Being an academic researcher is a real, and increasingly important, job

Today colleagues at the London School of Economics are tweeting, using the #LSEtoo hashtag, about the achievements of full-time research staff, in the context of the LSE’s current lack of career and pay parity between teaching and research staff.

It seems to surprise many people that some of us do research as a long-term career. Very often when I tell people that I am a researcher they assume that is something I am doing as part of my studies, or as a step towards getting a “proper academic job” as a lecturer. In many countries the university system does not even allow for an academic research career path. I am very proud to work at one of the best universities (if not the best) for social science in Europe, and immensely proud of the contribution that my colleagues at the Personal Social Services Research Unit and the LSE Health and Social Care research centre make to the LSE’s research. As full time researchers we bring our own funding to the LSE, and our publications and policy impact greatly enhance the School’s influence and prestige.

The world of research funding is changing rapidly. There is now an increasingly smaller number of very competitive grants available for large research projects. These grants require highly professional researchers and research managers who can successfully bid for and deliver very large projects and who can coordinate big teams of researchers who are often in different institutions and locations. The success of any university in terms of research, it seems to me, will depend very much on having a strong core of professional researchers and academic research managers who can deliver these large projects.

Professional parity is an important element towards ensuring that universities can compete in the new research funding context, and it is also very important to improve the opportunities for interaction between teaching staff and research staff. It is too often the case that research centres are in different buildings than the teaching departments they are theoretically associated with, diminishing the opportunities for exchange and collaboration between the “teaching academics” and the “research academics”, therefore missing out on potential research synergies and making it difficult for students to engage with the non-teaching researchers.

 

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