More on Fixed-term Working

Those of you who read my recent post about the new Vitae publication on fixed-term working might also be interested to read this post on the Vitae Research Staff blog:

It also provides a link to the UCU’s ‘Researcher’s Survival Guide’.

I also came across an interesting article in the midst of my summer reading on what Research Staff do in-between contracts in order to help them to secure future employment. The piece, by John Hockey (‘Working to return to employment: the case of UK social science contract researchers’ in Studies in Higher Education, 29: 2), suggests that, in addition to the ‘formal’ things that out of contract researchers do to try to get a job (like filling in application forms, amending their CVs, etc), there are also less formal strategies that they employ in order to increase their chances of getting hired. These include:

  • Targetting previous employers who are aware of their reputation and familiar with their previous work. This strategy also requires that researchers make the most of their ‘informal resources’, including social networks who may be in a position to offer a ‘heads-up’ on jobs that may be coming up soon, or offer some insight into what the job might entail (eg the theoretical underpinnings or preferred methodology of the PI). These researchers were then able to tailor their applications.
  • Researchers were also found to make use of their social network in order to ensure that people in the institution they had just left knew that they were available should another post come up.
  • Some researchers reported using their ‘out-of-contract’ time to write articles that they (ironically?) didn’t get chance to publish during their contract. Again, this was supported by remaining in contact with previous colleagues and employers who could allow unofficial access to resources like printers, library books, photocopiers, etc.
  • Some researchers in the project also spoke about the importance of retaining a sense of themselves as researchers and “shoring up self-belief in their capacity to engage competently in the contract research role” (p.569). They did this in several ways – by reading old papers and thus reminding themselves of past achievements, by continuing to read and write in order to stay abreast of the discipline and retain their research skills, and by remaining on electronic mailing lists and discussion groups to reinforce their belonging in the discipline.

Clearly, the network of ex-colleagues was important to these out of contract researchers, but in order to draw on this social network, researchers had to ensure that they remained ‘visible’ to ex-colleagues. However, this visibility has to be carefully cultivated, and several of the researchers interviewed talked about how they achieved visibility without creating tension. While visits to their old workplace was seen as one way to ensure visibility, some researchers¬† emphasised the importance of timing their visits carefully to avoid being in the way. Social events, like visits to the pub, or research seminars where therefore seen as one way to interact with previous colleagues without hindering their work. One of Hockey’s interviewees was also sensitive to the fact that his presence may well act as a kind of momento mori, signalling the fact that even those who were currently employed were still in fixed-term posts and may find themselves in his position in the future. He therefore felt that it was important for him to avoid complaining to them about the challenges of unemployment. Furthermore, researchers also spoke of the necessity of ensuring that they are seen as ‘researchers’, even when they were not currently employed as a researcher, to ensure that they continue to be seen as a credible candidate for future employment. To achieve this, they described reading papers and discussing them with colleagues as well as actively enquiring about how other research projects are progressing.

John Hockey’s article can be accessed via the JRUL electronic journal search.


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