Last Thursday, Vitae—an organization supported by research funding bodies, that promotes the professional development of early-career researchers in the United Kingdom—released two reports exploring the working conditions and career development of research staff (mainly postdocs) and principal investigators (PIs) in higher education. Together, Vitae's biennial Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) and Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS) aim to keep track of the progress made by higher education institutions toward implementing the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. Launched in the United Kingdom in 2008, the Concordat lays out seven key principles for improving the employment conditions and professional development of postdocs in particular.
The picture that emerges from the 2013 surveys is that, while institutions have greatly improved their policies for the recruitment of postdocs, postdocs need to take more responsibility for their career development and their advisers need to be more supportive. "What we're seeing is that … some of the easier things to change have changed and improved, some of the more difficult things, which maybe you need a bigger cultural change, … are taking more time," Vitae's Research and Intelligence Director Robin Mellors-Bourne tells Science Careers in an interview.

More professional treatment

Compared to 2009, this year's CROS showed improvement in many areas, particularly those that can be affected directly by human resources policies, Mellors-Bourne says. In line with the Concordat's principles, the 2013 CROS respondents reported more open and transparent recruitment and appointment procedures. About 75% of survey respondents reported having been offered some kind of introduction to their new working environment. The institutional practice of running staff appraisals for postdocs has also become more common, with almost 60% of respondents having had an appraisal in the last 2 years, compared to 55% in 2011 and 50% in 2009. "Generally speaking, they're being recruited more professionally, and they're being managed more professionally" than they were 4 years ago, Mellors-Bourne says.