Know your Rights

Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers survey for early career researchers: “Low-paid intermittent work is nonsensical”

A survey conducted by the Early Stage Researchers’ Work Group of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers revealed the harsh reality of being an early career researcher.

73% of the respondents say that the uncertainty over their careers is worrisome. 72% of the respondents had two or more sources of funding during their dissertation project – an employment contract, a grant or other. Employment contracts that last one or two years are common, and most grants are awarded for one year at a time. 30% of the respondents had been unemployed during their doctoral dissertation work

Securing long periods of funding enables fully focusing on dissertation, alleviates uncertainty over career and reduces the time spent on completing a degree. The average time the respondents spent on completing a doctoral degree was over six years, which exceeds the objective of four years significantly. The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers does not consider the restriction of the duration of the right to postgraduate studies and doctoral training proposed by the Ministry of Education and Culture feasible. It is difficult to see how the restriction of the right to study would help shorten the time required by completing a degree when the primary problems seem to be in securing a funding and the duration of the funding period.

In addition to the uncertainty over employment, more than half (52%) of the respondents feel that their salary is too low. The median monthly salary of university employees working on a dissertation is between EUR 2,000–2,500. When part-time researchers and researchers on grants are added to the equation, the monthly salary is approx. EUR 1,700–2,100. In 2017, the median salary of people who had completed a master’s degree was EUR 4,050.

Two thirds of the respondents feel that they had not received adequate career counselling. Career counselling already at the initial stages of dissertation work would also help doctoral candidates plan their careers outside of universities, and to develop personal expertise according to the current perspectives.

In light of these replies, it can be surprising that early career researchers feel positive about the continuation and perspectives of their careers. However, not many believe that they will be employed in the university sector.

According to the open feedback section of the survey, academic career seemed to be a fantasy; a dream that cannot be accessed due to several practical, structural and societal obstacles. Nearly 60% of the respondents said that they had considered seeking employment in the private sector in the past 12 months, and nearly 50% said that they had considered seeking employment in a completely different position.

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