02 July 2012
By Rob Hardwick
Postdoctoral salaries and PhD stipends have undoubtedly improved considerably in recent years, but a culture of acceptance of voluntary research work persists across UK institutions.
Anecdotally, postdocs and PhD students are likely to have spent time on their research projects beyond the limits of their fixed-term contracts or PhD studentships for no extra financial gain, and if they haven’t done this personally, they will probably know a colleague who has. This is often justified by the researcher involved on the grounds that this additional, unpaid work is necessary to finalise material for publication and whence the advancement of their research career, and this is not to mention the additional unpaid overtime that has become the norm amongst early career researchers. So in a culture that accepts and permits unpaid research work and demands outstanding publications, and in a climate of ever tightening research budgets, how long will it be until Voluntary Postdoctoral positions are advertised?
Well, if a recent ‘job’ advert picked up on www.jobs.ac.uk is anything to go by, then perhaps it will be very soon.
The ‘job’ in question was for an Honorary Research Assistant in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. It asked for “excellent graduates” to work “on a voluntary basis”, and even required them to have advanced CRB clearance and “access to a motor vehicle to drive to assessments”. This advert was swiftly removed after pressure from UCU and other academics (http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=6159 and http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=420451&c=1).
This advert is a worrying development and begs the question: is it right to work unpaid for the benefit of your research career?