Cambridge postdocs should be given ‘stronger identity’

Early career researchers to be represented on university committees

March 13, 2014

Source: Rex

Fully integrated: call to help young scholars engage with university community

Postdoctoral researchers need a “much stronger identity” in the academy, according to the man charged with boosting the visibility of this often overlooked group at one university.

Chris Abell, who last year was appointed director of postdoctoral affairs at the University of Cambridge, said a “historical accident” meant the group were “underrepresented in the university”.

But Professor Abell hopes to give them a voice by establishing postdoctoral representation on more university committees. He added that undergraduate and postgraduate students are represented on “all kinds” of university bodies, but relatively few committees invite postdoctoral researchers.

He is also putting in place a variety of schemes to provide better support, training and access to accommodation for early career researchers.

“Constitutionally and institutionally what we are [taking] is a big step towards assimilating [postdoctoral students] as a community into the university,” explained the professor of chemistry, who now spends at least 30 per cent of his time on postdoctoral affairs since assuming his new responsibilities in September.

“We have had postdocs for about 30 to 40 years, but for an 800-year-old university they are relatively new on the scene,” he explained.

Estimates suggest that there are about 3,500 postdoctoral researchers at the university, double the number 10 to 15 years ago, he said.

The precise head count is not known because some early career researchers are funded by charities and foreign governments and are not on the university’s payroll.

For the first time, this month an email communicating directly with most postdoctoral researchers will be sent from the university.

Jean-François Mercure, vice-president of the Postdocs of Cambridge society, said that in the past little information was provided to postdoctoral researchers about the services available to them at the university. Early career researchers are often too busy to seek out these facilities themselves, he added.

As part of his work, Professor Abell will organise and coordinate the support systems for postdoctoral researchers from the careers service and human resources department, for example. Progress has already been made in setting up mentoring schemes.

Professor Abell is also keen to boost the amount of training postdoctoral researchers receive in areas such as writing grant applications, interview skills and accounting.

Although postdoctoral researchers are not traditionally expected to carry out tasks in these areas, he said the skills would prepare them for the next stage in their careers, when they may be setting up their own research group.

A key reason for establishing better links with early career researchers at the university is the North West Cambridge development – a £1 billion project to build new housing, research and academic facilities on the edge of the city.

The first phase of the project, which is due to start early this year, will provide accommodation for “key workers”, a group that includes postdoctoral researchers.

The development will triple the amount of accommodation available to this group of staff, and systems need to be put in place to manage this housing, said Professor Abell.

holly.else@tsleducation.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman

Nosey man outside window

Head of UK admissions service Mary Curnock Cook addresses concerns that universities might ‘not hear a word’ from applicants