The CROS – and questions of time…

Preamble

And so begins the analysis of CROS… which will take some time. Especially since, this year, we’re not just trying to report numbers, but rather trying to draw the data together with what we know from the staff survey, with themes and evidence from a range of other engagements that we have with research staff, and then work with research staff Reps and with units like HR and RED to work out what the data means, and then what doing better actually looks like.

Over the summer, I’ll be pulling together some ‘thought pieces’ on aspects of the data.

These have two aims:

The first is for you to see where our thinking is going as we analyse what you’ve said. Please read, and respond… Note, I’m not sure how we’re going to do that yet, so bear with us as we try out comments, or something more anonymous. 

The second is so that we can start to share thoughts with the rest of the sector. Something that is very clear from CROS is how (despite there being comparatively little researcher traffic between them) the Russell Group data profiles are very similar. So these are sector issues, and not just ours.

So, this is the first of those thought pieces, and concerns some of your responses about..

 

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Your working time, and your career development

First, your time…

It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that nearly 80% of you are working more hours than you’re contracted to. The average is about 6 or 7 hours extra a week, with just under half of those worked at the weekend.

The main reasons given are that you’re not as productive as you’d like to be. You’re beset by things that eat into your time – mainly distractions: “need quiet” (lots of those), “less admin”, “doing other people’s jobs for them”, “inefficiencies elsewhere”, “surveys” (yes… sorry!), “interruptions”, “other people’s emergencies”

Because of these distractions, it’s taking you longer to complete your contracted research. You’re also trying to fit in a multitude of legitimate tasks… but in fragmented ways.

“with the science, and then the peer reviewing, grant writing, supporting students, teaching, outreach… my time is fragmented.”

And then, of course, a postdoc isn’t always just about doing the ‘work’. For many of you, it’s a stepping stone in a growing, increasingly autonomous, academic career… so you’re also trying to add in tasks that will promote your own career progression and finding that very hard to achieve. Three-quarters of you say that you don’t have enough time to write applications for funding or fellowships, to plan your career, or to write additional publications. And nearly 80% of you say that you don’t have time to develop opportunities for secondments or placements.

Tackling that fragmentation of time is key for many of you. Many of you asked for support in managing time both in terms of training and techniques. Some of you have discovered things like writing retreats, or are able to block out “chunks” of time to focus on “priority tasks” like writing.

“I recently attended the writer’s retreat day and found it invaluable. I would really benefit from more opportunities like this”

These are things that we’ll keep offering, along with more training and guidance.

But also, your career development…

But some of you identify that, even if you can find that time, it’s not easy to decide what the priorities are.

“We are valued primarily on grants and papers… However, if we don’t teach or perform [other] citizenship activities, we cannot be promoted.”

And sometimes guidance in that area is really polarised. While I’ve heard one senior academic say

“Find out what you need to do to be promoted, and focus only on those things – say ‘no’ to everything else”,

I’ve heard another say

“do EVERYTHING – grants, and papers, and articles, and peer reviewing, and teaching, and public engagement, and supervision, and mentoring, and sit on committees, and … and… and…”

And, of course, any extra work that you do on your core research is always gratefully received. Over half of you appear to be voluntarily doing ‘more’ on your core work than you strictly need to. And 13% are accepting additional work set by your PIs.

If that contributes to you achieving ‘success’ in whatever shape that comes, or building a CV for future success, then that’s great.

But what if it doesn’t?

And what if we’re not doing enough to support you in making choices about what does and doesn’t?

And what if you’re (then) not able to make choices, and take ownership of your time, and – therefore, also – your own future careers?

Postdoc-ing is not, in most long-term cases, a career (Elvidge et al. 2017). And so The Concordat for the Career Development of Research Staff says that we (the UoB) should provide a clear structure to help you understand and plan your career development.

It also says that you (research staff) have a responsibility to engage in pro-actively planning your careers. But it’s unreasonable to expect you to do that without good guidance and support.

It would appear from CROS that many of you are struggling in this, and we will be looking at how we can support you better.

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