting/discussing works in progress? Sharing and discussing readings? Undertaking new research projects as a group?

Try to establish, either at this stage or in consultation with other members at your first meeting, a written mission statement for your group and a set of core goals.

Attracting members

Obviously, in order to have a research group, you need to have members! Once you’ve decided on the focus and coverage of your group, your first job will be to use this information to publicise the group. There are several ways to do this:

  • posters – in the Research Exchange, library and on departmental noticeboards (postgraduate and staff)
  • emails – distributed through departmental secretaries to staff and postgraduates
  • building up an online presence to promote your group:
  • a webpage
  • a Warwick Blog
  • a twitter account
  • Facebook page
  • In person – arrange meetings with people whom you think may be interested in participating. This is particularly appropriate for getting higher-profile academics on board.
  • Through your supervisor – even if they are not available to be a member themselves, your supervisor will be able to spread news of your group to other members of staff and to other postgraduate students.

Target your advertising in line with the decisions you have made. If you want your group to be interdisciplinary, make sure you advertise in all appropriate departments. If you are hoping to attract collaborators from other institutions, contact the relevant departments in other universities in the area.

Funding your research group

Even a small research group is going to need some financial support. Photocopying, printing, stamps, refreshments: it all adds up. Your first point of call should be your department – is there any internal funding available for such a venture? If not, would you be able to have reasonable use of existing resources, for example, the departmental photocopier?

If you are unsuccessful here, it’s time to spread the net a little wider. Many research centres in the university are able to support research groups that fall under their remit. For example, the leader of a humanities group might try approaching the Humanities Research Centre (HRC). Keep an eye on your emails for funding opportunities from these centres which are advertised from time to time.


So, you’ve set up your group and got some members on board, now it’s time to set up a meeting. Again, there are decisions to be made here. How often will your group meet? Termly? Monthly?

In the interests of making scheduling as simple as possible, it is best to have a routine schedule such as your meetings will always be on a Wednesday at 3pm. This makes communicating dates to your group and keeping your schedule organised much simpler. You can fix this time in consultation with the other members of your group in order to avoid clashes with their other commitments.

Chairing a meeting

Chairing a meeting can be a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. Unfortunately, it is one of those tasks for which the only way to learn is to have a go! The good news is that, having set up your research group, you are in an excellent position to practice this skill which will serve you well throughout your professional career, whether you stay in academia or not.

Image Deutsche Fotothek‎, Wikicommons

3 thoughts on “Starting a research group

    1. Thanks for sharing this information about setting up a research group, as a PhD student I suppose. I like the idea as it enhances your CV and shows how well you can manage tasks, also, life after PhD will still be filled with other research and academic activities.

      However, I don’t think it can be feasible, based on constrains PhD students are expected to work under.

      This also depends on the research area the student is working in, for example those in Chemistry or Biology, I doubt if they will have the extra time, manpower and resources to start up a research group, when in most cases, they are within a research institute.

      I guess there should be distinction between a research group, centre or institute. As you have highlighted, there is the need to find your focus and know what you want to do but funding also becomes an issue. What expertise have you got to start bidding for research funds or engage in other activities, outside your main research institute?

      For those, in social sciences, I think this could be easier, if they can identify their niche and manage available resources to get things done. But will the student consider the University’s research centre a competitor, even though they may not have the backing to fund themselves or a collaborator? Then how about conflict of interest?

      As a PhD students, I will not advice setting up a research group, instead be active within your research centre within the University, hopefully there is a research activity going on, you will like to be a part.

      Also, I will advice reaching out to other Research institutes, either within your University or outside but not to take up the sole responsibility of running a research group, mind you this is not a group of friends for social activities, but for academic exploits.

      I will also suggest collaborating with supervisors to work on a project and/or publish together. I see this as a perfect way of integrating a PhD student into the proper academia settings. I like the idea of Piirus which should be able to connect researchers across boundaries. I see it as platform for PhD students to access.

      However, if you think you can manage a research group, please go for it, I wish you all the best, at least some face their PhD squarely for three years without engaging in any other activities, which I think it’s not a good idea.

      PhD is an individual race, do all the best you can, explore every possible opportunities without jeopardizing your main purpose the doctorate degree.

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