Category Archives: ECRs

Some thoughts on precarity

In October I spoke at History UK’s plenary event, which this year focused on mental health, on the early career researcher perspective. Much of what I focused upon was the structural issues that impact upon ECRs, and I decided to write up and expand upon some of what I talked about, as for the last 8 days many colleagues across the UK have been participating in the UCU strikes on issues including pay equality and casualisation. Many have been sharing their precarity stories, and the below draws upon my experience, in the context of the observations I have gained in working with many ECRs in similar positions. I write this now from the privilege and security of a permanent position, of which I am very aware of how fortunate I have been; I offer this in solidarity with those who are currently precarious, in the knowledge that it is important that permanent staff speak about these issues, and in the hope that it might help in a small way towards developing understanding and thinking about effecting change. At the end I have some brief suggestions for what permanent staff can do, as well as links to the resources mentioned throughout.

Last Saturday (30th November) it was 9 years since I submitted my PhD; nearly 6 of those were precarious. For the first 2 years I had something in the region of 12 contracts of employment, including hourly paid teaching, academic writing tuition, separate contracts for marking and invigilating, one-to-one tuition, proofreading, work in the library, and anything else I could find. I then spent a year on a 0.6 FTE contract focusing on public engagement and ECR support, topping up with additional hourly paid teaching; a further 2 years in which the 0.6 contract went to 100% FTE; a relocation across the country for a ten-month teaching fellowship; and then, during that year, I was fortunate to get my current position and moved to Surrey in August 2016.

My experience is not uncommon: longer than some, shorter than others. For those finishing the PhD and going into an academic career, a period of precarity is common and increasingly longer, involving successive fixed-term and/or multiple simultaneous contracts within/across institutions; these are often teaching-heavy; often hourly paid or short fixed-term; and can leave gaps in employment e.g. vacation periods. A report this year by UCU on “Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education” found that 70% of research-only and 37,000 teaching staff are on fixed-term
contracts, many hourly paid, and a further 71,000 employed as “atypical academics” often as “casual workers”. There are no easily available consistent figures on the numbers of permanent jobs available or number of people applying for them, but my sense is, and I think many would agree, that there are fewer permanent jobs available and competition for them increases every year.

But what do we mean when we talk about “precarity”? It is a state of mind; an embodied feeling; a constant, impacting upon and intersecting with every other aspect of one’s life. A non-exhaustive list is as follows:

Structural: lack of job security/proximity of unemployment; lack of payroll continuity; limited or
no access to annual leave/ sick leave/parental leave; employment overlaps and constant start-up
time invested in learning new systems and structures; uncertainty over whether contracts will
be offered/extended/renewed until close to term time; lack of workspace or other infrastructural facilities.

Academic impacts: impact upon research continuity; time spent on securing employment rather
than research; disrupted access to research resources e.g. library Journal access; disruption to
academic networks and continuity of mentors/supportive figures; limited or no resources to
fund research trips/conferences.

Personal impacts: difficulty in making long-term plans for personal life e.g. family plans and
financial commitments; expectation of mobility as practically and financially possible/viable;
financial insecurity and impact upon e.g. housing; disruption to personal networks and
relationships; impact upon existing family and care responsibilities; disruption in accessing continuous healthcare.

And then there is the impact upon mental health: the UCU report on casualisation recorded 71% of respondents stating that mental health had been affected by working on an insecure contract, and 43% reported impact on physical health. Again, a non-exhaustive list of these impacts might include:
◦ Imposter syndrome
◦ Isolation and loneliness
◦ Anxiety, panic attacks
◦ Sleep disruption/deprivation
◦ Depression
◦ Physical health impact
◦ Exacerbation of previous/existing mental health problems
◦ Reduced capacity for dealing with difficult life events – bereavement, supporting and caring for family and friends.

The transition from PhD to ECR can be particularly disruptive in regards to mental health and for my own part, it was the aspect I was least prepared for. I had experienced significant issues with mental ill-health during my PhD, including a period of treatment for an eating disorder. I was fortunate to have professional, personal, and institutional structures in place to support me through this: access to health care, understanding supervisors and departmental systems in place, and personal support networks of friends and family. But as an ECR, these networks can be fractured, disrupted, or fall away completely: the intersection of aforementioned issues can introduce a range of impacts: the issues of disclosing mental health problems while in precarious work; access to mental health services can be difficult when waiting times are longer than precarious job contracts; and personal friendship and family support networks are disrupted by mobility.

As well as the immediate impact of precarity, there is the intersection with other pressures such as the REF. Work by Rosalind Gill and others identifies the impact of audit culture on mental health, and how constant assessment and monitoring creates a system in which metrics are internalised as “privatised anxieties that are understood to reflect on the value and the worth of the individual… A psychic landscape in which not being successful is mis-recognised… in terms of individual (moral) failure” (Gill 2010, 10-12) leading to stress, anxiety, exhaustion; as Maddie Breeze succinctly puts it, “how quickly and easily ‘my research isn’t good enough’ slides into ‘I’m not good enough’”(Breeze, 200). These effects are felt by many at whatever stage of one’s career, and in talking about the REF and ECRs I’ve often been met with responses along the lines of “but the REF is stressful for everyone”. It is: but how much more so when you are precarious; how much more so, when you don’t know if you will be employed in a few weeks time; how much more so, when the feeling of “I’m not good enough” is being reiterated on a weekly, daily, sometimes hourly, basis by repeated rejection emails.

In my report on the impact of REF 2014 on ECRs, it was evident that the REF had a huge impact on ECR mental health and wellbeing. Many respondents experienced high levels of anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty, and mental health problems stemming from REF pressure; people also noted feeling isolated and unable to articulate concerns within highly pressurised and competitive
workplace culture created by the REF; and a lack of/conflicting/mis- information from institutions was also problematic, as is navigating different ways of interpreting or advising on the REF guidelines if you are moving across institutions regularly.

The above is of course only a partial glimpse into many of the issues faced by precarious ECRs, and there is much more to say about the intersection with other factors such as health, caring responsibilities, financial situations. Solutions themselves aren’t easy, requiring sector-wide changes of the kind that UCU are campaigning for with the current industrial action, and so joining and supporting union action is one way to start to address these issues (and if you are able to, consider donating to the fighting fund which will help support precarious colleagues on strike). On a smaller scale, there are actions that can impact upon individuals within your reach: helping new ECRs to navigate institutional systems and provide resources to ease transition e.g. teaching materials, access to clear information about the REF; mentoring to help with things such as long-term strategising, supporting on job applications and interviews, publication proposals, and so on. Listening to ECRs without trying to minimise concerns or offer platitudes can go a long way, as can simply looking out for the well-being of those around you and signposting access to services for further support. Facilitating ECR networks and peer support, including ECRs in department activities and meetings, and looking at the provision and availability of training to those who are in precarious positions, can also be helpful. At the very least, trying to understand the issues involved and taking action that is within your reach, is the responsibility of everyone in permanent positions, and  I hope this may encourage a few thoughts (and action) along these lines; below are some further resources for reading more on the issues involved.

UCU “Counting the Costs of Casualisation” June 2019 report:

The New Academic by Nadine Muller: personal accounts of mental health in academia:

The many-headed monster: a collective blog including Brodie Waddell’s posts discussing the history job market:

The impact of the REF on early career researchers: summary of my 2015 findings:

Maddie Breeze, “Imposter syndrome as a public feeling” in Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad, Feeling Feminist in the Neoliberal Academy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) .

Rosalind Gill, “Breaking the silence: the hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia” in R.Flood and R.Gill, Secrecy and silence in the research process: feminist reflections (London: Routledge, 2010).

History UK Plenary event talk: 19 October 2019

On 19 October 2019 I am speaking at the History UK plenary event on mental health and well-being.  Registration info is here and an outline of my talk below:

Mental Health and Well-Being: the Early Career Researcher Perspective

In this talk, Dr Charlotte Mathieson will address the challenges around mental health and well-being faced by early career researchers. She will look at how the contexts of precarity and casualisation, a competitive job market, and pressures such as the REF, impact upon early career researchers, and identify strategies and suggestions as to how best support ECRs at individual, departmental, and institutional level.

UKSG 2019 conference plenary

Yesterday I was delighted to have the opportunity to give a plenary talk at the UKSG annual conference in Telford. UKSG is an organisation connecting the scholarly communications community, and the annual conference brings together over 900 delegates from sectors including publishing and university libraries.

My talk was in a session titled “Sleepwalking into the future“ and I focused on “How publishers and librarians can support early career researchers in a changing publishing landscape”. I spoke primarily about the changing context of higher education and the pressures that this places on early career researchers, and how this impacts the environment in which they are publishing and researching. I offered some initial suggestions as to how publishers and librarians can – and indeed are already – provide support. Some examples of best practice that I gave included web resources from Wiley, Palgrave MacMillan, and the Royal Historical  Society. My slides from the talk are here.

As a newcomer to this conference I was unsure as to how my talk would be received but was really heartened by the warm and enthusiastic response; it struck me (and, I think, many in the audience) that much more dialogue is needed between researchers and publishers, librarians, and others involved in scholarly communications, and that there is real value in understanding the pressures on all sides. I’ve previously had the opportunity to be part of similar discussions hosted by Wiley and Taylor and Francis, and have similarly found these to be productive forums in which to develop understanding of the broader and intersecting contexts. Many thanks to UKSG for inviting me and I hope this will be the start of more conversations.

REF 2021: update for ECRs

This post provides an update to my previous blog post on “REF 2021 and ECRs: the current situation” in which I outlined the key decisions and remaining areas of uncertainty (mostly the latter) surrounding the next Research Excellence Framework.

Today, quite a few of those uncertainties have been clarified by the publication of “Decisions on Staff and Outputs“. I will soon update my earlier post to reflect this latest document (and offer a few more interpretations of the ECR implications), but in the meantime here is a brief summary of the key points of relevance for ECRs that have been announced today:

Staff eligibility: this latest document confirms that the Stern recommendation that “all staff with significant responsibility for research” are returned will be implemented. 6.a of the document outlines the core criteria (which broadly follows that of REF 2014), but there is more detailed guidance this time on what constitutes “significant responsibility” in paras. 11-13: “those for whom explicit time and resources are made available to engage actively in independent research, and that is an expectation of their job role.”

100% of staff defined in this way are expected to be returned. Meanwhile, teaching-only contracts with no research element won’t count as returnable under these guidelines; neither will RAs employed on project work (see Independent Research, paras. 14-15) nor those without a “substantive connection” to the submitting HEI. This seems to accord with what was suggested previously (see section 3 here); although I’d add that, while the intention here is to offer a more rigorous approach as to who is submitted, there does still seem to be a large amount of flexibility as to how “significant responsibility” will be determined.

Decoupling: the proposed decoupling of staff from submissions (see my previous explanation of decoupling in section 4 here) is going ahead, as described in paras. 25-29, with the numbers of outputs now confirmed: a minimum of one per researcher; a maximum of 5; an average of 2.5 per FTE, across the submitting unit. That means that as an ECR you will need at least one output, and more than that would be beneficial as the submitting unit will be looking for 2-3 per person.

The big change here from REF 2014 (although it is one which we’ve been expecting) is that there is no “ECR discount” that would be deductable per person; instead, the average and min./max. figures account for this across the whole submitting unit (as previously the expectation was 4 per person, so the average is lower). There are guidelines to account for exceptional individual circumstances (paras. 30-32), thus addressing earlier concerns that circumstances such as substantial periods of parental leave/ illness etc would not be acknowledged; deductions for individual circumstances will be applied to the total number of outputs required of the submitting unit as a whole. ECRs without exceptional circumstances, however, need to work to the minimum/average figures.

Portability: (background context in section 5 here). After much talk of the non-portability of research we have clarification as follows (paras. 33-36):

We will implement a transitional approach to the non-portability of outputs in REF 2021, whereby outputs may be submitted by both the institution employing the staff member on the census date and the originating institution where the staff member was previously employed as Category A eligible when the output was demonstrably generated.

*Added note: see para. 34 for the definition of “demonstrably generated”:  “for REF 2021 ‘demonstrably generated’ will be determined by the date when the output was first made publicly available.”

This means that if you publish while at institution A, and you move to institution B, your output can count at both institutions. This has been a big area of concern for many ECRs and I’m relieved to (finally!) see a clear decision on the issue, and one which recognises and prevents the potentially disastrous consequences for ECRs that non-portability may have had.

Open Access: the latest guidance (paras. 37-40) seems to align with what has been suggested for a long time now about Open Access requirements for REF 2021: “The policy will require outputs to be deposited as soon after the point of acceptance as possible, and no later than three months after this date (as given in the acceptance letter or email from the publication to the author) from 1 April 2018.” There are some further exceptions outlined in the next paragraph (39). As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re at all confused about OA requirements then I would suggest that you familiarise yourself with your institution’s OA support and get in touch with the relevant team if you have any queries and concerns about the process.

A couple of final points: the census date is now confirmed as 31st July 2020; and more detailed guidelines on the above are expected mid-2018.


That summarises most of what I’ve read so far; I’ll potentially add to / clarify these points in coming days and if helpful, offer further guidance on ECR implications and what to do next; but for the moment, it looks like the outline framework is fairly clearly in place and ECRs can now start planning accordingly.

Preparing for academic interviews – a few resources

This post is a follow-up of resources for those who attended The Voice of the Academic: Vocal Training for Academic Success at the University of Surrey on 22nd September, although the links may also be helpful to others preparing for academic interviews.


Please feel free to leave further suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them above.

REF 2021 & ECRs: the current situation

This is based on a talk that I gave at an event on “Publishing and Research Strategies for ECR Classicists” at the Institute of Classical Studies on 20th September 2017. If you want to cut to the chase, the slides are here, full notes of my talk below.

It is a slightly tricky time to be writing this post: there have been a host of announcements about changes to the REF policy in recent months, weeks, and even days, but much remains undecided, making it difficult to offer advice of the kind that was possible for REF 2014. That said, ECRs (and especially those currently on the job market) are very much living through this uncertainty, and can’t simply wait it out until next summer to make decisions that impact upon careers.

With that in mind, this post is intended as a reflection on the current state of affairs. While I can’t offer anything too concrete, I have tried to clarify, or at least clearly set out, the main areas of uncertainty relating to ECRs, and to give pointers on where to find information and what to look out for as further details are released. I’ve also offered some preliminary advice for ECRs based on what I think can be inferred thus far.

All of this comes with the (big) disclaimer that these are my own opinions only, some areas are still open to interpretation, this is by no means definitive, and this may well yet change: and n.b. that none of the information that has been released is final policy – that will come next year.

  1. REF2021: an overview

The Research Excellence Framework is the system for allocating research funding in UK HEI; it is based on assessing 3 factors with :

  • outputs (60%);
  • impact (25% – an increase from 20% in 2014);
  • and environment (15%)

The focus of what follows is on research, although impact may be of relevance to ECRs (see paragraphs 19-26 of the Initial Decisions document for the latest on impact).

The previous (and first) round of the exercise was run in 2014 and raised some areas of difficulty, including a substantial impact on ECRs as my earlier work documents. A period of review and consultation has therefore been in progress, starting with the Stern Review in 2016, a Consultation exercise on the findings of the Stern Review held in March 2017 (for which the summary of responses was published last week), and some Consultation events. The Initial decisions on the REF were published at the start of September 2017, along with a Circular Letter. There have also been a series of webinars over the summer, most recently this one in July on Developing staff and outputs, not to mention several blog posts by David Sweeney on various topics. (yes, I’m exhausted just writing all of that).

The timetable indicates that draft guidance will be published next summer, with final guidance and criteria in winter 2018-19 (see Initial decisions, paragraphs 49-51). Based on the approach thus far, I think we can expect that until then there will be this ongoing slow-release of pieces of information as they become available which is helpful, but also means that there will be a lot of discussion and changes to keep track of.

2. What we know so far

The broad parameters of research assessment will stay the same: “outputs” (broadly, publications) will be submitted to the REF by HEIs and sent to subject panels who assess by peer review; quantitative data will be used in some disciplines where appropriate (see Initial decisions, para. 6). Peer reviewers will rank submissions on a 1-4* basis:

Quality profile from REF2014

The timeframe for publications that can be submitted will be 1st January 2014 – 31st December 2020.

A key change from the last round will be the new Open Access policy, which states that from April 2016 journal articles submitted to the REF must be available in an Open Access form, i.e. an institutional or subject repository (n.b. “early deposit”, i.e. within 3 months of acceptance, is crucial; if you aren’t already, then get in the habit of submitting to your institution’s repository as soon as your work is published. If you have any doubts about embargo periods/ potential conflict with your journal contract, get in touch with your institution’s OA team who will be very used to dealing with this and know what to look for). Note that OA does not apply to monographs for REF 2021, but it is expected that it will for the next cycle (post-2021).

Another change that has been announced is the move to better accommodate interdisciplinary research: each sub-panel will have at least one dedicated panel member to oversee and assess interdisciplinary research, there will be an “interdisciplinary identifier” for outputs, and support of interdisciplinary research will be considered in the environment template. (for more on interdisciplinarity, see Initial decisions, para. 15).

There are also moves for improvements in equality and diversity considerations, particularly in terms of improving the representativeness of panel appointments (i.e. those assessing work) and there have been announcements thus far as to how this will be approached (see Initial decisions, para. 44, and p. 19)

So far, I think there are some encouraging moves in what has been announced. However, much of what is still to be decided impacts substantially on ECRs and I’ve outlined the three key areas below.

3. Staff submissions

This concerns who “counts” as a researcher and is submitted to the REF. In REF 2014, eligible staff were defined using core eligibility criteria but institutions did not need to submit all of those meeting these requirements. This ran into a number of issues, which REF 2021 aims to address through the proposal of 100% return: i.e.

“all staff who have a significant responsibility to undertake research”

will be submitted; alternatively, HEIs can decide not to return all staff but must draw up a code of practice as to how the decision is undertaken.

The proposal of “significant responsibility” works to core eligibility requirements which are essentially the same as REF 2014:

  • academic employment function of ‘research only’ or ‘teaching &  research’
  • are independent researchers [i.e. not research assistants unless ‘demonstrably’ independent]
  • minimum employment of 0.2 full time equivalent
  • have a substantive connection to the submitting institution
  • RAs on projects won’t be eligible, and further guidelines being produced around the definition of “independent researcher” (see Circular Letter, Annex A, para. 3-8)

While the principle of all-staff submission has been broadly accepted, uncertainty remains as to how eligible staff will be identified – there were initial suggestions of using HESA contract data which have been ruled out, and it now looks as though it will be up to HEIs to determine who has “significant responsibility” and meets the above criteria. While there is a lot of discussion around this, and some of it confusing in the terminology, I don’t think ECRs need to focus too much on the finer details at this point in the cycle – this is fairly high-level policy, and while it will impact upon you depending on what role you are in towards the cut-off point, at this point I would work to the assumption that if you are going for academic teaching & research (T&R) posts, then you will be expected to be REFable.

Which takes us onto the next uncertainty.

4. Number of outputs 

A key change from the last REF is the announcement of “decoupling”. The outline premise of this is that staff and outputs are less directly associated with one another so that the exercise is about institutions, not individual performance.

This means that instead of having a portfolio of outputs attached to each individual (4, with reductions for ECR status and other staff circumstances), the number of submissions required will be an average across the whole department, with a minimum and maximum number of submissions per individual. The proposed no. of submissions is:

  • Minimum of 1 per staff;
  • Average and maximum tbc; so far, a suggested multiplier of 2 outputs per staff, and a maximum of 6.

(for more on this, see the Developing policy on staff and outputs webinar).

Decisions are ongoing around measures to promote equality and diversity in staff and output selection, including drawing up codes of practice on applying criteria for identifying staff, HEIs’ approach to output selection, and reductions for individual staff circumstances (see Webinar slide 9/ roughly 20 mins into the presentation) – from what I can see, it isn’t clear if an ECR reduction is being discussed (see here for what ECR reduction meant in REF 2014) although the minimum/average system makes this a little less crucial than previously.

In principle, decoupling seems to be a good thing and potentially reduces some of the pressures and competitiveness that ECRs experienced in the last REF. However, as things stand there is still uncertainty as to what the number of submissions will be required – although I think we could fairly safely assume that for an ECR, 1-2 will be the expectation. Perhaps more uncertain is how this will play out on the job market, both in terms of individual hiring decisions, and the impact on hiring cycles more broadly of the kind of impact that we saw last time.

5. Portability

The proposal of non-portability of outputs has been the key concern for ECRs, and is still by far the most uncertain. This proposal put forward that

“outputs should be eligible for submission only by the institution where the outputs were demonstrably generated”

That is, outputs would essentially “belong” to the institution where the work was carried out and not move with you when you moved institution. The aim was to prevent the hiring poaches of “REF stars” that occurred towards the end of last cycle.

However, clearly for ECRs this has huge consequences given the level of job mobility in the current market where fixed-term contracts are on the rise (not to mention that, given the number of teaching-only contracts, a huge amount of research is undertaken in unpaid time). This is reflected in the latest documentation, which states that

“we also recognise the significant concerns raised about this proposal in consultation responses, including the unintended consequences for staff mobility (particularly for early-career researchers) and publication behaviour, and about burden, practical implementation and retrospective application.”

(see Circular letter, paras. 16-17)

The proposal now being put forward in the current round of consultation (see Annex A, paras. 9-11) is that for this cycle, transitional arrangements are put in place, with 2 options being proposed:

  1. The simplified model, whereby outputs would be eligible for return by the institution where research carried out as well as by the newly employing institution.
  2. The hybrid approach, with a deadline (to be determined), after which a limited number of outputs would transfer with staff, with eligibility otherwise linked to the originating institution.



(Source: Developing policy on staff and outputs webinar: 19 July 2017, slide 14)

There has been recognition of the cost/burden of implementing the hybrid model, and the simplified model will be much more straightforward for ECRs, but at this point we don’t know which way this will go – I’d like to assume option A, but who knows. It does look like there has been enough discussion of the negative effects of non-portability (not just on ECRs – staff mobility is necessary at all levels, for many reasons), that hopefully outputs will be portable at least up to a certain date, but this will be the key area for ECRs to follow in coming months.

6. What can ECRs do?

Based on this assessment, my take on this would be to assume:

  • that if you are aiming for an academic job you will be in a REFable position;
  • that a minimum of 1 and average of 2 submissions will be required;
  • that portability will potentially apply to current outputs but you may need to stay informed about further changes and especially the cut-off date if the hybrid model is adopted.

Again, this is only what I can infer from the current documentation and this could all change quite quickly, but I think these assumptions are fairly safe in that they will allow you to work to a few pointers I’ve suggested below, while leaving you open to any subsequent changes.

7. Publication strategy

So to finish, some suggestions of what to do if you’re soon to be or currently on the job market or in a fixed-term position:

Focus on quality not quantity: fewer, high-quality publications is better than lots of lower-ranking pieces. This has always been true, and it will probably be more so in the new system where a lower number of outputs per staff are being submitted: institutions will want to make each one count. I have written more on quality in this post on publication strategy (the REF info is clearly out of date, but the pointers on quality apply). The quality not quantity rule is also time-efficient if you are stretched for publication time as an ECR; make everything you can publish count for as much as possible on your CV.

Timing and portability: at this point, I would probably not hold back on publishing articles that you have ready. If you are on the job market, you need publications on your CV (we spoke a bit yesterday about how you are playing 2 games as an ECR: the hiring game, and the REF game, which are entangled but also slightly different from one another).

However, looking ahead to the future (and I’ll update on this in due course): if a deadline for non-portability comes into play then you may want to start thinking strategically later in the cycle; if you are on the job market late in the cycle and have something ready for submission then it may be worth holding off on hitting the submit button until you are newly employed in a REFable post. I would consider having an unpublished “safety piece” that travels with you on the job market until you are in post (the exact piece might change of course, but the principle is to have one piece held back).

8. Stay informed

The final guidance is expected in winter 2018-19. In the meantime, keep up to date with any changes: HE news outlets, blogs, and the HEFCE website will have all the latest, and I’ll be doing my best to keep up to date with the changes and writing on ECR impacts.

It is hugely time consuming (and stressful) trying to keep up with all of this if you’re an ECR on the job market, so to those in more senior positions, please help with dissemination, either to the ECRs within your direct reach and/or at an institutional level. A lack of and mis-information around the REF was cited as a huge contributor to the pressure of the REF 2014 in my study of its impact on ECRs, so please help with this if you can. Which brings me onto my final point.

9. The REF and ECR mental wellbeing

My final piece of advice is around the mental health impact of the REF on ECRs, particularly during this period of uncertainty in which the very thing that for years you have been told your employability depends upon is now up in the air (and it may well feel as though the pack of cards deciding your future has been thrown up in the air, and we’re waiting to see where they land).

My 2015 report showed an overwhelming detrimental impact of the REF upon ECR mental health and wellbeing: respondents both in secure early-career positions and on the job market noted that the REF exacerbated feelings of anxiety, insecurity and precarity, and some experienced substantial mental health impacts of this. ECRs also said that they felt isolated and unable to admit to these impacts in the highly competitive workplace environment that REF created.

I don’t want to place undue worry on ECRs at this point: there is still much to be determined, and once decisions are made, this REF could well play out better for ECRs. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge that many ECRs are feeling incredibly anxious and even more precarious as a result of the current uncertainty, and that if you are, you’re not fretting over nothing or worrying unduly before the final policy is announced; if anything, this period of uncertainty before the policy is decided is, I think, going to be the hardest time for ECRs on the job market. The job market has been pretty horrendous in terms of mental health impacts over the last few years (and I have another post coming up with more thoughts on this), and I can only imagine that the last few months have been even more stressful. So if you’re feeling like this you’re by no means alone; and again, if you’re in a position to do so, then please offer any support, advice, and reassurance that you can to ECRs.

By way of conclusion, a round up of the works cited in this post:



Balancing acts: priorities, strategies, challenges of ECR careers

I spoke at the TECHNE doctoral congress on the subject of the “balancing acts” required early career researchers as you start on academic career paths. The slides from my talk are here, and I also wanted to signpost a few other blog posts where I’ve written more fully about some of these issues, and direct you to some related resources on other websites.

What does an early career path look like? my route from PhD to permanent job.

Balancing acts – some of the issues covered in this talk were the topic of a talk I gave at a discussion day on ECAs in English last year.

Developing a publication strategy as an ECR (note: some of this is now out of date, with changes anticipated for the next REF; these should become clearer in late July, when I will be blogging further about this). The ECR hub on Palgrave Macmillan’s site and Wiley’s author resources are a useful starting point for understanding the publishing process. PhD2Published is an amazing haven of resources on writing and Pat Thomson has a lot of brilliant advice on publishing including this post on turning your thesis into a book.

Teaching – some great resources on the Royal Historical Society ECR pages (obviously aimed at historians, but more widely applicable).

Digital identity – my colleague Allan Johnson gave an excellent talk about social media as an academic, and I spoke a bit about my experience of this in the questions. I’ve written about this here and have lots of related resources compiled here. For online communities, #phdchat and #ecrchat are great hubs for careers discussion, and for Arts students, @wethehumanities is a brilliant place to start networking with other arts researchers, whether you’re new to twitter or an old hand.

The subject of ECR wellbeing came up in one of the discussion sessions; I recently spoke about this and slides are available here, full post coming soon. I’d recommend the excellent academia and mental health resources on Nadine Muller’s blog.


The Voice of the Academic – a one-day workshop for TECHNE PhD students

I am delighted to be running this workshop for PhD students, thanks to funding from the TECHNE Training and Development fund. Full details of the day and information on how to sign up are below (places are limited and going fast!).

The voice of the academic: vocal training for academic success

A one-day workshop for PhD students

22nd September 2017, University of Surrey

The use of the voice is crucial to academic work: whether it is in teaching, giving talks, broadcast and media work, or in job interviews, a large proportion of an academic career depends upon public speaking. Training in using the voice effectively will enable you to make the most of your academic expertise in the public-facing scenarios which count towards your career.

This one-day event teaches you vocal and presentation techniques, and gives you practice in applying them in a job interview scenario. In the morning you will participate in two workshops that focus on improving the use of the voice, practicing the Alexander Technique to relieve tension in the body and make full use of the breath, and working with a vocal practitioner to learn about the effective use of the voice. In the afternoon you will put these skills into practice in an academic job interview workshop, learning more about what is expected at an academic interview and giving a 3-5 minute “job pitch” talk making use of the techniques you have learned.

By the end of the day you will have gained practical skills in vocal technique, built up your confidence in public speaking, and understand how to prepare for academic interviews. We will conclude by discussing self-reflective techniques and give you a resource pack to help you to continue working on these skills after the workshop.

To attend this workshop

The event is open to doctoral students affiliated to TECHNE institutions, with priority given to TECHNE funded PhD students.

To register for a place please complete the booking form by 8th September.

Due to the participative nature of this workshop places are limited to 20 students. A waiting list will be created from additional registrations; please inform the organisers if you are no longer able to attend so that we can release your place to someone else.

Attendees will be asked to prepare a short (3-5 minute) talk about your research in advance, to be used for the afternoon workshop; further details will be emailed to participants closer to the date.

Enquiries can be directed to Dr Charlotte Mathieson at



10am: Introduction

A short introduction to the day and what you hope to get from the sessions.

10.15-11am: Alexander Technique workshop

The Alexander Technique teaches how to relieve tension in the body and use muscles correctly to allow for improved posture and full use of the breath when speaking. This session with a practitioner from the Reve Pavilion in Guildford will give you some basic techniques to prepare your body for good vocal techniques.

 11-11.15am: break

 11.15-1.15pm: Vocal workshop with Guildford School of Acting

In this session students will learn about care of the voice, and develop techniques for effective speaking with Chris Palmer, Head of Voice at Guildford School of Acting. Chris Palmer works with University academic staff and PhD students on voice projection, accent softening (elocution), breath support, articulation, volume and clarity and preparation of presentations.


1.15-2pm: Lunch (provided)


2-4.15pm: Academic job interview workshop, led by Dr Allan Johnson and Dr Charlotte Mathieson

In this session we will put into practice the techniques you have learned in a workshop focused on academic job interviews. We will begin with a discussion about what to expect from an academic job interview, led by the workshop leaders who have extensive experience and training expertise in this area. Participants will then be split into two groups to give a short “job pitch” talk (3-5 minutes) to their group, receiving supportive and constructive feedback focused on vocal and presentation skills. In the concluding discussion, we will give you some top tips for interview preparation, including sample questions to prepare.

 4.15-4.30pm: Closing discussion: Reflective techniques for future success

The day will conclude with suggestions for self-reflective techniques and provide you with a resource pack to help you to continue improving your skills after the workshop.