Welcome to the Postdocs of Cambridge Society Blog!
This blog features highlights and information from the PdOC society and it's members, from postdoc representation in University committees, to providing social activities and networking events.
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the evaluation with which the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) assesses quality of research institutions and the results of the REF inform government funding allocation in higher education. Many people will remember the previous REF to which UK Universities made their submissions at the end of 2013 and which was published in December 2014. Briefly, each institution is broken down into Units of Assessment (UOA) which may be departments or faculties, etc. Each UOA then submits a list of their employed researchers and a number of outputs (most often published peer-reviewed papers) for each researcher which are then assessed for quality by an independent panel. There are also measures for impact and environment.
In 2016 an independent review of the REF conducted by Lord Stern was published. There were several recommendations for changes to future REFs proposed, including changes to the definition of research active staff and that outputs would not be portable when researchers move to a new institution. As a follow-up to this review, HEFCE conducted a public consultation of the recommendations proposed to which the UK Research Staff Association (UKRSA) submitted a response. To inform the UKRSA consultation response a survey was sent out to research staff across the UK, disseminated through the UKRSA network of regional representatives (see PdOC newsletter, 15th February 2017). The survey received 50 responses.
The UKRSA consultation response focused on recommendations that were most relevant to research staff, the full response can be read here. We expressed our concern that the recommendations would lead to early career researchers being reclassified into non-research active staff categories which are not REF returnable with potentially detrimental consequences for job security and career development. There was also concern about the proposed inclusion of a measure of independence in the definition of research active staff as this is very hard to capture and again may unfairly impact research staff. While it is widely acknowledged that the fact that outputs were portable in the previous REF led to an unintentional hiring window in the two years before submission that allowed research institutions to “game” the system by recruiting successful researchers who brought their outputs with them, it is not clear that non-portability of outputs is the answer. It was considered that this proposal could potentially have a negative impact on, one hand the mobility for research staff within the research sector, and on the other hand the opportunities to build a career at a research institution while on a fixed-term contract. Furthermore, it is often challenging to attribute outputs to institutions in a straight-forward way. We included proposals about exceptions for research staff and weighted double counting of outputs as possible ways to mitigate the impact of non-portability of outputs.
The next REF is planned for 2021 and we now wait to see how the recommendations from the Stern Review and the consultation responses will be implemented.
Dr Adina L. Feldman, PdOC Society President, on behalf of the UKRSA committee
Text: Dr Adina Feldman (PdOC President)
Report from the PdOC Extraordinary General Meeting
Held on Thursday 19th January 2017
This week the PdOC Society held its first ever Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) with the purpose to adopt a statement concerning the revision of the Graduate Union (GU) constitution and to approve some minor changes to the Society’s constitution.
The Schedule D on Membership in the current version of the GU Constitution (from 2014, updated June 2016) states that "Non-Graduate Members of the GU shall be full members, and shall consist of (...) post-doctoral researchers working within the University who are members of the University (…)” and that “Associates of the GU (…) shall consist of the following (…) graduate research workers who are not registered graduate students or members of Regent House (…)”. In other words, those postdocs who are graduates of the University or on the Roll of the Regent House are considered Non-graduate Members of the GU, whereas all other postdocs are considered Associates.
The consequence of this is that postdocs have different rights within the GU depending on their status with regards to Regent House, and that there is sometimes a perception within the University that the GU represents the interests of postdocs in central governance such as the University Council. The GU is currently going through a process to revise their constitution and in the proposed updated version all postdocs will be given the status of Associates of the GU only. To make clear that we agree that it is not suitable that the GU represents the interests of postdocs and that all postdocs should have the same rights that do not depend on their status with regards to Regent House, the PdOC Society adopted a statement in support of the revision in the GU Constitution at the EGM. The statement can be read here, and a paper that explains our reasoning in more detail and how we came to this decision can be found here. In addition, to further develop the collaboration between PdOC and the GU we have decided to set up a joint subcommittee that will meet for the first time later this spring.
The PdOC Society’s Constitution in its current form was first adopted in 2013 and has since been updated twice, at the 2015 Annual General Meeting (AGM) and now at this EGM. The updated constitution can be found . These were the approved changes:
- Some naming inconsistencies were fixed and the document was reformatted into our new template (1.a.).
A reference to the Code of Conduct was added (4.g.). The Code of Conduct for all who are acting on behalf of the Society was approved by the Committee in August last year and can be read here.
A reference to Vice-President was added to two paragraphs that deal with chairing of meeting (5.h. and 5.j.).
The quorum for a Committee meeting was increased from 3 members to one third of the total members (5.i.).
A paragraph on values of the Society was added after the paragraph on aims (2.b.).
Thank you to everyone who came to the EGM! See you at the next regular AGM in the summer!
If you have any questions, please contact president @ pdoc.cam.ac.uk.
Text: Dr Adina Feldman (PdOC President)
Welcome to the first in a new series of PdOC blog posts focussing on the affiliations postdoc researchers have with Cambridge Colleges. The aim is to find out from postdocs with existing affiliations a little more about why they joined a College, what benefits they gain and the kind of educational, sporting and social activities that are on offer.
Following the news that Clare Hall College is offering up to 200 Affiliated Postdoctoral Memberships, we decided to start here by asking two existing Postdoctoral Affiliates of the College, Dr Franck Courbon and Dr Matthias Benoit, about their experience of being a member of Clare Hall.
For those interested in taking up an Affiliated Postdoctoral Membership at Clare Hall, the deadline for applications is Wednesday 14th December at 5pm. More information is available here.
- Founded in 1966 by Clare College, Clare Hall was initially founded to essentially be a satellite campus of Clare College for University teaching officers whose principal focus was research; visiting academics who would stay in Cambridge for between six months and a year; and graduate students. In 1984, Clare Hall became a fully independent College with its own statutes and its own governing body.
- Today, Clare Hall has around twenty Official Fellows, twenty Research Fellows, thirteen Professorial Fellows, forty Visiting Fellows, as well as one hundred and eighty graduate students. More information on the history of the College, from which this text has been adapted, is here.
- Located in West Cambridge, on the corner of Grange Road and Herschel Road, the main building was designed by Architect Ralph Erskine and opened in 1969. This building houses the dining hall, coffee lounge, reading room, meeting room and bar.
- The West Court, obtained by Clare Hall College in 1996, was once the Cambridge residence of Lord Rothschild. The West Court now houses meeting rooms, studies, apartments, study bedrooms, a gym, an indoor swimming pool and a very attractive garden. More information on the facilities and buildings can be found here.
We asked two current Postdoctoral Affiliates of Clare Hall College about their thoughts on membership of the College:
Dr Franck Courbon (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Computer Laboratory)
My name is Franck Courbon and I work within the Computer Laboratory Security team on the West Cambridge site. Roughly speaking, my contract aims to demonstrate that it is possible to extract integrated circuits memory contents using any means (electron microscopes, lasers and such).
I have been very lucky to be one of the 2016 Clare Hall Postdoctoral Affiliates. My year with Clare Hall has been fulfilled with conference/talks open to Clare Hall members, social events (punting, drinks/formal evenings) and sport activities (tennis, football, squash and rowing). You really can find something that suits you in the college, as usual, the hardest task is to choose and to find time.
Above all, I had the opportunity to exchange with very nice people from various fields and countries. It also helped me in my work, as I ended up doing some experiments with someone I met at Clare Hall. My personal view is that being affiliated to a college is a very good way to experience Cambridge at its best, and being part of a growing College such as Clare Hall very valuable.
So don’t hesitate to apply and take my place for 2017…
Dr Matthias Benoit (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Sainsbury Laboratory)
I am working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Sainsbury Laboratory, studying the impact of the non-coding fraction of the genome on the biology of crop plants. I've been an Affiliated Postdoctoral member of Clare Hall since January 2016.
Why did you initially choose Clare Hall?
I've heard that Clare Hall has the best food of all Cambridge! More seriously, I've been attracted by Clare Hall because of its very strong graduate and postdoc community, that gives a different atmosphere to the college.
What do you like most about being at Clare Hall?
Clare Hall is a very small and intimate college. You know almost everyone around and the contact between the members is facilitated by such a "relaxed" atmosphere. The community is extremely active in terms of culture and sports, as well as in terms of cooperation between the different members.
What events/activities do you attend at Clare Hall?
I am involved in the Clare Hall Squash Club and I am rowing for the Clare Hall Boat Club. The atmosphere in the teams is fantastic and it's a great opportunity as a postdoc to benefit from such nice facilities. I also regularly attend formal dinners (held every Wednesday), which are always great to meet new and old members of the college.
The interactions between graduates, PhD's and postdocs are strong, also because of the relatively high number of people. It is also great to share some nice moments with the academic staff. Also, our porters are great!
Would you consider that being at Clare Hall has helped in your professional development?
The spectrum of competences is so broad at Clare Hall that it does facilitate your professional development. Beside those people who are studying & working in the same field as you, the input and ideas from people outside your field is also great and very valuable.
More information on the research focus of Clare Hall College can be found here.
Main text: Paul Bennett, adapted from text on the Clare Hall College website
Photos and image credits: Clare Hall College, Wikipedia (Creative Commons licence), Franck Courbon and Matthias Benoit
Published Report on “Leaving the EU: Implications and Opportunities for Science and Research” from the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee - Posted: Tues 22nd Nov 2016
Shortly after the referendum this summer the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, a parliamentary committee of MPs including Cambridge’s Daniel Zeichner, launched an inquiry to inform and provide recommendations to the government about how to handle the impact on the science and technology sector of the UK leaving the EU.
When PdOC became aware of this inquiry in July we decided that we wanted to contribute, as Brexit is something that directly or indirectly is already affecting our community. Thus, in the beginning of August we held an Open Meeting at the Postdoc Centre in town in which 21 people participated. There was a very interesting discussion about the ways in which being part of the EU is currently affecting us as researchers and people, and how we think that may change in the future.
The result of this discussion became our submission to the inquiry, which has since been published along with over 270 other written submissions the committee received. For instance, the University of Cambridge submitted written evidence, as did the postdoc group in the Plant Sciences department (here) and a group of early career researchers from several UK universities whose submission was signed by over 1,600 people, including many from our society.
On Friday 18th November, the report based on the inquiry was published by the committee and it is an interesting read. Their main recommendations are that the Department for exiting the EU appoint a Chief Scientific Advisor, that science expenditure as a percentage of GDP should be raised by the government as soon as possible, and that researchers from the EU already working in the UK be exempt from potential future immigration controls.
We note that many of the issues raised in our submission, in particular the risks for the UK to be able to recruit talent, and the importance of international mobility for the sector, are addressed in the report. As far as I can see, early career researchers are mentioned only twice in the report; in reference to evidence from the UCL Institute of Neurology Postdoc Committee that “18% of them were now actively seeking jobs in other countries”, and in reference to evidence from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute that the government should monitor recruitment figures for “relatively short (3 years or less) but highly skilled and highly mobile groups, such as postdoctoral fellowships (…)”.
After reading the report my main reflection is that although the committee acknowledges that different issues for the sector, specifically “funding, people, collaboration, regulation and facilities”, cannot be considered in isolation, they fail to consider the broader societal context that we are finding ourselves in at the moment. It may not be enough to promise researchers from the EU already living here exemption from future potential immigration controls, many may chose to leave anyway. Many may chose not come in the first place because of the unwelcoming climate towards immigrants in general that is becoming more and more prevalent. Perhaps it was beyond the remit of the inquiry to go into detail and provide recommendations to alleviate this, but the fact that it is not even acknowledged as a problem is troubling.
Adina L. Feldman, PdOC President
In this series of articles, we take a closer look into those groups around the University representing postdocs at a departmental level. We find out how these organisations operate and provide more information on how to get involved in the events and activities on offer.
We start with the Clinical School Postdoc Committee, which is based at the Addenbrookes Biomedical Campus in the south of the city.
The need and, indeed, formation of a postdoctoral representation group within the Clinical School started in the summer of 2014 by a group of postdocs following the first meeting of the University’s Departmental Postdoc Committee Chairs Network (DPCCN). Postdocs from several departments based on the Addenbrooke’s site recognised a need for a School-wide entity which could help create a network for the large population of non-clinical researchers within the Clinical School.
A Postdoc Working Group was formed with strong support from the Clinical School (CS) and the Office for Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA). Athena SWAN lead - Professor Fiona Karet (currently CS Director of Organisational Affairs), University’s Postdoctoral Staff Coordinator - Joy Warde and head of the OPdA – Karina Prasad were instrumental in incentivising and facilitating the early work.
The number of postdocs based on the Addenbrooke’s site is estimated at around 600, the majority of who are non-clinical researchers. Despite the quite centralised governance structure of the Clinical School, this large community of postdocs had no formal representation, any dedicated space for interaction, or means of communication. The initial Postdoc Working Group and later CS Postdoc Committee aimed at building a sense of community.
In order to strengthen the Committee identity, a logo – amalgamate of DNA helix and the Aesculapian snake was designed and the snake has become a recurrent motif for the Committee’s graphical communication.
The Clinical School Postdoc Committee (CSPC) was formed with the broad aims in mind:
- To establish a community of Postdocs in the Clinical School and other research institutes located within the Cambridge Biomedical Campus or affiliated with the Clinical School.
- To increase the visibility and provide a representative voice for the Clinical School Postdocs Community.
- To provide the opportunity for interaction, encourage collaboration and facilitate researcher development for Postdocs.
Apart from the organisation of a “flagship” Clinical School Postdoc Day, the Committee c
ooperates with other groups for organising events at the Biomedical Campus. These include the Postdoc Masterclass Committee, the PdOC Society and the Addenbrooke’s Graduate Forum. Events are promoted through the CS postdoc mailing list and via Twitter.
The postdoctoral community at the Biomedical Campus is growing, and its needs have to be recognised and addressed. The CS Postdoc Committee has a very important role in listening to the postdocs’ voice and representing them within, and beyond, the Clinical School. It also needs to assist postdocs throughout their time at the Biomedical Campus, help with their integration, development and progression onto their next destination.
There were many postdocs who contributed to the Working Group and Committee’s work over the past two years and we would like to express our gratitude to them all for their time and effort. The Committee would like to especially recognise Helen Brown and Claire King, the first co-chairs of the Postdoc Working Group, as well as Hannah West, Hilda Mujcic and Mae Goldgraben who lead the organisation of first CS Postdoc Day. All other group members that assisted with advice, support and help on the actual Postdoc Day were Jacek Mokrosinski, Laura Towns, Carl Spickett, Marko Tainio, Barbora Silarova, and Adina Feldman. After the first Postdoc Day, Jacek Mokrosinski, Deanne Patmore, Joanne Emery, Laura Towns, Carl Spickett and David Shorthouse formally joined the Committee, with several other postdocs occasionally attending Committee meetings or contributing in other ways.
Contact and Information:
The Postdoc Working Group secured and set up a website dedicated for Clinical School Postdocs:
In the run-up to the first CS Postdoc Day, the Clinical School bi-weekly newsletter introduced a section dedicated to postdocs. At the same time, a mailing list reaching all postdocs employed at the Clinical School was arranged with the help provided by the CS Human Resources team and is now run by dedicated CS Postdoc Committee Communication Officers.
The Committee also operates a Twitter account (@CambridgeCSPC) which has grown to over 80 followers.
Words, photographs and pictures courtesy of the Clinical School Postdoc Committee
On Tuesday 13th September 2016, a second Postdoc Centre was officially opened at the Biomedical Campus on the south side of the city.
The Postdoc Centre at the Biomedical Campus adds a vital second centre to the popular original Postdoc Centre at Mill Lane, opened on 22nd May 2014. Almost 1000 researchers work on the Biomedical Campus. This represents around a quarter of the total PdOC membership at the time of writing, indicating the demand for such a facility on the south side.
The Biomedical Postdoc Centre provides researchers with welcome space on the south side for social gatherings, networking and professional activities. Facilities in the new Postdoc Centre include a library (the Newman library), a committee room seating up to 10 people, a seminar room which can seat up to 30 people, a room for Careers and PPD (Personal and Professional Development) events, as well as office space and a multi-purpose space seating up to 50 people. Postdocs are able to book the seminar room, committee room or Newman library for free!
The online booking system can be found at:
The opening event on Tuesday 13th September brought together all sides of the postdoctoral research community, alongside members of the University working for postdoctoral development, including the PdOC Society, OPdA, Newcomers and Visiting Scholars (NVS), the Careers Service, the Clinical School Postdoc Committee and attendees to the Clinical School postdoc day. Completing the attendee list was a host of invited dignitaries. The opening ceremony included speeches by the PdOC Society President Dr Adina Feldman, the OPdA Head of Office Karina Prasad, the OPdA Director Dr Rob Wallach and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Chris Abell. The cutting of the ribbon, to mark the official opening of the centre, was subsequently undertaken by Professor Jeremy Sanders.
Following the official opening ceremony, attendees freely explored the impressive new Postdoctoral Centre, making new contacts and discussing potential events for the space, including how the centre can be used to integrate postdoctoral researchers from across Cambridge. The overall impression from the congregation was exceedingly positive, with many suggesting that having rooms on the Biomedical Campus for postdoctoral researchers to freely book is an important step in promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and researcher autonomy.
In conclusion, the PdOC Society is excitedly looking forward to fully utilising the new Postdoc Centre on the Biomedical Campus, welcoming the opportunity to integrate social, professional and training activities with the central Postdoc Centre at Mill Lane and the forthcoming Postdoc Centre in North West Cambridge (to be opened in 2017). These are exciting times for postdoctoral researchers at Cambridge!
For those of you that could not be at the opening ceremony, the PdOC Society President, Dr Adina Feldman, has agreed that her opening speech can be printed here:
"It is a great honour to be the first speaker at this inauguration of the Postdoc Centre @ the Biomedical Campus!
The Postdoc Society has about 4,000 members and we estimate that up to a quarter of us, including myself and a total of 5 members of the PdOC committee, work in or around the Biomedical Campus doing every kind of research related to medical science imaginable.
We love the Postdoc Centre in town, it gives the Society a fixed point where we can feel at home. That space is a great support to our work and activities, and we are delighted that there is now a whole new centre that we can use in the same way; for meetings, for networking and social or cultural activities, for research development, for scientific exchange.
Just like the postdoc centre on Mill lane is a space for all postdocs from the whole University, I hope that this space can be a space for postdocs from all over the university as well, where everyone feels welcome. My hope is that by having this space postdocs from all over the University will get even more chances to come and meet and network with postdocs from the medical sciences. But in particular this space will be a great resource for the Clinical School Postdoc Committee who just organised the fantastic second annual Clinical School Postdoc Day, thank you again for that!
Lastly, while I have this platform I want to say a few words about some upcoming PdOC events that I hope you'll want to join us for. This Sunday is the annual barbecue on Darwin island, next Thursday is the PdOC free film night at Mill lane when we're showing the 1943 film Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, and on 12th October there is a lecture and drinks reception at St Catharine's College when Prof Chris Howe will give talk on "What do genes, manuscripts, languages, folk tales, and Persian carpets have in common". I think that title is a great example of the kind of interdisciplinary meetings between medicine and other sciences that I hope will take place here in the future!
Thank you and cheers to the Postdoc Centre!"
Event photos courtesy of the OPdA.
Additional photos and text by Dr Paul Bennett
Welcome to the PdOC Blog!
Welcome to the first post in the Postdocs of Cambridge news and blog feature. This page will feature news, views, articles and information relating to the work of PdOC in trying to improve life as a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge University.
This blog is intended to provide regular information and updates about what PdOC and it's members have been doing, including postdoc representation at University committees and working groups, providing training and masterclasses for postdoctoral researchers and providing social activities and networking events.
PdOC provides a number of activities for all ages, cultures, abilities and interests. A few examples of PdOC activities include:
PdOC formal dinners provide an important opportunity for postdoc researchers to gather in the picturesque surroundings of a Cambridge College to eat, drink, network and share experiences of life at Cambridge. These formal dinners range from intimate MCR dinners, where PdOC members join graduate students of a College MCR (Middle Common Room), to large scale dinners such as the ever popular PdOC Christmas dinner!
PdOC organises a number of weekend hikes in many of the best-known hiking regions in the country. These have included the Lake District, the Snowdon mountain range, Ben Nevis and the Peak District. In addition, a number of smaller day hikes and walks are arranged around Cambridgeshire and the Fens.
Lectures & Training:
One of the most interesting aspects of being a researcher at Cambridge is the opportunity to attend prestigious lectures in a range of disciplines and to engage in a wide range of training courses. PdOC arranges an interdisciplinary lecture series, which has involved such diverse topics as 'Architecture, Music and Acoustics in Renaissance Venice' and 'Human Evolution - a Multi-disciplinary Approach'. In addition, PdOC organises a masterclass series to provide training to postdoctoral researchers in essential transferable and research-specific skills.
Members of PdOC regularly attend University committees and working groups, providing a vital voice for postdoctoral researchers in the University. One example is the Departmental Postdoc Committee Chairs Network (DPCCN), a joint initiative between PdOC and the Office for Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA) in which departmental committees are invited to meet to share experiences, engage in training for managing committees and to provide wide ranging opinions in identifying the needs of postdoctoral researchers from all disciplines.
Of course, PdOC does so much more, including family-friendly parties and events, games nights, free film nights, cinema nights, restaurant nights, paint-balling, sports opportunities, garden parties, barbecues, magic workshops, day trips, lunchtime gatherings, astronomy nights...
If you have any ideas for future blog articles and features, or have any comments, let the communications team know.
Photo credit: DPCCN Committee - Joy Ward. Other photos by Johannes Hjorth