Support for researchers in the Arts and Humanities post-doctorate

Date: 03/09/2014

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy have announced the results of a detailed survey which highlights the kind of issues faced by Arts and Humanities researchers in the period immediately following doctoral study. Many early career researchers are on fixed-term contracts and 92% of those surveyed expressed concern at their career development and the prospects of achieving a permanent position.

The report gives insights into the diversity of roles, opportunities and employment which researchers who work for research organisations undertake immediately after their doctorate, and their needs and aspirations at this stage of their careers. The research was conducted by Oakleigh Consulting Ltd by an online survey and interviews with a selection of research organisations in the UK and with early career researchers (ECRs) in the arts and humanities.

The report suggests elements of good practice which would provide better support and advice to help alleviate the concerns and overcome the challenges identified in the survey.

Main findings of the report

  • Individuals seeking to pursue an academic career are engaged on a range of contracts, and carry out a variety of roles. This can mean, however, that their identity as an early career researcher (ECR) is not always recognised at an institutional level.
  • Around half of ECRs on fixed-term contracts gave negatively or neutrally phrased reasons for taking up their current position(s). These reasons reflect a perceived lack of choice or a necessity.
  • Around 92% of ECRs on fixed-term contracts expressed concerns about their career now and in the future - for the most part related to achieving a permanent academic position.
  • 61% of ECRs on permanent contracts began to seek advice on pursuing an academic career prior to or at the start of their doctorate, compared to 43% of ECRs on fixed-term contracts.
  • 71% of ECRs on a permanent contract had previously held a fixed-term contract, and a quarter had held 3 or more, which does suggest that short term posts are a pathway to permanent contracts for some.
  • ECRs in the higher education sector regarded ‘advice with preparing grant applications’, ‘time to publish’, and ‘mentorship’ as the support most beneficial to career development.
  • ECRs employed in research or research and teaching roles feel better supported in pursuing an academic career that involves research than those employed in teaching-only or non-academic roles.

Elements of good practice

  • Career advice and support should be made available at an early stage.
  • A broad approach should be used in classifying and identifying ECRs.
  • Advice should be provided to ECRs on a broad range of career options.
  • ECRs' requirements should lead and inform the advice and support made available.
  • Senior academics should be kept informed of support available to ECRs and be enabled to provide this.
  • Mentoring is crucial and should be relevant to the needs of the individual.
  • Networks for sharing experiences are valuable and should be supported.

Professor Mark Llewellyn, Director of Research at the AHRC and a member of the survey steering group said: 

“This report gives the sector important insights into a crucial stage of career development following doctoral study. The AHRC recognises that this can be a challenging time for those looking to pursue academic career paths, and we will be working with HEIs, partner organisations and other interested parties in addressing these challenges in the coming months.”

Vivienne Hurley, Director of Programmes at the British Academy and a member of the survey steering group, said:

“The British Academy is pleased that this report contributes to our understanding of the challenges facing early career researchers seeking to establish academic research careers. The Academy has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring that the UK is able to provide a supportive environment which can enable the very best early career researchers to flourish. This report provides useful examples of how this support might be enhanced.”

Notes to Editors

  • Read our Support for Arts and Humanities Researchers Post-PhD (PDF, 837KB) final report.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information visit: www.ahrc.ac.uk
  • The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902.Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit www.britac.ac.uk. And follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news
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