The VisNET project aimed to remodel the implicit ‘rules’ of networking and collaboration.

Female academics, particularly in STEM subjects, score consistently lower than male academics in metrics measuring international and industrial collaborations. These two related assessment criteria are key at all stages in academic careers and particularly important at senior levels to secure the highest value research grants and promotions.

This pilot project was specifically aimed at a cohort of talented female post-doctoral researchers and fellows (PDRAs). Women remain underrepresented at professorial level, with these gender imbalances heightened in Engineering. The transition from post-doc to ECR is a key attrition point for women in engineering, and perceptions that an academic career is incompatible with work-life balance and family is one of the main factors.

The interdisciplinary academic and industrial consortium this project brought together led the way in developing, integrating and advocating a new approach to conduct these activities largely in situ (i.e. from the researchers’ home institution). By demonstrating that strategic networks and collaborations can be built and maintained without frequent travel, we believed academic careers would be more attractive to this group of PDRAs and others. This intervention would also provide crucial tools to build confidence and researcher independence and potentially mitigate the impact of future career breaks and parenthood.

Aims and objectives

This project aimed to:

  1. To identify key barriers to international collaboration for female engineering academics
  2. To design and demonstrate interventions and new best practices in networking and collaborations to define a new and more effective normal.

While several barriers have been identified to academic career advancement for women and have led to strategic interventions at national and institutional levels, there remains a lack of data and action targeted at networking and collaboration – the focus of the VisNET programme.

The project objectives were:

  • To identify barriers and assess interventions (research) by:
    • Defining the meaning, impact and relevance of international collaborations for academic careers and how this differs by gender.
    • Quantifying and qualifying the growth, international reach and influence of participants’ networks in response to our intervention.
    • Assessing the value of interventions that promote international collaboration to women’s careers.
  • To pilot strategic in situ networking approaches with a female PDRA cohort (innovate) by:
    • Delivering enhanced professional development for in situ networking and collaborations.
    • Implementing personalised approaches to rapidly and strategically grow participants’ international online networks.
    • Nurturing the development of individually-driven international virtual workplaces inspired by global business practices.
  • To demonstrate & disseminate the successful impact of virtual in situ networking (embed) by:
    • The adoption of in situ collaboration practices in daily academic activities.
    • Developing a powerful advocacy network to ensure the continued roll-out, uptake and optimisation of in situ networking and collaboration in our Universities and the wider UK STEM community.
    • Constructing and disseminating best practice recommendations based on research and innovation activities and in pursuit of institutional and national policy changes.


Related outputs