Postdoc policies gain momentum
During National PostDoc Appreciation Week, on 19-20 Sept, the UK held its first national postdoc meeting in Cambridge. At the newly opened and purpose-built postdoc centre at North West Cambridge, 53 postdocs from 23 higher education institutions convened to discuss policy issues relevant to their career, personal development and training. The format was a series of workshops, in which all attendants could participate, exchange experiences and discuss the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, a document that, while being aimed at and devised for postdocs, none-the-less was news to a majority of the attendants.
This was the first clear benefit of the meeting: several postdocs commented that being aware of the Concordat had changed their views on their own role within their home institutions and would motivate them to engage more with the career development activities offered. The UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers is an agreement between funders and employers of research staff to improve the employment and support for researchers and research careers in UK higher education. It sets out clear standards that research staff can expect from the institution that employs them, as well as their responsibilities as researchers.
The discussions that followed were aimed at finding out how Universities were performing in respect of the concordat. Dr Katie Wheat, Professional Development Manager from Vitae (who were one of the original authors of the Concordat) gave a presentation on current trends within the research landscape in the UK, and to what extent the document has had an impact. Of particular interest, was the marginal reduction in number of researchers currently employed on fixed term contracts. The concordat aspires to ensure stability and security for post docs throughout their career, commonly used short-term post-doctoral contracts are all too often barriers in retaining the brightest and the best students in academia. The data discussed, showed that in this respect, the impact of the concordat has yet to be fully realised.
Dr Miguel Jorge, lecturer at the Universith of Strathclyde, and co-signatory of the Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers, gave a candid presentation of what the process of translating aspirational documents into real world policy looks like. His presentation was at times sobering, but also offered a genuinely hopeful outlook into how positive change can be made. He showed us policy areas within the EU in which the recommendations of the Bratislava Declaration are being adopted.
In as much as this first national postdoc meeting was focussed on the Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers (a declaration which sets out the ambitions of young researchers in the EU), the Concordat and how to feed into its’ revision process, the general consensus was that such policy-focussed meetings should be made a regular item on the meeting schedule for years to come. Early suggestions were for the meeting to be rotated among Universities across the UK, and the clear expectation is that there will be a differently themed, but equally important meeting in 2018. The postdoc community will benefit, enabling continued exchange with policy makers, which in turn should help improve high-level policy decisions. The foundations have been set, and the postdoc community seems intent on building on this momentum.