Dr Ellen Stewart and Dr Stephen Wallace, both members of the Early Career Researcher Adaptation and Renewal Team Working Group, share their experiences.
Early in lockdown, we were asked by Professor Christina Boswell to join an Adaptation and Renewal working group exploring ways to protect and support early career researchers through the damaging effects of COVID-19 on research in the university. We are both early career researchers, Stephen recently starting a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship in the School of Biological Sciences and Ellen working as a tenure track Chancellor’s Fellow in the Medical School. Between us, we have worked in all three Colleges of the university and spent many years on fixed-term postdoctoral positions . We’ve attended Teams meetings of the group whenever our other responsibilities allowed, and had the opportunity to feed in our views (and those of our ECR colleagues) informally and formally. We’ve been part of the group as it progressed from early discussions to the series of initiatives being launched now.
One of our concerns was the risk that this working group would simply be window-dressing what is a really challenging time to attempt to build a research career. COVID-19 has arrived into an already precarious and stressful academic job market, with highly uneven consequences for people with a range of different identities and caring responsibilities. We know that in periods of insecurity, the people who cling on to stay in academia are likely to be disproportionately straight white male researchers without significant caring responsibilities or disabilities. The injection of funding from the Scottish Funding Council over the summer was transformative, allowing the group to move beyond just disseminating information and supportive messages to design and implement meaningful supportive initiatives. The mainstreaming of equality and diversity concerns through every initiative has been especially great to see.
The ART working group was an intimidating collection of very senior colleagues, but we both felt welcomed and respected in our contributions. Ellen particularly appreciated how understanding everyone was of interruptions from her young children during the home-schooling period! All in all it’s been a fascinating insight into how projects move forward at the highest levels of the university, and, indeed, how hard senior colleagues are working to try to address some of the structural barriers which face early career researchers. There remains a great deal to do, but we’re proud of the initiatives that have been put in place.
SS: A reminder that the initiatives include the ECR resources to help prepare for conversations with your PI/line manager; the dedicated “Support for early-career researchers” pages from Edinburgh Research Office and the investment in 30 tenure-track Chancellor’s Fellows.
(Image by Free-Photos at Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/users/free-photos-242387/)