|No.1 March 1999
Current jobOver 70 per cent of contract researchers are located in a teaching department and not in a separate research centre. This varies considerably from university to university. In Abertay, Napier, Paisley and St Margarets the proportion of research staff in a separate research unit exceeded 40 per cent of the total. In others, such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot Watt, St Andrews and Strathclyde, the proportion is less than 20 per cent.
Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of contract researchers in the survey were on grades RG1A or RG 1B. While there is only a small overall difference between males and females in these two research grades taken together (71 per cent of males and 76 per cent of females), a larger proportion of female research staff are employed at RG 1B grade while a greater proportion of male researchers are employed at the more senior RG 1A and RG II grades.
Around 27 per cent of respondents indicated that their research related to a single discipline. The remainder carried out research that was either multi- or inter-disciplinary. Single disciplinary research work is more likely to be encountered in science and education research. Engineering & technology and the social sciences & humanities jobs are more likely to involve multi- and inter-disciplinary research. All contract researchers employed in the area of art described their research as interdisciplinary
There is considerable variation in length of employment in current post and in experience of contract research generally. Over a third of researchers have been employed in their current post for less than 12 months. This finding emphasises the short duration of many contracts and may even be an underestimate if, as appears likely, response rates have been lowest from researchers on very short, frequently-renewed contracts. However, some research staff have been employed for significantly longer periods, with the longest duration being 22 years. The median duration in current post is around 17 months (18 months for males and 16 months for females).
While many current job contracts are quite short, staff have often worked for their current employer for a longer time. The median duration of employment with the current university is two years and four months. The difference between this figure and the duration in current post is accounted for by the renewal of contracts.
Short contracts and frequent contract renewal is a way of life for many, if not most, contract researchers. Thus, while as many as one third have been employed in their current post for less than one year, only 14 per cent have been employed in research for such a short period. The median amount of time that contract research staff have worked in contract research is over four years (4 years and 3 months). In fact some respondents have worked for as long as 38 years in a research post, although such experience is very much a minority one.
Detailed information has been collected about the tasks undertaken by contract researchers. Respondents were asked to classify the frequency with which they carried out a range of tasks (a lot, a lttle or not at all).
The results reveal an interesting and not entirely expected pattern. In view of the fact that three quarters of contract research staff are employed within teaching departments, the division of labour between teaching and research is quite sharp. Relatively few research staff undertake a lot of teaching or supervision of students, nor were their skills used to provide laboratory demonstrations to any great extent. In fact, contract research staff engage in relatively few tasks on a frequent basis. These tasks are the setting up of fieldwork and experiments, monitoring and analysis of data and the writing up of research results for publication. Few research staff are involved in the preparation of tenders for sponsors or applications for funding. This, perhaps, reflects the relatively short term nature of many research contracts, although applications for extensions of funding might have been expected more frequently. Presentations to sponsors and to conferences are more common but not as common as might be expected given the importance of an academic track record of publication for future careers.