The retention and support of high-quality researchers is vital for UK academic excellence and the UK has an excellent reputation for the quality of research and teaching at its universities. However, recent changes to recruitment and career structures threaten this track record.
The Society for Social Medicine therefore strongly believes that all academic institutions and learned societies have a duty to promote supportive working conditions for all researchers. UK Universities must do more to promote equality of access to secure and rewarding academic posts for high-quality candidates from all backgrounds. They must take greater responsibility in ensuring that talented early and mid-career researchers reach their full potential by investing in and supporting the career progression needs of these groups.
All PhD students deserve a professional salary comparable to their peers. Current rates of pay are often equivalent to, or below, minimum hourly rates. They also deserve fair access to pension schemes, sick leave and other basic employment rights – yet many PhD students do not have contracts, let alone proper professional support. Having earned their PhD, postdocs should then be viewed as valuable members of universities, in their own right. They make important contributions to academic groups in a variety of ways; so their merit should be recognised though appropriate professional salaries and more secure employment. PhD candidates and middle grade researchers also require high-quality mentoring from senior peers, advice and opportunities for career development.
All universities want to optimise the recruitment and retention of high-quality candidates for permanent academic jobs, and tackling these issues will serve as the first step in the journey to ensure that tomorrow’s researchers are fully supported. Universities have an ethical duty to invest in the future generation of researchers.
The Society for Social Medicine is addressing this critical issue by releasing a Welfare Statement to several of the National broadsheet newspapers. We hope that this will provoke and inspire discussion and debate, and lead the way to a positive change in working conditions for early career researchers. If you would like to read the Welfare Statement in full, please visit the ECR section of the SSM website (www.socsocmed.org.uk/ECR).
Simon Capewell, President for the Society of Social Medicine, on behalf of its members.