Research Careers in the time of COVID

Furlough scheme

Message From Dr Will Fuller on behalf of the Athena Swan Career Development Committee

With the furlough scheme officially ending on October 31 we are all looking at how we can maximise our productivity while keeping ourselves and our colleagues safe. At this time I am acutely aware that for those people facing funding end dates the future may look particularly uncertain, as COVID restrictions limit productivity in the lab, and squeeze funding rates in grant committees. 

There are no easy solutions to the COVID crisis, but through this email I wanted to reassure you that postdoctoral researchers, research fellows and technicians are very much in the thoughts of SCMH and MVLS senior management. You are the life-blood of our school. Your skills are hard-earned and irreplaceable. We recognise that we must retain you and your skills if we are retain our position as one of the leading cardiovascular research centres in the UK.

These are the practical steps that we are taking to support your careers at this time:

1. Engagement with Funders

Many funders are offering no-cost extensions to existing projects that will allow projects to run longer in order to use the salary savings achieved through the furlough scheme. Some costed extensions are also being considered. Several institutions in the UK decided against furloughing grant funded staff – we are fortunate that this did not happen here, and we will be able to use the savings made to extend projects.

In my role as manager of the FOCuS scheme, I am in discussion with a senior research adviser at the BHF. We hope to arrange a presentation for early career researchers to provide an overview of the impact of COVID on funders, as well as to give general advice in terms of making a good application in the current circumstances. The BHF are still determined to keep all funding streams operational, with a clear emphasis in particular on continuing to make fellowship awards.

2. Engagement with the university

UoG recognised early on in the crisis that they needed to offer support and extensions to PhD students. At the last meeting of the University Senate I pointed out to the Principal and Vice Principal for Research that the morale of research staff on fixed term contracts is exceptionally low, and that this group had not benefited in the same way. They recognise how vulnerable you are at this time. No university in the UK has a satisfactory solution to this problem. We recognise the risk that the impact of COVID on funding rates means we may lose important skills across the life sciences research sector. Over the next few weeks I will discuss with the VP for research whether UoG can show leadership by offering tangible support to research staff on fixed term contracts.

3. The Research Concordat

In May 2020 UoG signed up to the National Concordat for the Career Development of Researchers and developed a three-year action plan. The concordat sets out the roles and responsibilities of Institutions, funders, PIs and researchers themselves with respect to recruiting, managing and supporting researchers.

4. ECR representation on MVLS Committees

MVLS leadership is engaged with and supportive of the issues that ECRs face. ECRs are represented on the College Management Group. Our SCMH representative Dr Stacy Robertson would welcome the opportunity to feed comments and suggestions to CMG.

There are some things that you can do at this time that will help: 

1. Discuss plans and concerns with your PI

We don’t have all the solutions, and we are not careers advisers, but we can offer support and encouragement for you to explore your options. If COVID and lockdown has made you rethink your career priorities it is our job to support you in this.

2. Expand your skills through CPD activities

The Research Concordat obliges universities to support researchers in exploring and preparing for a diversity of careers. You are entitled to 10 days pro rata, per year, to engage with professional development, supporting you to balance the delivery of research with your own professional development.

3. Engage with FOCuS

Research funding will be more competitive in the years to come. If a personal fellowship is the right way forward for you, the FOCuS scheme is here to help you prepare the most competitive fellowship application you can.

4. Be kind to yourself

It is hard to be as productive as you used to be at all times. You won’t increase your productivity by pushing yourself harder. It is important to be realistic with yourself and your PI about what can be achieved at this difficult time.

We recognise the challenges you face. Hang in there. We will do our best to support your careers.


First published: 30 October 2020