#14: Developing Staff To Enhance Research Quality And Student Satisfaction – Personal Stories From The Field

University academics bear the mantle of not only advancing knowledge through their research but also shaping the minds of future generations of society.

The dual objectives of enhancing research quality and boosting student satisfaction are inextricably linked to the continuous personal and professional development of academic faculty and their managers.

As managers, it’s crucial to explore the specific actions that develop our academic staff effectively.

We can do this by identifying areas for improvement and then actively engaging in strategies to address any gaps.

By doing this, we’ll support faculty to become the leaders who shall play a pivotal role in fostering an environment where continuous improvement is not just encouraged but ingrained in the fabric of the institution.

Using stories from the field, I’ll explore some of the concrete steps that academic managers can employ to support their faculty in achieving excellence in research and teaching, thereby enhancing overall student satisfaction.

These narratives not only illustrate the principles in action but they also highlight the human element of academic leadership and its impact on faculty and student success.

1. Creating a Supportive Environment

I recall a department chair, who made it a point to personally congratulate faculty members on their achievements, whether it was a published paper, a successful grant application, or positive student feedback.

This simple act of acknowledgment had a profound effect on the department’s morale and motivation. Their approach underscored the importance of recognising and celebrating the hard work and success of academic staff, fostering a culture where continuous improvement was valued and encouraged.

2. Promoting Open Communication

Another inspiring example comes from a faculty retreat organised by a dean of research. She dedicated a session solely to open discussions about challenges and opportunities for improvement, without any set agenda.

This session not only provided academics with a platform to voice concerns and share ideas but also led to the development of a peer support group focused on innovative research-informed teaching methods.

This group became a cornerstone for faculty development within the department, showcasing the power of open communication in catalysing positive change.

3. Implementing Targeted Development Programmes

In my early years as an academic, I benefitted greatly from a development programme specifically designed for junior academics.

This programme, initiated by the Pro Vice Chancellor for Academic Development, included workshops on research methodologies that were directly relevant to my field, as well as seminars on effective teaching strategies.

The personalised nature of this programme played a crucial role in my professional growth, enabling me to enhance my research and teaching capabilities significantly.

4. Advocating Mentoring

A professorial colleague of mine shared how being mentored by a senior academic transformed his career.

His mentor provided him with invaluable guidance on balancing teaching responsibilities with research ambitions, which helped him secure a prestigious research fellowship grant.

This mentorship experience not only accelerated his professional development but also inspired him to become a mentor himself, perpetuating a cycle of growth and support within the department.

5. Fostering Collaborative Research Initiatives

A memorable example of fostering collaboration comes from a cross-disciplinary research project between the departments of Event Management and Logistics and Computer Science.

Facilitated by the department heads, this initiative brought together academics with diverse expertise to tackle a complex research problem.

The collaboration not only resulted in innovative findings but also provided students with a unique opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research, greatly enhancing their educational experience and subsequent employability.

6. Prioritising Teaching Excellence

A colleague known for his innovative teaching methods once shared how feedback from a student-led evaluation prompted him to rethink his approach to lecturing.

This feedback led him to incorporate more interactive elements into his classes, such as seminars based on ‘wicked problems’, using technology to enhance learning such as real-time polls, and virtual group discussions.

Over time, these changes resulted in significantly higher student engagement and satisfaction, illustrating the impact of prioritising teaching excellence and responsiveness to student feedback.

7. Implementing Robust Evaluation Systems

Reflecting on my career as an academic manager, I have realised the most significant benefits when I have focused upon the processes of rigorous evaluation.

‘Proper’ evaluation is underrated and often neglected.

When I have initiated comprehensive evaluation methods that include both quantitative and qualitative feedback mechanisms, I have discovered valuable insights.

In particular, my investment of time into evaluating holistic academic staff performance made significant inroads into diagnosing areas where improvement was needed.

One particular case involved an academic who, while being an internationally recognised researcher, struggled to engage undergraduate students.

Over time, this became a significant issue for the academic, whose other work started to be adversely affected due to his worsening mood.

Armed with specific feedback, I was able to tailor a development plan that significantly improved his wellbeing at work and subsequently his teaching effectiveness.

8. Setting Clear, Measurable Goals

Working with a junior academic who had taken a career break, we set clear, measurable goals for her research output and student satisfaction ratings.

By tracking her progress against these goals, we identified early on a need for additional support in grant writing.

This targeted intervention led to her securing a significant research grant, which improved her confidence, advanced her research, and also contributed to the department’s reputation for excellence.


For academic managers, developing their academic faculty is a multifaceted endeavour that requires a thoughtful, personalised approach.

By establishing a supportive culture, implementing targeted development programmes, enhancing research and teaching quality, and utilising data for informed decision-making, managers can significantly impact their faculty’s growth.

This, in turn, elevates the overall quality of education and research at their institutions, leading to greater student satisfaction and institutional success.

In essence, the development of faculty should be viewed as a strategic priority, integral to the institution’s mission and vision.

Ultimately, it is academic managers, through their leadership, that possess the unique opportunity to inspire and facilitate this development, crafting a legacy of excellence and innovation in higher education.

Further Reading

I have distilled over two decades of working in Higher Education into the ADVANCE method for data-driven transformation.

You can read all about it for free on Kindle Unlimited, or purchase a paperback copy.