Thursday, 19 September 2019

Why we need to celebrate our PostDocs

Annette Bramley, Director of N8 Research Partnership

It is no exaggeration to say that without our PostDocs, research in the UK would not be what it is today. PostDoc researchers go out into our businesses, charities and government as well as into lecturing positions in this country and internationally. However, given the increasing numbers of PostDocs in research, not matched by increasing numbers of permanent academic positions globally, there is a clear mismatch between hopes and expectations of a career in academia, and the reality. This can lead to frustration and pressure to deliver high impact outputs while at the same time having to build a life on the precarious foundations of short term contracts.

This week is National PostDoc Appreciation Week, a social campaign running from the 16th to 20th September, and an opportunity for research institutions and figures to thank those who are essential figures to their cause. With a reported four PostDocs out of 30 securing permanent academic posts with a significant research component, what does tweeting appreciation for a PostDoc prove?

Of course, saying “thank you” to our PostDocs will not solve the structural issues for this group in the sector but, I hope, it will go some way to ensuring that our colleagues across the N8 Research Partnership feel more valued and recognised for their hard work and dedication to research.

Public recognition, in particular, is important. A clear demonstration of our gratitude and appreciation, because Postdoctoral researchers make up a crucial part of the research and academic body in our universities. Nurturing and developing this talent is vital to generating new knowledge and innovation – for the N8, that means a focus on the Northern universities of our Partnership, as well as encouraging future generations of researchers in the Northern Powerhouse. We want to highlight the diversity within our PostDoc population and the vast range of contributions they make to ensuring that the N8 is a vibrant and successful research powerhouse in the North of England.

Professional researchers in their own right, these highly skilled individuals also turn their hands to mentoring, knowledge exchange, public engagement and training junior researchers and students.

Multidisciplinary research teams, like N8AgriFood, tend to have PostDoctoral researchers from a range of subject backgrounds working alongside each other. This is a fantastic career development opportunity for a PostDoc and leads to much better research outcomes for the Programme. The research benefits from bringing different perspectives and knowledge to bear on a problem; the PostDocs benefit from learning about other areas of research and the peer support that working in a larger team can bring.

One look at the #N8PostDocs hashtag on Twitter gives you some idea of the range of skills and projects that this diverse group undertakes; simply too many to list here.

But movements like this are just one aspect. This support needs to be just one stream leading to improving career structures and we have been looking at how we can tackle this for PostDocs within our universities. The ‘Prosper’ programme led by the University of Liverpool is looking at how to equip the first-time PostDoc with skills and experiences that will open up a wider range of potential careers. In time we intend for this to be rolled out across the N8.

Although more steps need to be made, we believe this is one great first step onto that ladder. But we need your help to reach out and show appreciation to the thousands of PostDocs who work in the N8 universities.

Here’s how to get involved:
  • Download the Thank You poster and Thank You graphics from the N8 website:
  • Fill out the poster with details of some outstanding work or contributions made by one of your team, and post a photo to Twitter 
  • Or just simply post the Thank you graphic to Twitter, with a message of gratitude 
  • Don’t forget to use the hashtag #N8PostDocs, and tag your postdocs!

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