From Incite 18: building better relationships

The fact that PDRAs are always having to think about the next job or grant application, and facing the prospect of having to up roots and move across the country or continent to continue a career in research (and the repercussions of that on relationships, house rental or ownership, etc.), is a constant source of anxiety. This stress can easily lead to conflict between us and our supervisors. We are always looking to make new contacts and explore future opportunities, and become more independent, but we’re also expected to put in extra hours, go the extra mile and show loyalty. Can we find a balance, or is it simply the nature of the work? One senior academic gave us their perspective on this.

As a PDRA there is an expectation that you are becoming or have become an independent researcher. This leads to potential conflicts with the project PI who has funded the post and considers the PDRA as an employee. These issues of independence and lack of independence need to be clearly discussed and agreed at the outset and as the project evolves. I think that the University Professional and Developmental Review system should be part of the formal mechanism for this, but this does only happen at best annually (in practice).

Secondly, a PDRA is generally on a short, fixed-term contract which is an issue both for the PDRA and the PI. PDRAs often disappear at a critical point towards the end of their contract in order to secure a longer term contract and this can have negative consequences for both parties. The University is taking this problem seriously and the Institute of Population Health is developing mechanisms for helping to ensure job security. Again, good communication and planning are essential as the PI, I believe, has a duty of care to their team and should be considering the longer-term prospects of individuals: what grant-applications are in the pipeline and do they include posts that would be considered suitable for the PDRA, or what external opportunities are members of the group aware of? If the PDRA is looking to leave, that may be difficult to communicate to some PIs, for fear of a negative response, but I would see early warning as useful in planning how to cope with the change or loss of staff.  If a PI isn’t addressing the longer term, it seems to me that they are not in a position to complain if someone leaves before the end of their contract.

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