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to be biting my tongue and think they are being twits about jobs/unpaid experience?

(229 Posts)
LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 08:53:02

I am this close to snapping back about this so just want to see if I am BU or if you can tell me to be a nicer person.

A few days ago I was asked to publicize a competition which has been set up to give people an unpaid position, while they're looking for the paid equivalent. They'd also get space to work and access to various subscription-only stuff you'd need. Jobs are very competitive so there are lots of people who will be in the position of not having found one yet, so the fact this is competitive too, means it would be better on your CV than a blank.

Obviously I know it won't be for everyone. It isn't anything to do with me as an initiative - I was literally just asked to spread the word. So I did. People now keep responding and asking what it's for, saying they don't see why it's made competitive 'as they could just give it to everyone' and saying it's pointless as it doesn't pay anything. I replied a couple of times saying why I thought it was being offered and I'm now giving up.

Am I being unreasonable to think they are being idiots? Here they are, they haven't managed to get jobs, but they're turning their noses up at this and seem to have no understanding why there might be competition for it. I made it clear I am just passing on information and am still getting these stupid snooty comments about how they wouldn't choose to do this, etc. etc.

I am so tempted to reply pointing out that beggars can't be choosers. AIBU?

MulledWineOnTheBusLady Wed 14-Nov-12 13:26:27

Or is it an offer to provide research facilities to an unpaid researcher?

This, I thought we had established that. And your own research, not someone else's. That's why I don't understand all this talk about working for free or exploitation.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 13:28:12

I think it must be really different in different subjects. I know scientists and social scientists are routinely doing multiple-author papers and multi-person studies, so perhaps they're more worried about ownership of research.

For us, I can't see how it would matter where you were when you did a piece of research, but maybe I am naive.

MulledWineOnTheBusLady Wed 14-Nov-12 13:29:59

I think if anything you'd be less at risk of plagiarism with a scheme like this than if you were working closely with a particular academic, like you do at PhD and in some paid researcher posts.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 13:38:11

But presumably it isn't plagiarism they are worried about? It's that you could do a lot of work and it'd be perfectly acceptable for you not to be named as an author?

I don't quite follow, but I understand that sometimes not all the people in a team get named, or not prominently enough for it to be good for their CV.

MooncupGoddess Wed 14-Nov-12 13:42:11

Loads of people are misunderstanding the situation here and think you're talking about an internship (many of which really are exploitative).

In fact what they're offering is perfectly fair; a friend of mine has just got this deal somewhere and is very pleased.

But they (or you - are you using their phraseology in your opening post?) are pitching it wrongly. Saying 'set up to give people an unpaid position, while they're looking for the paid equivalent' suggests the person who gets this will have to work all day for the employer in the same way they would if they got a paid job. Which clearly isn't the case.

In fact they are just offering an institutional affiliation, work space, and research facilities. Great! But they should say so and avoid any mention of the word 'job'.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 13:45:50

I am going to get back to them and say that, mooncup. It didn't occur to me it was an issue (and I think they use the term 'non-stipendiary research position' rather than 'job'). But I think probably this is a lot of the problem.

I do think some of the people commenting (to me originally, I mean, not on here) are being a bit daft, TBH: we're all in the same boat so they ought to know what's going on.

I think some of them have the attitude that if they've not got a postdoc, then anything else is an insult - they did the PhD therefore they deserve a job, right now please, and where is it?

Whereas I think a PhD is the minimum requirement, then you work your arse off.

LessMissAbs Wed 14-Nov-12 13:47:14

*Or is it an offer to provide research facilities to an unpaid researcher?

This, I thought we had established that. And your own research, not someone else's. That's why I don't understand all this talk about working for free or exploitation*

Thats not something I would want on my cv. Unpaid, undirected research for an undefined period? Unless it resulted in publication. I would tend to miss it out and fill in the gap on my cv with something more useful and purposeful. Such as a job.

I think the word "competition" is used more often in this context on the Continent and doesn't really infer the sought after context in this setting, hence the confusion. In the UK, people generally compete to win a prize. If theres no prize on offer, then they that will create certain associations about unfairness and exploitation in their minds.

I think its making an awful lot out of an awful little. Why can't the university instead offer free research facilities to students with firsts, or whatever? Or a small bit of paid ad hoc teaching or research work? It sounds lazy on the part of the university, and I don't like the way its being handled. I think it has the potential to backfire.

limitedperiodonly Wed 14-Nov-12 13:48:18

mulled Universities are employers. They are not a special case no matter how much they plead.

If there is a job to be done it should be paid to the correct person according to national minimum wage, which is the law. Any benefits they accrue cut both ways for them and their employer according to their ingenuity. The employer isn't doing them special favours - if they've got their heads screwed on they should select the person who will make their best of their position.

There should be a contract setting out hours, conditions, responsibilities and length of service expected, which is also the law. Anything else is exploitation.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 13:51:16

So would everyone else, less. But the point is, we don't all seem to be getting jobs.

I've already explained about the teaching and about the issues with space for research facilities.

mulled - but they don't have responsibilities or length of service expected? confused

They don't want people to do a job for them - they want people to get on with their own research.

Ephiny Wed 14-Nov-12 13:57:47

I think it must be different in different subjects. Certainly in science, unless you're a PI with your own lab/group, as a researcher you are very much 'working for someone else'. Yes you get your name on the paper when you publish, which counts for a lot. But you expect to be paid.

I'm not going to say it's wrong or exploitative, but if unpaid internships are starting to appear in academia....it's worth considering that industry and City firms offer well-paid internships (mine actually paid my accommodation costs as well as a very good salary), very often leading to an offer of a permanent job at the end if you make a good impression. You can kind of see why the top graduates are often drawn to these career paths rather than wanting to stay in academia. DH and I both considered staying in research, but there were just no decently paid permanent positions to be had. This was even before 'unpaid internships' which we would have been pretty hmm about tbh.

And maybe beggars can't be choosers, and should be grateful for whatever they can get, but do universities really want such 'beggars' as their next generation of researchers?

MulledWineOnTheBusLady Wed 14-Nov-12 14:01:53


"If there is a job to be done..."

Stop right there. There isn't a job to be done.

You need to read my previous answer again.

It is not a job.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 14:02:10

That is a very good point. sad

I do see why graduates are drawn away from academia. Is it entirely the universities' fault? Government funding is being cut away too. I don't think the ordinary academics - people who're our supervisors I mean - like this any more than we do. And I know the impetus for providing this came from them because they were worried about us.

MooncupGoddess Wed 14-Nov-12 14:03:54

Yes, use of the term 'competition' is odd.

'Thats not something I would want on my cv. Unpaid, undirected research for an undefined period? Unless it resulted in publication. I would tend to miss it out and fill in the gap on my cv with something more useful and purposeful. Such as a job.'

But surely most humanities research is self-directed, yet aimed at publication? Of course it is better to get a grant/funded research position, but the intended outcome (publication, making a contribution to the field etc) is the same?

Iodine Wed 14-Nov-12 14:04:13

I agree with Ephiny. This is what is confusing me, because I am used to scientific research where you are basically doing the research jobs that the laboratory supervisor doesn't want to do.

MoreBeta Wed 14-Nov-12 14:05:07

Beleive me, the university is getting something out of this and I suspect also there is a paid researcher somewhere who will be using this work in their paid research which may then lead to a REF point or two. I have seen it happen.

amicissimma Wed 14-Nov-12 14:05:59

They seem to have found a way to weed out only people who will really appreciate this opportunity. The ones who want to cry 'exploitation' and will only do a well-paid job just won't apply. Tell them not to waste bullets on the messenger!

It sounds as if it can be done in tandem with paid work, so must be possible to do without losing unemployment benefit. I can see it's effectively closed to people who cannot economically get there, but that applies to anything.

My DS had to put in an application to do DofE. They had 20 places and about 50 wanted to do it. They chose the ones who had made the best argument for themselves. Those who got it did it in their own time, at their own expense. Some of them had to creatively raise funds for themselves. It is good experience and looks good on a CV, specially as they had to work to win a place. Are they being exploited? (No, DS wasn't chosen!)

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 14:06:27

I'm sorry, but I don't believe you TBH, morebeta - what could they possibly be getting out of it?

You don't show other people your research, you know. There is no way someone could use it for REF unless they were a mind-reader.

MooncupGoddess Wed 14-Nov-12 14:07:27

To be honest I think funding people to do postdocs on mediaeval poetry etc is very low on the government's list of priorities. What they've done to the universities is pretty awful in many ways, and they (and New Labour before them) have a horribly utilitarian approach to higher education... but looking at it cold I do understand why funding is so hard to get. It's not the universities' fault for the most part, surely they'd love to have the funds to get more people in?

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 14:07:37

Maybe that's it ami!

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 14:08:19

grin Yeah, fair point *mooncup, I do see that. blush

(Whaddayou mean, medieval poetry isn't central to everyone's wellbeing?!)

MulledWineOnTheBusLady Wed 14-Nov-12 14:11:57

Ah, then no, this isn't the same thing at all, Iodine. Research posts that exist for the purpose of helping an existing academic with their own project are very clearly labelled as such. Self-directed research aimed at publication is the norm in the humanities AFAIK.

Now just baffled by Beta.

Ephiny Wed 14-Nov-12 14:15:12

So why is the university doing this? If there's no benefit to them? What's the purpose of it?

I am confused at the idea of research that you don't show to anyone, maybe this is a subject/cultural difference as well, but in my experience research is a team effort. The idea of the solitary researcher engaged in their own secret work sounds like a 19th century 'mad scientist' stereotype.

This isn't science though, I'm guessing?

I also think I'm missing exactly what is being offered. If it's not science/engineering etc, is 'research space' just a desk? Access to journals sounds useful, though there's a trend towards open-access now and pre-prints being put on sites like arXiV (and often if you email the academic they will be happy to send you a pdf).

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 14-Nov-12 14:16:03

YY, what mulled said, iodine.

Basically, for the people this is aimed at, the situation is that they've finished their PhD, but haven't yet got a postdoc and want to get one. Usually you struggle because you don't have enough/any publications (you don't publish much in my subject - it is quite normal to get through a PhD with nothing published yet, or with one publication). So, you tend to find that as soon as people submit their theses, they start trying to get papers out. Those papers might be based on the PhD or might be something new. But it's quite likely they'd be something only your supervisors had ever seen, or even something no-one else had seen until you submitted it to the journal and it got published.

(I think this isn't great, btw, and lots of us do try to chat to mates, but it's not the same as having research that is somehow public property before you submit it.)

ParsingFancy Wed 14-Nov-12 14:16:09

Heh, NotGoodNotBad, the "practically nothing" starting salary for trainee accountants had me smirking slightly as well. When I was considering accountancy in <mumble>, starting salaries were an awful lot more than "practically nothing" - or even subsistence. Of course graddies got a lot less than a qualified accountant with 10 years' experience, but so does most of the country.

My generation paid no fees and got grants to go to uni, went straight into paid training positions, and bought property at 3 times a single salary.

All unthinkable luxuries for the current youngsters.

mamakoula Wed 14-Nov-12 14:18:36

I was in the sciences. I was established in a research field early on in my postdoc. My husband refused to move to let me take a position elsewhere to advance my career. I wanted to keep my family together but research is an integral part of my identity. I volunteered for 1.5 yrs. I co-wrote a grant but my name could not go on it as I didn't have a permanent position. I was hired and trained people. Then the bullying started. I have lost my job, my research and some of my sanity as I have PTSD now. I am not even going to get a publication out of it and my reputation is being torn to shreds. As a temporary worker (non-UK) I basically was an at-will hire and fire: I felt unprotected and could not go to anybody for support for fear of reprisal.

Bit of an extreme example I know. The university owns intellectual copyright and the lab books and work generated. I was just a cog i nthe system and I happened to come across a nasty weasel with ulterior motives.

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