Supporting Contract Researchers in IPH

Posted on: 5 December 2023 by Dr Helen West and Dr Natasha Bayes in December 2023 posts

Helen West and Natasha Bayes
Dr Helen West and Dr Natasha Bayes

Dr Helen West (Lecturer) and Dr Natasha Bayes (Postdoctoral Researcher) are members of IPH's Contract Research Staff Committee. Here they discuss the Researcher Development Concordat and the Committee's aim to support staff in this vital role.

What is a Contract Researcher? 

Natasha: A Contract Researcher is somebody who is employed on a temporary basis to do research-based activities for the University. I’ve been a Contract Researcher for about 12 years, and I’ve been on about 30 different contracts during those 12 years.

It is great from the point of view of having a job and gaining research skills. Obviously, I learn lots of new skills on my job, but in terms of career progression there are limitations because they are normally very task-focused and demanding research positions that you get that job done, you move onto the next one. There’s no scope to do the other things that enable you to seem as though you’re building on your skills to be able to warrant you furthering and developing your career more. There is also the inevitable apprehension when a contract is coming to an end and thinking “Will I have a job and a salary this time next month? Should I start applying for another job ?” There are strengths and limitations in all jobs, but that’s kind of what it looks like from an experiential point of view.

Within that it can be a contracted position or a casual position. It can be so many little nuances within that and obviously, timescales can vary from a one-month position to a three-month position, or six-months to a three-year position. Longer positions do offer some more opportunity for personal and professional development though, compared to the short contracts. It is predominantly research assistant and research associate posts. 

How vital are Contract Researcher roles to the University?

Helen: They’re vital. It’s often the people who are doing the research. The Principal Investigator comes up with a plan, but they need people who are actually going to put that into practice and do the data collection, writing, all of those jobs. In order to have research outputs, they are essential. However, as Tash said, these posts are usually short-term and insecure. It’s important that Contract Researchers with all these valuable skills are supported to develop professionally, and that the research culture is inclusive, equitable and fair.

Natasha: It’s also important that the academic sector is supporting Contract Researchers to develop professionally and fully within and beyond their Contract Research roles. 

Tell us more about the Researcher Development Concordat and how it supports Contract Researchers

Helen: The Concordat is an agreement across lots of universities, that the University of Liverpool has signed-up to. It aims to develop researchers and improve the research culture at universities. Some of that is addressing the big picture about how research is funded and how contracts work. Some of that is looking at researcher wellbeing and career development, and how we support people in these roles.

There are a certain number of days per year that Contract Researchers have – this is a commitment from the University for them to use for their own career development. While they’re being paid to produce work on a particular project, they still should have ten days built in for their own development.

It’s important to have that - what Tash was saying – progression and building on skills you already have; actually developing and not just jumping from post to post. 

Tell us about the Contract Research Staff Committee and how it is helping to support staff

Helen: The Committee is across the Institute and its purpose is to develop and support initiatives that will be of benefit to Contract Research staff in IPH. There are representatives from each department, and it is designed to pick up on the issues for Contract Researchers and draw on the collective resources of the Institute, so that we’re not all individually solving the same problems.

There are some things that we have already started to do – for example, a skills database that Principal Investigators can go into if they have a project that they need a researcher for. They can find people who are already at the University, whose contract might be coming to an end.

We’ve also been reviewing staff Induction processes, making links with other Committees and the Research Staff Association, and finding out what issues Contract Researchers would most like to address. Having those links between Contract Researchers and the Committee is important.

It’s quite early days for the Committee. We have begun meeting as a committee, and started finding out what is already happening and prioritising what we should do.

Natasha: I think just from early days and what I know about the Committee, just the fact that the Committee exists and recognises the fact that there are strengths and limitations to the culture that has developed over time in academia, I think is the first important step for supporting people in those sorts of positions. I’d like to think that part of that mission long-term is not necessarily to take away Contract Research positions because they have a place, but for there to be a better platform to enable people to be more supported and give more stability more readily than be 10, 15 years into your research career, with no sense of stability coming to fruition, especially if you have been with the same organisation for a number of years and clearly evidencing that you have a place there. I’d like to think that there will be a better platform for that stability to come to fruition, sooner or later in their career paths.

Helen: Part of it is valuing Contract Researchers and what they bring. Giving them a voice. I think those are important things and I hope that it helps them to feel well supported. 

How can Contract Researchers get in touch with you and join the Committee?

Natasha: We welcome people to come forward and talk about their experiences. We can use that as testimonials and evidence of why these things should be focused on and paid attention to.

Helen: Tash, Dr Leanne Jackson and I are the contact people from Psychology, the representatives from other Departments are listed on the Committee Intranet site. If anyone has an issue that they’d like to raise with the Committee, please get in touch with us. 

Find out more about the IPH Contract Research Staff Committee.


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