UCL Research


Coaching early career scientists to position themselves for success

UCL’s ADAPT to Grow coaching programme is helping early career researchers develop resilience and avoid burnout in the challenging environment of health research.


6 December 2023

ADAPT to Grow is a structured coaching programme designed to increase resilience in early career researchers (ECRs). It adopts a dynamic approach to the improvement of workplace experience and wellbeing, reflecting insights from UCL’s research culture consultation.

With high stress levels considered a sector-wide systemic factor in science research environments, the programme provides a vital service that complements existing pastoral support for UCL researchers working in health-related fields.

Alex Teale, Communications and Project Manager, Academic Careers Office, says, “That was the genesis of this project – we asked, ‘how can we be proactive, and step in at the right stage with targeted support to help researchers continue?’”

Learning to navigate the academic workplace

Participants joining the programme receive four hour-long 1:1 sessions with a coach, taken over a six-month period. All the coaches involved with the programme are fully trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and combine behavioural coaching with more role-specific coaching intended to help ECRs develop workplace skills and resilience.

Alex says, “A lot of the time, people get PhD places and fellowships based on their academic ability. However, these talented academics still need support and training to learn how to deal with workplace issues. How do you manage your time? How do you build effective working relationships? Or network? Or resolve conflicts?

“Our coaches will also talk about work/life balance and effective boundaries, too.”

Quantifying the success of a private process

Feedback from participants is almost unanimously positive, with 95% endorsing the programme’s effectiveness. Comments include: ‘really excellent programme – such a great learning experience’, and ‘the emphasis on principles and tools that one could use long-term is particularly helpful’.

Surveys and interviews are used in a limited way to help participants assess their progress and increased resilience, using measures validated in psychiatric studies.

Maintaining and expanding the support

As with many initiatives of this kind, finding consistent funding streams can be an issue. The programme remained relatively small until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the isolation and logistical issues of the pandemic added further complications for ECRs who needed to adapt to the research environment and build a professional network.

Fortunately, additional emergency funding for health and wellbeing initiatives meant that ADAPT to Grow was able to expand to provide 100 places per year.

Thanks in part to UCL’s Research Culture funding, this growth will be sustained for the immediate future. In addition to other funding streams, the funding will be paying for 600 coaching sessions for 150 ECRs over the next three years. In order to create the maximum impact from the vital services provided by ADAPT to Grow, Alex and the team are finding ways to tailor their offer to specific departments and funding opportunities.

No need to struggle alone

Alex is proud of the successes of ADAPT to Grow - and urges any ECRs who are struggling in health-related fields to get in touch sooner, rather than later.

“I think science and academia and research can be quite a lonely experience for people. We want to help people get into a healthy mindset, so you can have a better relationship with your research and your work. You don’t have to wait until you end up in a burnout stage before you reach out.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with chatting to somebody and asking for help.”

We want to help people ... get into a healthy mindset, so you can have a better relationship with your research and your work."
- Alex Teale, Communications & Project Manager, Academic Careers Office

More information

About research culture

UCL’s Research Culture programme is developing a fair, collaborative and inclusive research culture, where both our research and research community can thrive. We work with UCL’s research community to support and deliver change against our 10-year Research Culture Roadmap.