How to utilise labour market information during Covid-19

Originally posted on the unicamcareers blog

In a series of three blogs, CS careers advisers Emily Packer, Krista Cooper and Lucy Romijn introduce the ways in which students and graduates can stay up-to-date with the changing labour market. This edition focuses on resources – what to watch, read, follow and listen to, to help you stay informed

Read more

Taking on a fellowship interview panel from your home

Fellowship interview panesl

Despite a national lockdown, some funders are still going ahead with fellowship interviews remotely.    Anne Forde gives some tips for defending your proposal from home

Postdocs tell us it’s intimidating entering a fellowship panel interview in the hallowed halls of the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, the Research Councils and other funders.

Despite the lockdown and public health emergency we’re living through, some funders are still going ahead with fellowship interviews remotely. Last week we’ve been working with postdocs to help them prepare.

So what do you do if you have to defend your proposal from home?

Here are some tips we hope will help in our brave new online world. Some of the advice applies to face to face fellowship interviews too.

Make every minute count

Fellowships interviews are short. Most are done and dusted in 30 mins so make every minute count.

Find out what platform the funder is using and practise using it. Your ‘venue security’ is important too.

Everyone who gets to a fellowship interview has an excellent proposal.

What counts at the interview is getting the panel excited about your research questions. It’s impossible to be memorable if you don’t look or sound like you believe in the work. With stress levels understandably high, you may come across as dry or uninspiring.

Introverts fear not, you don’t need to fake an upbeat personality. Try to imagine how happy you’d be doing this work and making your discoveries… so look like you actually want to do the work.

Practise the tech

This will ease your nerves on the day.  Find out what platform the funder is using and practise using it.  Your ‘venue security’ is important too.

Try to do everything humanly possible to make sure you are not interrupted at home during the interview (mobile phones, deliveries etc).

Practise your talk with someone who’s in a different location, get them to record it on the platform and listen afterwards.

Sound check – don’t sound like you are talking to dolphins

Practise your talk with someone who’s in a different location, get them to record it on the platform and listen afterwards.

You may have sounded great in your room but your connection might not be doing you any favours.

I had a practice session last week with a postdoc going for a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. With a great project and an articulate and convincing candidate, what could go wrong?

The connection was poor on the postdoc’s side so about every 5th word dropped on my end and this detracted from an otherwise great delivery. Have pity on the panel members who say interviewing all day is exhausting. Video interviewing is even harder work for them. If you lose their understanding, however briefly, their energy and interest levels will drop.

Using a decent style headset and a microphone will go a long way. No one likes listening to a distorted voice which sounds more like you are underwater talking to dolphins.

Aesthetics and poise matter

In our world now turned upside down, this seems superficial and trivial but it matters. Stand up when you give your talk. This is a natural way to present and you will look and feel more confident.

Put a big arrow at the webcam so you remember to look at it, rather than always gazing at the sea of panel members’ faces.

You can look at the interviewers while they speak, but focus on the webcam when you reply. I’d recommend answering their questions standing too. It’s hard to get a good visual angle sitting down, and many people look like they are just about to go downhill on a rollercoaster, or unwittingly rock back and forth as they answer questions which can make the viewer feel unnerved or even seasick.

Don’t have a messy background.

The panel are distinguished but even intellectuals can be irritated by a view of an untidy bedroom or distracted by your intriguing book collection. If you would like to have notes, limit it to key words and consider using post-it notes near the camera. Otherwise, you could end of shuffling papers or reading notes during the interview, which will be obvious to the interviewers.

Put a big arrow at the webcam so you remember to look at it, rather than always gazing at the sea of panel members’ faces.

Keep your talk to time

Do not dare overrun on the intro talk.

The funder will give you an allowed time limit. It’s better to have less content and be under time. Panels are notoriously irritated by people who run over. Don’t incite their wrath or give them the opportunity to cut you off.

Get a grilling from academics and peers

90% of the questions will be project specific so ask people in your dept and those outside your specific field to give you a tough online practice.

It probably won’t be fun but you’ll be primed if the panel start to pick holes.

Book a practice with the Careers Service Postdoc team

We’ll push you on the broader questions of ‘so what’ and ‘why you’.  Activate your Handshake account and book an online session with us and we can practise on the platform you need to use. We also have a hoard of specific feedback and interview questions from most of the fellowship schemes. Email us and we’ll send these and you can browse the perennial fellowship questions online.

It’s over and you’ve survived

When it’s over, make sure your video and sound links are off before you do whatever you need to do to relax. When you’ve recovered, we’d love to hear how it went.

Good luck.

What we know as of 30 March: Royal Society is interviewing using Zoom. The MRC were proposing online interviewing but have changed to the interview candidates providing written feedback on referees’ comments.

Anne Forde, Postdoc Careers Adviser

Weighing up job offers – how to make the best choice for you

photo of balanced stones

Sally Todd, postdoc careers adviser, discusses the factors to take into account when considering job offers.

The other week I saw a postdoc who had the good fortune to have a number of job offers.  In case you ever find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share some of the criteria (not all of equal weight to her) she was using to help her decide which was the best next step for her.

Would she enjoy the job and be likely to succeed in it?

The postdoc I met was weighing up a lectureship, an in-house fellowship that would lead to a tenured position and a prestigious, fixed-term fellowship.  They were at different types of institution in different countries.  She was considering:

  • Would she be able to do the research she wanted?
  • Was there suitable infrastructure in place?
  • Could she access the data she wanted?
  • What sort of colleagues/collaborators would she have?
  • Would she be able to attract good staff/students?
  • How much teaching would suit her?

If you’re comparing jobs outside academia, consider which components of the job really attract you, and what circumstances and support you would need to do it well. For example, for a job in science communication, would you prefer more written or verbal communication?  How well you could communicate the science might depend on access to source material and deadlines.

When you are making a choice, it’s worth thinking about where you want to be further down the line.  What will you gain to help you secure the next job or promotion?

Would the job help her career in the longer term?

  • Would she be able to fill gaps on her CV/ acquire new skills/ make herself more employable?
  • What training would she be able to access?
  • Would she be able to raise her profile?

When you are making a choice, it’s worth thinking about where you want to be further down the line.  What will you gain to help you secure the next job or promotion?

Person standing on arrow on ground
Find out more about careers options for postdocs on our website

What were the terms and conditions of the job?

  • Would she (and partner/children accompanying her) like to live in that location?
  • How much job security was there at the end of the probationary period/fixed term contract?
  • What were the salary and other benefits?

T&Cs are not just fine print, they can have a profound impact on whether a job is right for you.

What else would be important to you?  Do add a comment!


Postdoc stories: Non-research careers

Former postdoc Lee has taken his love of teaching and technology and applied it to a new role as a Technical Training Content Developer. Here, he tells us about the similarities with his academic career, how he appreciates his flexible working hours and how he drives his own career development

Please give us a brief career history

I was lucky enough to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge, eventually specialising in Materials Science, staying for a PhD and submitting my thesis in 2012. I then continued my research journey by moving to France for a postdoc, working in a related area to my PhD. After three years I had produced a reasonable body of work and could have continued, but I felt ready to try something outside of research. I returned to the UK and joined Granta Design, an established Cambridge spin-out, making teaching resources to go with educational software about engineering materials. I still work there, but moved to the part of the company making commercial enterprise software and became their only Technical Training Content Developer. I maintain a library of slides, exercises, videos and other resources that my colleagues use to deliver training to our customers in large engineering companies around the world.

Why were you attracted to this role, how did you find it?

I always enjoyed the teaching side of being an academic – during my PhD I was a supervisor, lab demonstrator, and did quite a few outreach activities. Part of teaching is designing course content: it’s a huge challenge to get your own head around some very technical knowledge, and then to organise it in a way that is easy for someone else to access. In some ways, that challenge is the same whether you’re an academic lecturer or working for a company. That’s what I like most about this job.

decision point

Did you explore other career paths?

Always – I’m very indecisive! At every point in my career where I’ve had to make a choice, I’ve looked around at the other options. For example, I considered going straight to the private sector rather than doing a PhD, but I graduated in 2008 when the economy was shaky, so research seemed like a safe haven for a few years, as well as being interesting and exciting. When it came to leaving research in 2015, I evaluated several job adverts and literally wrote out the pros and cons, and gave them all a score. I could have applied for another postdoc in Spain or Finland, but the lure of a permanent job and returning to Cambridge won me over.

What do you do in your current role – what is an ‘average’ day?

My working hours are later than some of my colleagues, so there are a few emails waiting for me when I get in. Someone from the services team is about to deliver training to a large customer who needs to know everything about our product’s security and access control features. I point them to the right resources, and suggest a few ways to tweak their itinerary and alter the content for the users they’ll be dealing with.

Then I get down to the week’s main project – some meaty exercises about how to parse text output from mechanical test machines. I use my allotted learning time to read up on regular expressions, and get to work mocking up some examples that customers might recognise. In the process I find and report a couple of obscure bugs in the software – nothing mcommunicationajor, but they’ll be fixed in the next update.

After lunch I’ve got a meeting with a product manager – they’re excited about their pet project, a new feature to solve a particular customer problem to do with regulatory compliance. I ask the usual questions: who is the audience for a training event on this? What will they know already, and what will they need to learn? They share with me a few case studies and an example project file they were working on, so I can start planning the training content. I won’t do the work on this before next month, but it’s good to think ahead.

In the late afternoon I host one of my regular video conference webinars for existing customers. Quite a few tune in – they say it helps them stay sharp. This month I’ve coached one of my colleagues to be a guest speaker, talking about how to use our product with CAD projects and simulations. I set up a laptop to record their great demonstrations, and tomorrow I’ll edit and publish some clips on our customer-facing archive for anyone who missed it.

What do you enjoy about your job?

As the only training content developer in the building, I’m almost a department unto myself, and I’m largely responsible for organising my own time – I like working this way, it’s not so different from when I was a researcher. I set up meetings and listen to all the stakeholders – like the product managers who oversee the software, and the services consultants who deliver training – to establish what customers need to learn, and what they are struggling with. And as an intensive user of the software myself, I can give the developers a lot of feedback about the product, trying to make the user interface easier to get to grips with. So it’s a varied, communicative and social role that involves regular chats with most people in the company. It all helps me feel like a valued and respected member of the team. I’m not just stuck at my desk churning out slides.

Finally, and quite importantly for me, the company is also flexible about working hours, and I can work part-time (4 days per week) to make time for my other interests. I have a serious hobby – I’m a musician playing with two semi-professional acts that I also co-manage. Staying well-rehearsed while also promoting the acts for paid opportunities like weddings and other functions, well, it takes time and energy!

Any aspects that you don’t enjoy?

You do have to continuously advocate for the importance of your role – some people don’t get how important it is that customers be able to learn about the product in a way that speaks their language and suits them. Recent trends towards online e-learning mean you’ll sometimes use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver the content – some of these are better than others, but they can feel restrictive and there’s definitely a sense of distance from the learner. You can end up doing a lot of the same old thing if you don’t agitate for your own career development – for me that involves talking to my manager about new ways I want to learn and develop myself.

What are the main skills you use on a day-to-day basis?

image capturing the idea of understandingIt’s a good job for a generalist – I use a lot of different skills. I have to quickly pick up new technical concepts, by reading around or from conversations with colleagues, and move from one task to another. I need good people skills to tease out what stakeholders in a project really want me to do – sometimes they don’t express it very well – and most of all, I have to be very well organised because the job involves keeping a lot of different people happy, and delivering lots of things by different deadlines. Managing my own workload, and pushing early against any sign of an unrealistic deadline, is probably the most important general business skill – it has stopped me making crazy promises and getting stressed trying to follow through on them!

The Careers Service is amazing. Their Vacancies & Opportunities database has some of the best jobs going

What is your one tip for postdocs who might be considering a move to this sector?

Make sure you ask questions at interview about what the job will really involve. I have the impression that the training role varies a lot from company to company, and you might have the opportunity to define it yourself. Also, try to make sure your prospective manager is someone you think you can work well with. That’s one for any job really, but it’s hard to resolve a personality clash with someone who has power over you.

How did you use the Careers Service in your search?

The Careers Service is amazing: their Vacancies & Opportunities database has some of the best jobs going, and they got me into my current company. Through my years in academia I always kept an eye on it, in case some once-in-a-lifetime position came up. When I was a student, the staff there were always very friendly and open to open-ended discussions when I didn’t know what I was going to do – I never felt railroaded into any particular career. I think they know that everyone is different, and that it’s important to do something for work that matches not just your skills, but your character and values.

2020 career resolutions!

We asked the postdoc careers advisers what their top career tips for 2020 are.

Talk to people in your research community (network).

Think prconferenceoactively about speaking to people in a range of situations – conferences, seminars or socially (including following and engaging in key conversations on social media networks).

You will learn about current trends and priorities in the discipline as well as inform the picture of how you fit in your research community.

The more practise you get, the more you will refine how you articulate and position your own research.  This can in turn spark new ideas or bring about opportunities, collaborative or otherwise

Don’t wait until you are applying for a job to update your CV.

computer keyboardAnytime you give a seminar talk, attend a workshop, or do an outreach activity, be sure to jot it down. Keeping a “bucket” CV as you go along can help you to remember the things that you’ve done, even if they seem minor at the time. Having a complete list makes it easier to pick and choose what is relevant for an application, academic or otherwise, at a later date.

Don’t wait for your PI to help you with your career.

Your boss is busy and even with the best of intentions probably doesn’t have the time to think about your career.

That doesn’t mean they don’t care but take the initiative and tell them about your career aspirations.

For example, if you want to apply for a fellowship, let them know as they are much more likely to make the time to help you. Even if they don’t agree to help, it gives you time to look for help outside.

If you are thinking of leaving academia don’t forget more and more PIs are sympathetic to this and have contacts in a range of roles outside. But if you feel that telling them might make your life more difficult, then let other colleagues and friends know about your career aspirations as they might know of contacts who have tried something similar.

people talkingCultivate your connections.

Met anyone interesting over the break?  Someone who has made you think – ‘I’d love to know more about their job/how they got into it/how I could gain relevant experience.’

Follow up while they’ll still remember you.  Drop them a line, wish them a Happy New Year and suggest some dates to catch up.

R&D in industry over the horizon

SunriseR&D in industry isn’t a surprising postdoc career destination but it’s still surrounded by mystery. What are the reasons former postdocs in industry say that they like it? Or there any downsides they are hiding?

This year, we’ve had lots of feedback at the Postdoc Careers Service on what’s it like and what are the key differences to academia.

Shared risk and glory

In academia if your project doesn’t go well and you are struggling to get any results, the burden is on you to fix it, limp on with the project and try to recruit some volunteers to assist. In industry, inherent team work means that you are not holding the whole weight of the project. As one postdoc now in a local biotech put it “If you are struggling (with experiments) the team is struggling with you and everyone is helping you out”. Sounds great but be aware that getting all the kudos for a project is probably off the cards too as the successes rightly need to be shared. So, if a getting the glory on an individual level is your primary driver, academia might be a better fit.

High tech shiny labs

While academia is idea cutting edge territory, industry is doing it on the technology front. R&D firms invest in equipment and technology which postdocs tell us is a step above most academic institutions and a major perk of the job. Time is money, so companies don’t tend to scrimp on the resources you need to get your job done.

stopwatchFast turn around time

Having years to delve deeply into an academic research area is heaven for some and the reason that postdocs go on to be PIs. But if you get more of a kick from shorter time frames, industry will tick that box. Project managers will be giving you targets and deadlines. It might mean that you can’t go down every interesting experimental route but it will mean you know what you have to focus on when which many postdoc tell us they yearn. But that level of organisation comes at a price. Industry postdocs say the number of meetings is a “culture shock”, the work is intense and the expectations are high.

Real world applications in sight

Certainly anyone working in pharma cites helping patients as a key driver, but that applies to all R&D careers across the sectors. Knowing that people will be consuming and purchasing what you research can be a reason to get out of bed even when the projects are tough.

What, no hidden downsides?

Sure, there are downsides. We’re well aware that the people who volunteer to come back to tell us their industry story disproportionally selects those with a positive tale to tell. But we’re keen to hear the downsides too. The downsides are often the reverse of all the positives above, it’s just a matter of your perspective. But if the positives energise you, it’s worth having a look over the horizon.  Find out more about real life postdoc R&D careers industry.


Anne Forde, Postdoc Careers Adviser


The NHS Scientist Training Programme – Corsten’s story

Originally posted on the unicamcareers blog

A Q&A with Dr Corsten Douglas, who shares her experiences from the NHS Scientist Training Programme

Tell us a bit about yourself. What did you study and what have you been doing since you left Cambridge?

I studied for a PhD in biological sciences at the MRC mitochondrial biology unit. My thesis was ‘The assembly pathway of human ATP synthase’. Since I left the university, I started freelance private tutoring (without an agency), tutoring KS1-4 biology, chemistry and physics, A level biology and chemistry and 11+. After a year of tutoring, I started a full-time job at Cambridge Science Centre as a science communicator. I applied for the NHS Scientist Training Programme just before I got the CSC job.

How did you first hear of the NHS STP programme and what did you learn through Open Days?

I heard about the STP via a friend who was working in the NHS. I learned from going to the open day that my idea to study Ahmed’s Clinical Biochemistry – Frontiers of biomedical science textbook was the correct thing to do, and that getting some experience, even one day, in a clinical biochemistry laboratory would be advantageous.

Which specialism(s) did you apply to, and why?

I prepared for the psychometric tests by revisiting my KS3 maths revision guide that I use for tutoring. I did this because when trying the Talent-Q practice tests, it looked a lot like KS3 maths. In fact, the real test was full of even some simple KS3 maths, such as how to interpret bus timetables. For the logic tests, I printed out the Talent-Q practice tests by doing a screen print of each one, and just looking at them until I found a pattern, taking as long as I needed. I thought it would be best to make a check list of which patterns were found, and then wait a few weeks before taking the Talent-Q practice test again to make sure that I couldn’t just remember the answers and that it was just logic that I was using the answer them. This strategy was probably a good one, as I felt that I got all of the logic questions correct in the real thing.

A PhD is not an essential requirement for these roles. What did you see as the advantages/disadvantages of being a PhD graduate during the selection process?

The advantages of having a PhD were that during the general science station at the interview, I used a lot of knowledge gained during my PhD to answer the questions. I didn’t really see a disadvantage, as the introductory chapter of Nessar Ahmed’s Clinical Biochemistry mentions that clinical scientists may have a PhD in a relevant subject such as vitamin analysis. My PhD was not clinical, but is useful if I specialise in ‘in-born errors of metabolism’.

What does it mean to be ‘white-listed’?

I got a high enough interview score to be employed/accepted, but there weren’t enough spaces/my rank wasn’t high enough initially. If someone drops out, then they use your first choice hospital location to place you. I found out I was successful and got my first choice of locations on 2 August this year, nearly two months after being on the reserve list/white-listed.

Learn more about the NHS Scientist Training Programme at

Practice Talent-Q elements in Job Test Prep, via the Careers Service

Building resilience for your career

Whether you’re worried about having a temporary contract, applying for long-term academic jobs or making the leap out of academia, having a good supply of mental toughness to cope with the career uncertainties of postdoc life is essential.

But how can you build repalm trees in windsilience?

We were really taken by some recent examples of former postdocs who demonstrated the much- prized ability to ‘bounce back’ in real-life situations and even surprised themselves how resilient they were.

When exploring the subject of building resilience, it’s good to draw inspiration from Stoic philosophy  – a central principle of which is that we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our reactions.  Or as Seneca succinctly put it: “It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.”

Resilience in action

Take former postdoc Stacey Jamieson, a speaker at our recent ‘Careers in R&D in biotech and pharma’ event . Stacey didn’t have the ideal circumstances to land her first choice job.  In her video she describes how, due to her immigration status, she had to think around the issue of getting a job where a company would sponsor her.  Unfortunately, the companies that offered this sponsorship were in technical/scientific roles and not in Stacey’s preferred area of Medical Scientific Liaison, (MSL).

By being resilient – researching her options and being open to opportunities where she could use her skillset – Stacey was able to ‘bridge the gap’ between academia and industry for a year in a technical role until she got permanent residency status in the UK.

Things have worked out well for Stacey who is now in MSL, a role ‘where her heart lies.’

At the same event, Winnie Yeung urges you to be brave and apply for industry positions even if you have the challenge of not having all the skills listed on the job description.

You’ll have to be resilient to handle the inevitable rejections, but by highlighting your transferrable skills you may also get the job.  As Winnie says: ‘usually the company will see how your skills will fit with the role.’

Sometimes the resilience-building technique of ‘reframing,’ (a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives – Wikipedia), is needed to check if a perceived challenge or difficulty can be turned to an advantage.

José Teles, a speaker at the event, worried that his diverse background in academia would hamper his chances of moving into industry – a concern that wasn’t borne out in reality.  As José explains in this video, his wide-ranging experience ‘…. turned out to be an advantage in my current role.’

José’s story highlights the importance of ‘reframing’ – seeing your situation from all angles, to build your resilience.  What you might think of as a disadvantage in your career history, may actually be seen by employer as a benefit.

Moving forward

Seneca said that ‘we suffer more often in imagination that in reality.’ By deploying resilience to interrogate challenges -moving problems from the imagination and into the cold light of reality -positive, creative ways of moving-on can be devised.

Have a good supply of resilience is essential to overcoming life’s inevitable hurdles as a postdoc.

Getting help

If you are looking to increase your resilience, the Researcher Development Programme at Cambridge University run workshops which focus on building mental toughness by developing coping strategies to overcome challenges.

Come for an appointment at the Postdoc Careers Service if you feel that the rollercoaster of job hunting and career decision making is depleting your resilience.

Heather Smith

Postdoc team

What salary should I ask for?

The salary expectation question is something we are increasingly coming across at the Postdoc Careers Service. Employers are asking for this information in online applications, cover letters, phone interviews, way before it feels appropriate to talk about money.


You are asking us how you should handle it. Here are our tops tips to help you navigate this tricky question:

tower of coinsUnderstand why they are asking it

Why on earth do they need to ask such an awkward question before they’ve got to know you?

Well, organisations have salary budgets and the recruiters who first come across you probably have a budget they need to stick to. So, it’s one way of ruling out people who have unrealistic salary expectations. On the other hand, they don’t want to put you off with an offer so low that you’d reject the job out of hand.

Appreciate that they are not setting you a trap, just doing some broad reality checks.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply

How much do I ask for?

Yep, it’s the million dollar question but in truth they are not really asking you how much you’d like to earn but what are you worth to them.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply.

Our Careers Service alumni platform, Alumni Careers Connect, gives you access to Cambridge graduates who could give you an idea what someone with your experience might expect in this role and sector (as opposed to what they earn).

If you are stuck for time, ask around colleagues or friends for what they reckon people starting in the role should expect. The website Glassdoor is useful to get some insights – people post salary info anonymously. If that doesn’t yield results, the online careers education website Prospects gives average salaries for the entry and longer term progression in a wide range of job types.

How do you present this information to the employer?

If possible, it’s best to give the employer a range, let’s say £5K range rather than one figure.

This gives them a bit of wiggle-room so they don’t feel in a corner. If it’s a conversation rather than a digit to fill in on a form, give them reasons why you think you justify this salary.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

What’s wrong with asking for more or less than they expect?

Asking for too much means that you sound unrealistic or even arrogant, especially if it is a lot more than your current salary.Happy person

If you are asked about your current salary, though, do mention the benefits of working for your current employer (e.g. pension, annual leave, subsidised childcare).

Asking for too little could give the impression you are not ambitious, and invites them to make a low offer. Keep in mind it takes time to climb up the salary scale.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

Cultural expectations

Whereas in the UK and a lot of Europe, salary negotiations are uncomfortable for many people, in other countries it’s a must.

For example, in the US you will be expected to negotiate. Do your research on the salary range and also the cost of living in the area.

A former postdoc now working in biotech in the US Bay area said UK based postdocs will be shocked at how much you need to ask for!

It’s a package and not just a salary

Sure, a salary figure is a headline, but what else are they offering?

Many organisations offer other benefits: training, share options, flexible working, health insurance, gym membership. The greatest benefit of all, though, is how the role will help your confidence, career and employability in the longer term. Some people take a lower offer with the prospects of longer term salary benefits and employability.

Later stage salary negotiations

The ideal stage to give you salary expectations is when they have offered you the role.

If you are aiming at the highest figure, give the employer clear reasons why you are worth it. Ask how often and what is the process for salary review.

By Anne Forde, postdoc careers adviser

A new Concordat – are better times ahead for postdocs?

This week sees the publication of the new ‘Concordat to support the career development of researchers’ – a bold and aspirational set of principles outlining how universities ought to manage and support their postdocs. Over the next few months, you’ll probably start to hear more about ‘The Concordat’, as it’s more affectionately known in the wider world of academic administration, and you should certainly begin to feel some of the positive changes that will be driven by it, as Universities start to address the principles they’ve signed up to.

The original idea of hands stacked in agreementa concordat, or agreement, between universities to set standards for supporting and managing postdocs dates back to 1996. The landscape for postdocs has changed enormously in those 23 years, but each new version, one in 2008, and now in 2019, recognises that postdocs are crucial to the success of the UK’s world-class research base, and institutions that employ postdocs should make sure they support them with the many challenges they face.

What does it mean for me?

The latest Concordat goes beyond previous versions in setting out expectations for all the stakeholders involved in creating a healthy research culture. There are obligations for institutions, funders of research, managers of postdocs, and postdocs themselves, divided in to three ‘Principles’.

The first, ‘Environment and culture’, aims to promote an equitable, inclusive and positive research culture by considering issues such as diversity & inclusion, behaviour, wellbeing, and mental health.person reaching the peak of a mountain

The ‘Employment’ principle sets out the importance of transparent and merit-based recruitment, progression and promotion, and effective performance management.

The third principle, ‘Professional and career development’ recognises the importance of access to good professional development and career support in for postdocs aspiring to success in a wide range of careers.

Of course, when you’ve got your head down in a research project, and you’re focused on your next publication, being on top of the policy changes going on at your institution, let alone across the UK academic sector, are probably not top priority.

The good news is that the effects of the Concordat will filter down to all postdocs.

One of the headline obligations is that postdocs will be entitled to 10 days per year of protected time for their own professional development. Alongside expectations that managers will engage in regular career discussions with their postdocs, and that institutions will recognise the broad range of career paths they pursue, this could be the start of real culture change in terms of how we define career success in academia.

The Concordat will be a big driver for change in UK universities, individually and collectively. But it also serves as a useful guidance tool for researchers who want to understand their rights and responsibilities, what they can reasonably expect of their PI and institution in terms of supporting their career. The latest version is brief and accessible – it’s well worth having a look.

At Cambridge, a small working group drawn from across the University, including postdocs, will be putting together an action plan for how we, as an institution, will meet our obligations. Cambridge has a long history of providing world-leading support for postdocs, but there will always be more we can do. Look out over the autumn for our Concordat sessions, where we’ll be helping postdocs to understand more about what it means for them, as well as giving them the chance to have a say in how we make being a postdoc at Cambridge better for all.

More information about the Concordat.

Liz Simmonds is Assistant Head of the Office of Postdoc Affairs, and chair of the Concordat working group at the University of Cambridge.

Skip to toolbar