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New initiative will improve career options for junior researchers at AU

Junior researchers (assistant professors and postdocs) on standard and tenure track contracts can now look forward to more career development assistance. This autumn, AU is launching a variety of initiatives to provide better career opportunities to junior research staff both at and outside the university, including opportunities for more career counselling.

2017.04.28 | Rikke Skovgaard Lindhard

AU is launching a variety of initiatives to provide better career opportunities to junior research staff. Photo: Lars Kruse, AU Photo

An interdisciplinary network, career counselling services and a career development programme and a new junior researchers website. These are some of the concrete initiatives AU will launch in autumn 2017 in order to strengthen researcher talent development and help junior researchers further in their careers.

Junior researchers at AU include assistant professors and postdocs on standard and tenure track contracts. This group of employees has grown significantly in recent years, and includes a high proportion of international researchers who are often in the very early stages of their research careers.

Their working lives are often characterised by short-term contracts and uncertain career prospects, and only 10 – 15 per cent of them succeed in finding permanent academic positions nationwide.

“Even though these junior researchers make a huge, important contribution to the university’s research environments, their career prospects are often unclear when their contracts end because there hasn’t been been enough focus on competency development along the way. In light of how few of these researchers continue their careers at the university, we as an employer have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation of researchers is also acquainted with the career opportunities which lie outside the university, both in private and public organisations,” explains Lise Wogensen Bach, vide-dean for research at the Faculty of Health and member of AU’s Committee for Research and External Relations (UFFE), which is behind the initiative.   

Surveys pinpoint needs of junior researchers nationally and locally

In recent years, a number of nationwide surveys, for example from the Danish National Research Foundation and DFIR, have highlighted the uncertain career prospects facing postdocs.

On this background, in December 2016, the Committee for Research and External Relations performed an internal survey among research group leaders, the heads of departments and schools and postdocs to find out what kinds of concrete initiatives would be relevant for junior researchers - both for those who pursue university careers and those who seek employment in public and private sector organisations and businesses.

According to the survey, postdoctoral employees in particular experience career paths as opaque, and expressed a need for more assistance in finding their way around the organisation in the form of better information about events, administrative support, descriptions of career paths and practical job-related information, for example about unions and union reps. Getting to know other junior researchers better was also on their wish list. The results of the AU survey are in tune with both national and international surveys.  

A website, a career programme and interdisciplinary network are on the way

New initiatives which will be launched in response to the input from the survey include a website for this group of researchers which will offer information on vacancies, funding opportunities, terms of employment, collaboration with companies and so on, in addition to a career development programme to support the professional development of the individual researchers along one or more of the following career paths: research group leader, industry or teaching.

Several of the services which are currently available to PhD students will be expanded to include junior researchers, including career service and a private sector-oriented mentorship scheme.

In addition, the Junior Researcher Association will be founded, a new interdisciplinary network which will help make junior researchers more visible as a staff group and provide a sense of community for academic and social activities.

“With these initiatives, we are expanding the competency development toolbox for these young talents, as a supplement to existing services and their dialogue with their immediate supervisor. We hope that this will ultimately give this group of junior researchers greater awareness of their career opportunities and prepare them better for their future roles in society,” explains Wogensen Bach.

These new services will be made available in the autumn, at which time the new website is also expected to be launched.

The initiative will be evaluated in the autumn of 2018 with a view to continuing and developing the services available.   

Are you a junior researcher?

  • If you are a junior researcher and would like to learn more about the career counselling services, please contact Career Guidance Counsellor Vibeke Broe: vibr@au.dk
  • If you are a junior researcher and are interested in joining the new network, the Junior Researcher Association, contact Vibeke Broe: vibr@au.dk
  • If you want to learn more about other initiatives and activities, contact Stine Birk Kristensen: stinebk@au.dk

Facts about the specific initiatives

  • The website: Will compile all relevant information, including courses offered, social and academic activities, job vacancies, funding opportunities, collaboration with businesses and so on.
  • A career development programme with three tracks: research group leader, industry or teaching
  • The Junior Researcher Association network: Will contribute to creating an interdisciplinary community among junior researchers and will organise academic and social activities
  • Career counselling services in relation to careers outside the university
  • 500,000 kroner has been allocated to the junior research initiative in 2017 and 2018
  • The concrete initiatives have been developed on the background of interviews with the heads of departments and schools and research group leaders, in addition to a focus group interview with a number of postdocs.
  • The example of the efforts of leading international universities in this area has also served as a source of inspiration, including Cambridge, Yale, UC Berkeley and Karolinska Institutet.  
Research, Academic staff, All AU units, Management, Talent development, PhD students