Athena SWAN in IHW

Early career researcher (ECR) issues, aspirations and development

Photo of person working on laptop with papers and charts

Chairs

Paul McCrorie and Seonaid Cleare

Aim

This group focuses on monitoring and addressing issues affecting representation, progression and success of all early career researchers within the institute. We work closely with the IHW Athena SWAN mentoring arrangements working group and have held a number of joint meetings with this group.

What is an ECR?

There is no consensus on the definition of an early career researcher (ECR) and the term is applied to different groups of academic staff across the university. It is mostly used to refer to research associates, fellows or postdoctoral researchers, but is sometimes expanded to include PhD students.

For the purposes of this working group, we use a broader definition of ECRs, which includes Grades 5–8 research staff, often on a fixed-term/open-ended contract with a specified funding end date.

Activities/achievements

Since the creation of the groups in 2014, the Athena SWAN ECR and ECR forum have worked closely to identify needs, concerns and career aspirations for ECRs. In 2021 the AS ECR group and ECR forum merged to represent and support all ECRs in IHW more effectively.

The first collaborative project between the ECR forum and AS ECR working group in 2014 was a feedback exercise with ECRs to identify their areas of concerns. Three main themes were identified; fixed term contracts, lack of progression, and the pivotal role of support. These three themes constitute a core part of our current Terms of Reference and initiatives undertaken by the working group.

Building further on the feedback exercise, semi-structured interviews were conducted with volunteers from the IHW ECR cohort to discuss their career trajectories. This in-depth work aimed to identify specific mechanisms within IHW that pose barriers or offer support to ECR career progression by drawing on specific cases of ECRs who have progressed or left the Institute/University, either due to lack of advancement options or for other reasons.

Additionally, we are working closely with the promotions working group to facilitate/reduce barriers to promotions for current and future ECRs (focus on advancement from G6 to G7). This includes collaboration to organise and evaluate a career development workshop for ECRs in 2021 to improve insights into career planning and progression.

We have also consulted with IHW ECRs through focus groups to consider the possibility of informal reviews with non-line managing members of the University of Glasgow as an additional form of support to ECR progression. This initiative was then followed by the introduction of the IHW-wide mentoring scheme, where Grade 7–8 teaching and research staff act as mentors to Grade 6–7 ECRs.

In addition, the group continues to recognise the importance of grant writing as a professional skill and are developing ECR specific grant funding and grant writing groups.

The group has also arranged for the institute to purchase additional Principal Investigator and Leadership training courses specifically for ECRs, as the wider university scheme had a long waiting list. If you want to find out more about existing leadership training provision, please access the Employee and Organisational Development website. If you want to enquire about any of the additional courses on offer this academic year, please email ihwadmin@glasgow.ac.uk.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been working closely with the maternity/paternity and staff promotions working groups to create a COVID response support and guidance package to ensure current and future ECRs are not disproportionately disadvantaged by the pandemic.

In addition to our IHW-wide ECR mailing list, we are setting up an ECR Teams channel to facilitate networking, staff information sharing, including news about teaching and/or research supervision opportunities available to ECRs across the institute.

Future plans

In liaison with the Athena SWAN mentoring arrangements and Staff promotions, reward and recognition working groups, we are continuing work to improve ECR uptake of mentoring and the promotion "myth busting" campaign via inductions, P&DR, line-management, the annual research day, mentoring and promotion workshops. We will also design and conduct an ECR-specific survey to identify how to improve the P&DR experience, to clarify the importance of PhD studies for academic career progression and identify and address any barriers to CPD. Further, we will identify ECR concerns and issues and work with the institute to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on ECRs.