Positions and resolutions

SiN has passed the following positions

Quality in PhD Education

The Norwegian PhD program should prepare candidates for future careers both inside and outside the academic sector while also providing all candidates with academic excellence in their doctoral education.

The doctoral education is the basic requirement for a continued career within academia. Over the last twenty years, Norway has more than doubled the number of PhD positions, from 700 PhD graduates in 2002 to 1600 in 2020. As a result, the number of annual PhD graduates has far surpassed the demand within the academic sector. This means that the competition for permanent positions in academia has increased dramatically and that a significant portion of PhD graduates will be employed in non-academic sectors.

SiN therefore believes that the PhD education should be structured to accommodate this diversity of post-graduate career paths. A flexible structure will make it possible to tailor the trajectory of a PhD to better meet the requirements for a career (whether in or outside academia), while still providing candidates with academic excellence in their doctoral education. Measures should also be in place to increase PhD students’ awareness of the breadth of future career opportunities. In this regard, universities play a key role in providing career guidance as well as more opportunities to collaborate with non-academic sectors through industrial and public sector PhD programs. SiN is critical towards universities using the number of annual PhD graduates as the sole way of evaluating the quality of their PhD programs. Alternative ways for evaluation should be considered. PhDs in need of additional time after their contract has expired should be allowed to receive additional funding, either through the possibility of grant applications or through unemployment benefits from NAV. 

Furthermore, it is SiN’s opinion that the normative time of employment as a doctoral student should be the 3 + 1 model with 25% duty work, rather than three years. An additional year will allow PhD candidates to expand their academic and non-academic skills and gain a broader understanding of their research field. SiN also promotes the possibility that part of the 25% duty work is used to gain experience by working in or collaborating with non-academic partner institutions. Ideally, duty work can encompass a range of tasks, including teaching, research dissemination, project management, supervision of master and bachelor students, etc., that can be combined to match the interests, ambitions, and future career of the individual. A career plan should be drafted by the PhD candidate together with their supervisor and department tailored to the wishes of the PhD candidate. 

To summarize:

  • The PhD education must reflect future career possibilities both inside and outside of academia
  • Career development should primarily be tailored to the interests of the candidate.

Postdoctoral training

Postdocs are meant to prepare researchers for senior academic positions such as associate professor or professor. The primary purpose of doing a postdoc should therefore be to qualify for research and teaching on the highest academic level. It must be ensured that postdoc positions are not used as just “cheap labour” for projects.

The number of announced postdoc positions within a respective field should be in a realistic relation to the available senior academic positions. The reason for this is that the postdoc position is, in contrast to the PhD degree, a qualification mainly aiming for academia. Here the appropriate consideration of international fluctuation and the practice of completing more than one postdoc positions is challenging, however, there will still be a share of the postdoc candidates that will choose a career path out of academia after their post-docs. 

The requirements regarding time/duration, work, and education that are done for a given postdoc period can vary significantly depending upon the respective field and the respective candidate. Taking into account the purpose of qualification, we encourage flexible use of a set percentage of their working time that enables postdocs to strengthen their skills in fields that match their professional needs and ambitions and leave the implementation up to the individual. However, all postdoc positions should enable the candidate to develop his individual skillset (e.g. by allocating 25% of his full-time equivalent).

While we advocate for a postdoc position that is competitive on an international level, we still think that it should be possible to apply for extended postdocs if the goal is to continue at the institution or country of residence. For more successful integration of talented postdocs we recommend the use of (changing to) tenure track positions to give young researchers a reliable career perspective and security.

A postdoc education cannot be seen on an isolated national scale, it needs to be competitive and compatible with international career pathways. Postdoc positions that are tailored for a Norwegian career may deter international applicants from applying, resulting in potentially missing talents entering the academic sector in Norway, as well as be a hindrance for those who wish to have an academic career outside of Norway after doing a postdoc.

To summarize:

  • Postdoctoral training should be primarily a qualifying step for top academic positions in a global research community
  • Like PhD positions, postdoctoral positions should offer space for competence development in areas important to academia through an (optional) fixed percentage of non-research activities.

Collective organization of PhD and Postdocs

SiN is committed to protecting the interests and making the voices heard of all PhDs and postdocs in Norway, when it comes to matters of higher education and research policy.

It is our aim that all (post-)doctoral researchers are represented through local interest organizations, connected through the inter-institutional network that SiN provides, and strengthened by procedures of open dialogue and consultation. To this end, SiN promotes the collective organization of PhD students and postdocs at all institutions where they are embedded, in order to effectively raise their concerns at the universities that employ them, the wider national governance arena, and in international collaborations.

We believe that all higher education and research institutions that enroll and employ early career research can play a key role in facilitating this collective voice, and we therefore advocate for the right of PhDs and postdocs to receive the key infrastructure, administrative support and funding required to establish and operate an effective local doctoral interest organization at their institution. In recognition of the fixed-term employment of the members that these organisations are supposed to represent and the fact that representation and organization can only be as good as the time available to the people in charge of them, we strongly recommend all institutions to compensate for these efforts in a form that is commensurate with the value of the time devoted to them and scaled to the size of the organisation.

We make these recommendations in the knowledge that the presence of strong doctoral organisations is a necessary tier to mobilise and engage the voices of temporary researchers across all levels of higher education and research governance, and will benefit both the individual researchers, the intellectual and professional climate at their institutions and Norwegian society at large.

In summary:

  • All institutions that offer PhD and postdoctoral programmes should help to establish a local organization that represents their interests, by offering them the required infrastructure, administrative resources and funding.
  • PhDs and postdocs who contribute to the daily operation of these interest organisations should be compensated for their work commensurate with their contractual wages.

The effects of the pandemic

Since March 2020, COVID-19 has had an ongoing impact on research and higher education. The effects of the pandemic will persist and have consequences for academia and young researchers long after the measures have been lifted. PhDs and postdocs are at a stage in their careers that is crucial for their future in academia, and as temporary employees, on fixed term contracts, COVID-19 has hit us particularly hard.

Despite the institutional underspending because of the pandemic, it is still very difficult for PhDs to get contract extensions to compensate COVID-19 related delays, as well as measures that mitigate the changes in the – and sometimes complete lack of – socio-academic infrastructure. This has been especially challenging for researchers who started just before or during COVID-19 and have not had the chance to establish a network and integrate into their working environment. 

We think it is very concerning that Norwegian institutions have and still are handling the pandemic so differently, creating arbitrary differences in the treatment of PhDs and postdocs between universities, faculties, and departments, right down to the level of individual research groups. We demand that the government intervenes and helps to make sure that all researchers on temporary contracts get at least a 2-month extension of their contracts. In addition, there should be a financial capacity to give longer extensions to those who need it, based on a  more inclusive set of criteria that does not involve lengthy procedures where they have to argue for individual circumstances that are hard to measure objectively. People have and still are experiencing differences in the way their work is affected by the pandemic, and this needs to be acknowledged without it creating an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. 

We also demand that all institutions make it a priority to provide alternative socio-academic programmes to their (post)-doctoral researchers, that afford networking and learning opportunities in the form of workshops, seminars, lectures, and other career development. This is needed to get early career researchers up to speed after more than a year of minimal professional and educational activities. If we want quality research in the future, we need to support those who will create this research now. 

In summary:

  • SiN urgently recommends a minimum of two months extensions for all PhDs and postdocs to compensate for research delays caused by the pandemic
  • Extra socio-academic events and infrastructure are needed to give the hired PhDs and postdocs the career development opportunities they missed since early 2020, and should start as soon as possible (ideally in fall 2021), and last for however long is necessary.