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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory
Members of the Research Staff Committee (left), Tiffany Harte (top right) and Beth Tennyson (bottom right)

The Cavendish has hundreds of research staff, who are integral to the life and success of the Department. As well as contributing to the world-class research for which the Cavendish is famous, researchers also make valued contributions to teaching and learning, public engagement, administration, and much more.

The Department’s commitment to fostering good working conditions and career development for researchers is captured in the Research Staff Committee, which represent the interests of the research staff on department committees and organize social, network and training events.

Here we meet Dr Beth Tennyson and Dr Tiffany Harte, co-chairs of the Committee, who tell us about their role in creating a space and platform for Research Staff voices and why they think building a community within Physics and across the University is fundamental.


Both of us were searching for a sense of community and belonging in the Department as our main driver. We wanted to meet new postdocs and other researchers to see how we fit in the larger picture of this world-class physics department. Beth Tennyson and Tiffany Harte

Who are the Research Staff Committee?

The research staff committee is made up of research staff (defined as any non-student researcher that is employed by the University), which includes but is not limited to postdocs, industry researchers, laboratory staff, etc.

Ideally, we aim to have one representative from each group within the Physics Department. These members want to advocate for and represent their fellow research staff peers as well as contribute to the department in a constructive way.

What are the particular challenges faced by Research Staff at the University?

There is not just one unified research staff experience, and this group often face unique challenges compared to other members of the University. One example of this is that we often only have short-term contracts, meaning that we are continuously looking out for new opportunities in an increasingly competitive environment without a clearly defined trajectory. Maybe most importantly, the scope and requirements of a researcher’s role can be very different to their peers, making it hard to evaluate if they are progressing in a meaningful and valuable way. As research staff are often not affiliated to a college and might not be in a research group with others at a similar career stage, there can be a barrier to the feeling of belonging within the community on entering the department.

For all these reasons we think representation and building a community is fundamental.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and what got you interested in representing and advocating for your peers?

We both joined the research staff committee in the autumn of 2018. For Beth, she had felt the need to get more involved in the department, having arrived in Cambridge for the first time in summer 2018 as a new postdoc in the Optoelectronics group. Tiffany joined the committee after a year in the AMOP group, after some big changes in her personal life prompted her to try to connect more with other researchers and contribute to the broader life of the department.

Both of us were searching for a sense of community and belonging in the Department as our main driver. We wanted to meet new postdocs and other researchers to see how we fit in the larger picture of this world-class physics department.

Once in attendance we both began to get a clearer picture of how the department works and how important it is to engage in constructive dialogue with the department management to improve the experience of research staff. Knowing the right levers and who does what within the department is valuable even beyond the Research Staff Committee. It’s important for administrative tasks, facility issues, teaching opportunities and beyond. It’s how Tiffany and Beth met and were able to form a strong friendship!

How is the Committee advocating for change at the Cavendish and within the University? 

We meet once a term to discuss issues raised by researchers, and also represent the interests of the research staff community on various other committees in the department. Our members are all passionate about different aspects of the researcher experience, including wellbeing, teaching and supervising, career development and community building. Everyone brings their own interests and experiences along to the meetings and we formulate actionable goals on all these different themes. We also organise Q&A sessions with the department leadership so researchers can directly engage with these conversations.

Most recently we have been advocating for clearer communication around the procedures that are followed at the renewal or end of a researcher’s contract. Researchers were expressing their concerns about the stressful uncertainty of the end of a contract, and so we discussed the impact of this with the Department’s administration who made clear communication of the procedures more widely available. One of the greatest strengths of the committee is the commitment of our members to the causes we advocate for, and we will engage in the long-term dialogue that is sometimes necessary to bring about meaningful change.

As a committee we also want to help create an inclusive and dynamic community in the department. We organise social events including the popular Cavendish Research Ethics movie nights and seminar series to promote discussions about ethical questions in physical science research among researchers at all career stages within the department and wider University.

What can people do to keep informed and if they want to get involved?

All are welcome in the committee and especially if you have just joined the Department. We’ve just started releasing a termly digest to keep researchers up to date on our latest activities and publish our minutes on our website. If you have any feedback or questions, or would like to get involved with our work, please contact Beth or Tiffany, or your group representative. You will find contact details and the list of representative on our Intranet page

The University also has an active postdoc community – you can find out more on the Postdoc Academy website and the Postdocs of Cambridge Society