Contract Researcher

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About you?

What is your background?

Former classroom teacher, Masters and PhD at Cambridge, 4 years spent as a contact researcher.

What initially attracted you to your job?

I have never been attracted to being a contract researcher! I am killing time before a lectureship and it gives me an intellectual challenge while I am waiting.

Define your job?

Carrying out externally funded research and consultancy; doing some blue skies theoretical research, some teaching and admin.

Can you walk me through your day to day activities?

Emails, reading latest journal articles and THES, library work, writing books and articles, endless funding applications, talking to other academics, a bit of teaching and student support, dealing with gatekeepers such as awkward library and photocopying people, winning the resources to do the job, CV revision and general collective panic about the demise of the profession around the water cooler. It beats stacking shelves at Tesco, anyway.

How has your job changed in the last 5 to 10 years?

I feel younger and younger as the grey haired blokes at the top look andvfeel older and older. This is an excellent reason for going into academia rather than broadcasting, for example. It's not exactly a cult of youth.

Another change is that 90% of my colleagues are now on short term
contracts, which is bizarre really, considering the funding streams are actually more secure than in commerce a lot of the time. I've never understood casualisation.

What are the key issues facing your sector?

Ageing demographic and few middle managers to move into the positions senior people are about to vacate. Low pay, even after the new pay deal. The damage that the UUK is doing by having secret negotiations with the government rather than engaging the media properly in the debate about the future of HE.

How does government legislation affect your job?

I have made a career out of criticising Government legislation, so I
hope they never get too competent in Whitehall and Westminster, or I will be out of a job!

What impact has technology had on your job?

Spatial and temporal freedom - work how you like, when and where you like. Perhaps a tendency to use digitised journal articles has crept in. Saves trekking over to the library the whole time. You can't read and drink tea in the library (I wish academic libraries were more like Starbucks, but without the noise).

What are the best things and worst things about your job?

Best: Feeling of intellectual superiority and altruism at the same time. Sense that other people respect you and your job.
Worst: Gut churning, nauseating insecurity about RAE and finding a
permanent post. Only the most determined survive this process, not
necessarily the most able.

Do you have any horror stories?

Yes, I have had a lot of harassment in the workplace, mainly because it gets Darwinian around RAE time, and also because academy seems to have done its best to select out many of the more human qualities in its workers. However universities are getting quite good at nipping this sort of thing in the bud, I have to say. 'Dignity at Work' policies are springing up everywhere.

What attributes do you need/ what are you looking for when hiring someone in your role?

Thick skin
Intellectual curiosity
Independence of thought and temperament
Writing ability
Sense of humour

What are your tips/ advice for those starting out?

Eat well and get plenty of exercise on the way, as it's quite gruelling
emotionally, and this helps you keep sane. Marry well if you can, to
subsidise your costs. Hang around with the cleverest researchers you can find, as this improves your own standard. Make friends with some of your colleagues and make sure you go out regularly to chew the cud and let off steam.

What are your three favourite websites?

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