UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Mar 2013

What happens when staff and researchers are planning to leave their host institution? In light of the “UKOLN – Looking Ahead” announcement this is a subject which is currently preoccupying myself and many of my colleagues.

As Martin Hamilton pointed out in his post on A Tale of Two Jiscs: Reflections on CETIS13, FutureLearn and the JISC Diaspora “In many cases, JISC was farsighted enough to forsee requirements in the research and education sector that have subsequently turned into significant businesses in themselves“. But Martin then went on to describe how those benefits are about to be lost: “we are entering a new era, necessitated by funding reductions, changing student demographics and frankly an unwillingness to see “R&D” type activities (of which a large proportion can be expected to fail) facilitated through top sliced central funding“. For myself and many of my colleagues we are having to respond to the scenario depicted by Martin:”Behind the scenes, a lot of people who have been working for JISC on its various centres and services have been having meetings with their local HR departments about redundancy and redeployment“.

But what should you do if you wish to continue to make use of the skills and expertise you have developed over the years but new full-time posts appear to be in short supply? I suspect the changes in Jisc will provide new consultancy opportunities, with their current preoccupation in telling good news stories without addressing any of the underlying complexities or tensions leaving a void which can be filled by those who have a more realistic understanding of the complexities of exploiting IT to support institutional requirements.

The preparation for a new career will mean the loss of an IT infrastructure and the accompanying support which many of us will have grown accustomed to. But how can provide help and advice in the preparation for a move away from an institutional environment? One might expect the Library to provide support, especially for institutions which have a commitment to information literacy, which is defined asthe ability to find, use, evaluate and communicate information” and is “an essential skill in this digital age and era of life-long learning“. But as I will be describing next week at the LILAC 2013 conference this is not necessarily the case, with the role of librarians perhaps being to promote use of institutional rather than Cloud services. But since we will all, at some point, leave our host institution, this is not really providing staff and researchers with the life-long skills needed to thrive beyond an institutional context.

Surely it is timely for a change in focus, especially if the gloomy predictions are correct and we continue to see reductions in staffing levels in higher education institutions?

I’d welcome your thoughts and comments – especially if you have experience of leaving your host institution and continuing to work, perhaps as a consultant. My slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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12 Responses to “When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution”

  1. A couple of relatively small things: after a while, you’ll lose your institutional email, and with it, your archived email messages. You’ll also have to re-register for any cloud services that you are currently registered under with your institutional email address. Some, like me, won’t even be able to search their old university library discovery service, as many require login even to view results, though I’ve no idea why this should be the case.

  2. I retired from Edinburgh University not quite 3 years ago. Looking back, I am quite impressed with how they helped me handle that transition. Most useful and interesting was a pre-retirement workshop, about 6 months earlier, where a lot of issues around retirement were discussed (including the surprising fact that dropping to around a quarter of your then-current income isn’t necessarily as bad as it seems!). Edinburgh also allowed me a 6-month grace period when my email address still worked, in at least some senses. I’ve just found the email, and it details:

    Phase 1: 30 day grace period “You should use this time to ensure that you have copied any email off the service if you want it preserved.”
    Phase 2: 90 day suspension period, when the account exists but is locked
    Phase 3: 121 days later, the account is closed. “Any email forwarding instructions you had in place will be removed, and anyone mailing your old University address will receive a bounced message informing them that your account does not exist. Any email left in your account on the server will be deleted… However, if you are a member of staff and you want email forwarding to continue then your School or department can authorise email forwarding from your Edinburgh alias address. (i.e your “” email address).”

    I don’t know if this policy still applies, but it seems to me to be reasonably well balanced. I used IMAP so I had all my important email on my laptop. I guess there’s another issue there…

    From a records management point of view, I believe many IT Service policies are far too cavalier about deleting email accounts that may contain significant institutional records (in terms of evidence of decision-making).

    The email process above would apply to anyone leaving (unless dismissed under a serious cloud). But I’m pretty sure there is much less support for those facing redundancy. In the past, redundancy was not common in universities, but they are having to be much more ruthless these days, so I hope that institutions do put better support in place.

    BTW I don’t think you mentioned one important thing we have discussed before that I missed. There are a few significant services, including one the Google Scholar variants, that require an institutional email address before you can sign up, even if they allow you to change to a personal email address later. It’s worth making sure you’re signed up to as many of these as possible. And if you _can_ get an institutional alumni-type email address, it’s probably worth doing.

  3. I can’t help but think that “Host Institution” implies some kind of parasitical relationship – but who is really the parasite, and who is the host? ;-)

  4. paul martin said

    I am 7 months or so away from a academic institute where I filled in as librarian as necessary. It strikes me that in the same way the PC made folks their own system managers, the internet has done the same for information; my considerable expertise was getting less and less required. And I note from my local uni the main task of library staff appears to be signing in strangers as HE tries to make friends in these trying times.

    With regard to a couple of points I note from your talk (1) I have not missed at all my email/docs database, I regarded that work as belonging to the institution. I have missed colleagues but realised over a Christmas drink that I had moved on but they had not – my role was to tell them there was life after edu. (2) As for recreating identity, particularly online I have experimented as discovered there is much to the adage that very few contribute on the net. (3) I use the word “retired” carefully, you seldom have to declare the topmost line in your CV – most judge by appearances.

  5. There is “another way” of retaining a link to your “host institution” if they, and you, feel it benefits both parties, and if it’s enabled in your institutions’ membership criteria.

    When I retired just over two years ago, I wanted to continue in an unpaid capacity to foster the development of social media within the institution. I even, at that stage, considered registering for a higher degree to do do some research on cultural change and barriers to adoption of social media – that never came to fruition, and it was never declared to anyone else. Within the institution there were a number of honorary titles that could be granted, I applied for one of these and was successful. As a result my use of institutional services continues unbroken.

    I would add that (as I recall, it may have changed) my former institution did allow retirees the ability to continue to access library resources upon personal application, and to keep their email addresses, again upon application. That seems a sensible policy as it makes the break at the end of your “working life” that little less abrupt. From my experience, I have only on a couple of times wanted to access past emails, and even on those occasions I could quite legitimately have said “sorry, can’t get to old emails” and no-one would too seriously have been distressed or inconvenienced. That’s probably because through my working life I’ve never stored anything I really valued on an institutional server alone; that brings me on to digital literacy, I somehow think in this situation, that term is more appropriate than information literacy.

    I applaud your slideshare presentation. Most timely and I can support all the things that you raise. Can I just re-affirm the principle that it is the individual’s responsibility to preserve their digital footprint. Yes, you might expect the institution to have a consideration for your lifetime’s achievements, but you cannot guarantee it. Therefore you must from the outset, in the world we live in now, manage your identity, your future and your legacy yourself.

    So, having set up your own domains and your own servers (I did, but perhaps I’m in the nerdy chapter of retirees), you do take posts from your institutional blog that you thought were important – perhaps not intrinsically in themselves, but illustrative of the thought process that led you to … wherever – and you re-post them with a header note describing the context and original date of posting, perhaps.

    Prior to that of course you will, won’t you, have set up an identity in the cloud that’s separate from the institutional identity that you’ve had, and increasingly you’ll use this one, not the institutional services that are provided for you. Remember, it’s much easier to draw stuff in through the institutional firewall, than to get stuff out to the outside world. Collaboration software is a case in point, but I won’t go there.

    My experience of living in the cloud is that life has continued, as ever, because that’s what I’d got used to before I retired. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson for the pre-retirement/redundancy digital literacy course – parallel working and evaluation of cloud services that will survive. [I must admit that whilst Posterous shutting-down just caused a shrug of the shoulders, a download and then an upload into a new service; the demise of Google Reader shook me rigid, but again a couple of days later, I’d moved on.] So, I’m much more “mainstream” cloud than I was before; I’m more cautious – because at the end of the day … it’s just a service. I don’t experiment as much as I used to, but I focus on tasks and processes when asked to give advice on how to get something done. That’s what others in my position should be instructed in when approaching the break with their institution. What is it that you want to do today, a good digital literacy programme would sort that.

  6. Jonathan O'Donnell said

    One of the key items that you lose when you become a Research Rōnin is your e-mail identity. As you say, you’ve been talking to people by e-mail for years, and managing a change of e-mail address can take some doing.

    The pain is ameliorated somewhat by having an active online identity – blog, Twitter and social network of your choice, as people can catch up with your there. But still, for years afterwards, people will be getting bounces from your ‘old’ address, either because they don’t talk to you often or because it is still stuck somewhere in the bowels of their e-mail client and pops up as a ‘valid’ address when they CC you.

    • Regretably, one cannot control everything – the lack of email client maintenance by one’s colleagues being a case in point. As far as email is concerned. I think the most important lesson one can pass on to new colleagues is to have a separate email identity which is you, not institutional you. Include that in your email footer and it provides a degree of protection.

    • “… for years afterwards, people will be getting bounces from your ‘old’ address, either because they don’t talk to you often or because it is still stuck somewhere in the bowels of their e-mail client and pops up as a ‘valid’ address when they CC you.”

      Annoyingly, email bounce is one of the things you may lose; many email system managers regard them as an evil because of their potential uses as identity probes. For me, that has meant that a number of rarely used services have failed to get in contact with me on some significant matters, which has proved quite a problem from time to time. For these reasons, I do strongly recommend a separate personal email identity from the institutional one. Note, this isn’t easy to manage, as many things can slide between personal and work spaces. And of course it doesn’t make the pain go away completely; at some point you will likely need to change your personal email provider (eg when you decide that Google is too high risk, or have reduced service sufficiently), and then you have reduced the problem to the one you failed to solve adequately before!

  7. David Lomas said

    Brian, Hi. I saw this too late in the day to provide input for your presentation, but here’s my tuppenneth anyway. Like David Harrison, I applied and was granted continued membership of my University. Since retirement, I have only made light use of the IT and Library facilities, but I know they’re there should I need to call upon them. My use has been social (staying in touch with former colleagues) and some informal small scale research for a conservation charity. As monitoring licence compliance was part of my old role, I ensured that I acted within the spirit and letter of the agreements of the datasets I accessed. I think it’s fair to give continued but limited access to IT and Library services. That said, I sympathise with the service providers who have to facilitate this access with their ever shrinking resource-base, stretched support services and compliance issues. Everything has a cost – even good will. :-)


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