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Survey on UK researchers

Clarisse Faria-Fortecoëf et Fabrice Martin

6 000 researchers employed in 51 UK Higher Education Institutions, from all statutes and all disciplines, have responded to Vitae online survey. You wanted to know what a research career looks like on the other side of the Channel ? Ask the researchers.

Published by Vitae, the British organization for the career development of research staff (see our article  of September 2008), the report "Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) 2009 / UK Analysis of aggregated results" is based on a sample of responses from researchers representing 16% of the total research staff in the United Kingdom.

Precariousness but loyalty
Firstly nearly 82% of researchers were on fixed-term contracts when they replied to the survey against only 18% on open-ended contracts. The analysis by age group is not more comforting as 58% of researchers over 45 years old report that they are still on a fixed-term contract.

Figures also show that the British system, does not really foster the mobility and that "it is length of service with the institution, rather than age, that contributes to obtaining open-ended status". Moreover, nearly 63% have conducted their research career in a single institution, even if they have had to accept several short-term contracts (fixed-term contracts rarely exceed a 3 years duration).

To find a job, websites are with no surprise, the first route of information : 41% of researchers declare that they found their current position by this mean. However, word of mouth is also an important route, identified by 30% of respondents. So, develop your network in the private as well as in the public sector, it is the best way to explore the famous "hidden market" and maybe the opportunity for you to be identified for a position even before its publication.

Careers coaching is making progress
The survey also included issues about researchers career development and training.  At first sight, results seem positive since only 8% report not having spent time on that matter during the 12 months preceding the survey. But a closer look shows a significant difference between the training undertaken by researchers (mainly focused on technical and scientific skills as well as on education and communication) and wishes they express which are more about transferable skills in another job, another sector (training needs in career management, research development or leadership and management).
At the same time, within the last 12 months, 75% of respondents, have discussed at least once, training needs and/or career development opportunities with their principal investigator or line manager. This represents a significant increase versus the 50% reported in the 2006 survey.
On these issues, researchers predominately consult their line manager, their family, friends or colleagues; few people have planned to seek advice of an HR specialist or a careers adviser.

And beyond research, what do you do?
To this question more than 60% of researchers report that they have been involved in international collaborations and almost 50% that they have worked in cross-disciplinary teams. Many also report that they have managed projects or budgets, supervised doctoral or masters students, teached, attended conferences or completed funding applications. A set of highly transferable skills in the private sector and that we would like to see better valued both by recruiters and applicants themselves! However, we can also see a gap between what researchers do and what they would like to do. Thus, if they are 30% involved in industrial collaborations, they are also 30% to report that they would like to have this kind of activity. 
Even more significant: almost half of the respondents would like to ensure missions in another sector or a secondment in another institution but only a few of them succeed ...

An overall positive feeling
From the respondents perspective, the situation is globally positive since most of them plan to pursue their careers in teaching and research or, even better, research only. However, a third of respondents aspire to a career outside Higher Education within a 5 years time and a quarter of them are even planning to leave eventually research. Moreover, researchers are mostly satisfied with their integration within their institution, they feel well considered and 72% appreciate their work-life balance.

You can find report key findings and recommendations by downloading the full version of  CROS 2009 on Vitae’s website.