Ask the panel

February 24, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I have just accepted my first research contract and, in time, would like to obtain a lectureship to enable me to continue in research. My principal investigator has suggested that I undertake several hours' teaching a week, which, he says, will help me get the lectureship. However, some younger lecturers in my department had no previous teaching experience and are counselling me not to take any on as it will take time away from my research.

* Our panellist from the Association of University Teachers says: "Although most permanent appointments in 'research- led' institutions are made on research potential and activity, undergraduate and postgraduate teaching remains a key part of the academic role and so it can be useful to gain some teaching experience while on a 'research-only' contract."

She points out that the rules of the research councils allow for research staff funded through their grants to teach for up to six hours a week during normal working hours (pro rata for part-time staff), provided that the work is related to the funded research project.

"Any teaching requirements should also be in line with, and not exceed, the requirements of the national role profiles for research staff. Level 1 and level 2 research profiles provide for contributions to introductory courses.

"Teaching requirements that take you beyond your normal working hours or beyond what would be expected under the relevant role profile should be regarded as a separate contractual requirement and should be paid at the standard hourly rate. You should also not be expected to take on too many different courses or to take on courses in subject areas you are not familiar with," she says.

* The panellist from Research Councils UK says: "Most universities have a staff development team and the perspective they provide might help inform your decision. One observation is that taking on some teaching might not only help broaden skills and fill out your CV, but the experience will also inform your aims for your career."

She adds: "The concordat for career management of research staff says that the funding bodies will wish to be satisfied that institutions have in place effective policies for ensuring standards for career management of contract researchers, including in-service training in the form of appropriate specialist or general training. Demonstrating and teaching duties should be encouraged within the limits set by grant conditions."

* Our resident academic says that this is indeed a tricky decision. "Highly graded research departments still contain people for whom teaching is a skill that can be taught and is secondary in its importance to proven ability to invent and carry out quality research," she says. "If you wish to obtain a lectureship in one of these departments, then you should probably limit your teaching - but bear in mind that it doesn't hurt to have teaching experience so long as teaching doesn't hurt your research record. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you collect evidence of what you have done and any feedback from students and the lecturers you work with. This sort of evidence is becoming increasingly important not only in applying for appropriate lectureships but also for promotion."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "You are just beginning your career as an academic and should keep your options open for the future. Although you are keen to pursue your research, gaining some teaching experience may have long-term benefits in terms of your skills development and employability. You may even find that the interaction with students could enhance the research you are doing. If you are concerned that progress with your research will be affected, you should discuss your workload with your principal investigator."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

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