Research staff on fixed-term contracts now form the largest staff group in the University of Cambridge; the Department has in recent years (since 2008) very quickly caught up with this trend and now has an exceptionally large contract research staff community.
People in these roles face distinctive challenges orientating themselves within the University, planning their work and developing their careers. Mentors, sponsors and PIs play an important role in the management of staff in this category, helping them to find their feet, providing invaluable information on how the University and the Department works, on what to expect, the standards to be maintained, their future career options, what to do when the funding ends, and where to go for help and support.
The administrators carry out a basic induction with all new staff members, and the Centre for Personal and Professional Development (PPD) also plays a role. However, mentors, sponsors and PIs in addition have a responsibility to ensure the successful induction of new staff.
On appointment, all new staff are placed on probation; for most research contracts this lasts for 6 months. The sponsor or PI is responsible for conducting progress reviews with their new staff. These should take place at regular intervals, starting weekly in the first month and monthly after that. Form PD/PROB/R4 should be filled in after each meeting and at the final meeting form PD/PROB/A4 should be completed.
At the end of the probation period the administrator must be informed whether to confirm the appointment by making an entry on the online HR system, CHRIS. Advice must be sought from the administrator at the earliest possible stage if there are any problems which might prevent the successful completion of the probation period.
An appraisal should be conducted at the end of the first year. Appraisals should then be held annually.
4. Procedure for ending fixed term contracts
Six months prior to the end date of the appointment the administrator will start the procedure for ending fixed term contracts. If this procedure is not followed there is a risk of grievance being made leading to an unfair dismissal claim.
While following this guidance fulfils the legal requirement, it does little to ensure continued employment. Mentors/sponsors/PIs should be discussing career plans at a much earlier stage and at regular intervals, and also ensure that the staff concerned and administrator are clear on the status of any funding streams.
5. Career management
The University Careers Service offers a specialist careers service for contract research staff and postdocs. Cambridge has been recognized by the European Commission for its 'HR excellence in research'.
The School of Humanities and Social Sciences has a careers advisor dedicated to work with postdoctoral researchers. At the current time this is Steve Joy, and it is possible to book an individual appointment with him to discuss career options, review CVs and arrange mock interviews.
A career management tool for researchers has been developed which people may find useful.
The Department offers a wide variety of training for all graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, to support their research work, help them develop a range of specific academic skills, and increase employability. The site also includes links to other training resources in the University.
6. Other forms of support