Friday, January 26, 2018

The narrowing goalposts of academia

In response to a previous post I wrote about major and minor corrections, I was sent the following screenshot of an advertisement for a 1-year postdoctoral fellowship in the humanities at a UK university:

I decided to investigate this further because I have never seen a stipulation that only those with minor corrections could apply. To put this in context:

  • The proposal application date: March 2018
  • Fellowship start date: October 2018

When discussing this on Twitter, many pointed out that the minor corrections requirement was likely a safeguard to ensure that corrections were complete by the fellowship start date. I agreed, but felt that the wording would put off anyone who got majors but could easily complete within the time frame. For example, it only took me 2-3 months to complete mine.

So, I contacted the university to see what they had to say, and it was interesting:

  • This was the wording of the Economic and Social Research Council
  • One response indicated that if you haven't been awarded your PhD you must have had your viva by 23rd March (proposal date) and be under an outcome which means you will have been confirmed by the start date (October)
Fine, I thought! As long as you could complete your corrections and have them approved within 6 months you could apply. WRONG!
  • Another response indicated another story. This stated that they can accept applicants with minor corrections to complete, but would be concerned about candidates who have had their viva and have major corrections completing these and re-submitting by the deadline of 23rd March 2018.
This ran contrary to what the actual guidelines (and the first response) stated. I responded to clarify the guidelines which state that the viva should be complete by March and the PhD confirmed by October. The last response was brutal as it:
  • confirmed that those with major corrections to make by the full proposal deadline are ineligible.  
Now, again they claim this is the ESRC's wording and I have no reason not to believe them. But what a lot of tosh. Had this been me (and many others who received major corrections), I would easily have made the deadline of full PhD confirmation within 6 months. Let's take a typical 'majors' timescale and add in the ESRCs deadlines:
  • November - Viva
  • December - List of corrections provided / Christmas break
  • March - application deadline (eligible because viva complete but ineligible as corrections not complete)
  • April - Corrections submitted (let's assume 3-4 months work)
  • May/June - Corrections confirmed
  • June/July - PhD confirmed
All this before the October start date. Even if I had added 2 extra months of work (to use the full 6 months for major corrections at my university), I still would have made it in time.

My point here is that the ESRC demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about major corrections and perpetuates a fallacy that major corrections take forever to complete (they often don't). And as a result, many will be excluded from applying. Even more than that, to include such a restriction, regardless of intent, speaks to those who received major corrections and says "you are not good enough, you are not wanted - go away". Which isn't true, but often the impression. This brings me to the final point of this fellowship.

Another stipulation is that, if you already have a PhD you must have been awarded it no more than 12 months before March 2018. So, that is a further restriction, eliminating anyone who struggled to find an academic job 12 months post-PhD. I am all for fellowships and opportunities which target recent graduates and early career researchers, but a 1-year restriction eliminates anyone who experienced any sort of bump in the journey, anyone who doesn't fit the traditional route. Now, I would hope that allowances would be made to those who needed to take time for family, children, caring responsibilities, illnesses, or anything else which is part of life but interrupts it. But unless these things are explicit, the message that adverts like this convey is: "if you are not perfect in our definition of academic perfection, you are not welcome".

We need to make room for every type of person, every type of outcome, and every type of journey. The way we word academic job adverts informs the way we perceive academia. And that perception should be one of inclusion, not exclusion.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really shocked by this, but maybe not for the reasons you said. But more because there isn't a standard definition of what constitutes minor or major corrections. I've seen this come up a lot on the postgraduate forum I still visit from time to time, years after completing my PhD. This is a UK-based forum.

    So what one university terms minor corrections can be referred to by another university as major corrections and so on.

    And yes, corrections can be done much more quickly than expected, or the description might indicate.

    So I think this is wrong on many levels, but not least because this is not a consistently used term, so is discriminatory on those grounds as well.


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