Less than third of early career researchers trust promotion processes

Poll found that 29% of early career researchers felt they were treated fairly under promotion and career progression processes, compared to 58% of senior staff

Less than a third of research staff in the UK believe promotion and progression processes are fair in their institutions, a new independent survey suggests. 

The poll found that 29% of early career researchers felt they were treated fairly under promotion and career progression processes, compared to 58% of lecturers, senior researchers and professors. 

The Vitae Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research Survey (CEDARS) attracted 3,025 responses from 22 UK institutions. Last year it replaced the long-running Careers in Research Online Survey and the Principal Investigators & Research Leaders Survey. Its launch coincided with the new Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

By identifying the successes and importantly, the challenges of the researcher environment, especially during the current pandemic, we can collectively work towards creating improved support
– Dr Janet Metcalfe, Vitae

A third (33%) of junior researchers felt they could progress fairly at their institutions, compared to half of more senior staff. A similar proportion (34%) of early career researchers felt that promotions at their institution were impartial and based on merit, compared to 49% of senior staff. 

This imbalance continues in the employment statuses of early career and junior research staff. Over three-quarters of them (76%) remain on fixed-term contracts, and although more than seven in 10 (72%) aspire to an academic career, only 59% expect to achieve this aim. Many reported not being able to spend as much of their contracted time on research: eight in 10 early career respondents said that more than four-fifths of their working hours are for research, but only 54% manage to achieve this.

Those early career researchers were less likely to feel they received fair acknowledgement for their work. The survey suggests 37% believe they were equitably included in submissions for the research excellence framework, compared to a proportion double this for senior peers (81%). 

Despite these disparities, similar proportions of senior and junior staff reported job satisfaction – 72% of early career researchers agreed, only two percentage points lower than senior peers. 

Other findings: 

  • A large majority of research staff feel well-managed, while half their managers are not confident in dealing with poor performance
  • Two in ten (22%) female junior researchers said that they had felt bullied or harassed in the past two years, compared to 13 per cent of males. 
  • While established staff were more likely to experience bullying or harassment, but were more likely to report them. 
  • Only 14% of research staff spent 10 or more days on professional development and around half do not have time to develop their research identity or leadership capabilities.

Dr Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae, said: “The CEDARS alignment with the revised Principles of the Concordat to Support the Development of Researchers, and its implementation alongside the HR Excellence in Research Award makes it a powerful and effective tool from which to set new benchmarks and monitor trends and perspectives of researchers in the UK, both at an institutional and policy level.”

“By identifying the successes and importantly, the challenges of the researcher environment, especially during the current pandemic, we can collectively work towards creating improved support around culture, employment and the professional development of researchers so that research can continue to flourish and thrive.”


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