Coaching can help university researchers at all levels. University researchers include all staff who undertake research and all research students. This is a diverse group of people, including PhD students, Postdoctoral Fellows, research-active Lecturers and Professors, and Research Institute Directors. Yet all these people can face some common challenges, due to the process of undertaking research. 

Research can be exhilarating with many highs. For example, when you win that big grant or your research results support your theory. But there can also be substantial lows or challenges.

What might these ‘researcher challenges’ include?

• Concern about completing a thesis or funded research project on time because of multiple tasks.
• Lack of understanding of the pressures of research by senior colleagues, who perhaps have never been researchers.
• Loneliness. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, undertaking research is often a lone occupation.
• Rejection. This includes multiple rejections of funding applications and papers for publication. Although feedback should be supportive, it can feel harsh.
• Feeling that you are in the wrong job. This may be prompted by multiple setbacks, for example, grant rejections or experiment/study failures.
• Isolation due to being the only researcher in your area in your department, perhaps because you have recently moved institution.

While it is true that colleagues in universities may also face such (or similar) situations, I would argue that they are more commonly encountered by researchers.

What about other challenges?

Yes, researchers also encounter other challenges commonly brought to coaching. These may include:
• Having recently been appointed a Research Institute Director but having little prior leadership experience.
• Time management.
• Having difficult conversations.
• Preparing for a promotion interview.
• Being able to say ‘no’ (nicely).

What general skills can coaching provide?

The answer to this is ‘many’ but I would highlight the following:

• Understanding the perspective of the other person.
• Critical reflection to increase self-awareness and awareness of the impact you may be having on others.
• Communication skills.
• Listening skills.
• Increased self-confidence.

When used, these general skills may help to make the workplace a happier place for people to thrive.


During a 35 year career in higher education, Jenny Ames led a productive research group, worked with people from a wide range of subject areas and collaborated with organisations from various sectors. She held the title of Professor at 6 universities, graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. Jenny was also a senior manager for 8 years. As Associate Dean and Assistant Pro Vice Chancellor, led on Research Impact at University level. In 2017 was she was made Founding Research Impact Lead for University Alliance.

Since 2017, Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. Working with universities in the area of Research Impact is an important part of her business. Jenny’s coaching practice focuses on university researchers and people in career transition. People in career transition may be wondering what to do next or they may have recently moved sector, organisation or job role. Jenny holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University. She is also a Member of the Association for Coaching (MAC). Jenny is also a facilitator on ‘Entrepreneurial Leaders’, a programme for senior university leaders run by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE).


Author Jenny Ames

Working with Universities, Businesses and their Stakeholders to benefit Society.

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