The Big ‘C’ of Contract Research

I have loads of many more apparently interesting topics to blog about at the moment, but I am simply too busy for words. So I’ve got a short piece to write about a topic which is unusually of great interest to me at the moment, and that’s the ‘contract’ bit of contract research. Why is this unusually interesting to me at the moment? Because mine is about to be terminated.

So. This is the sharp end. The reality of all contracts. They end. The end of a contract, like the end of a life is very much a part of that life, it infuses it through and through, to paraphrase the sublime Yukio Mishima, it is almost like the end is the only reality of a contract’s life, who’s true meaning is tending to that end.

But, enough lyricism. I have come to learn a little bit about tending to the very end. Mostly through mistakes, but this is a pretty good way to learn. My situation at the moment is a slightly complex one, but certainly not unusual, so I’ll tell you my predicament and maybe I’ll have a few pointers to offer at the end.

My contract is due to expire at the end of December this year. My boss very much wants to keep me on, and we have been having discussions in the last few weeks and months about how this might be secured. As there is no major project funding in the pipeline it is going to be a case of trying to piece together an extension, possibly from a few different funding sources. As a team we were approached by one of our current research partners, asking us to do some consultation work, and we have since sent back a proposal which would give me six months full time salary. This was certainly very fortunate, but I’m not quite ready to sit back on my laurels, because we do not have anything formally agreed yet, and we are now getting very close to the time when my official termaination of contract will be issued, which is usually 3 months before the end of contract.

I’m not too worred though. And there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, being issued with notice of termination of contract is not the same as having one’s contract terminated. There is three months between the two and if anything can be formally agreed in the meantime then the termination will be withdrawn. This gives us three months to badger our research partner for some formal sign off, if this looks like not coming through (and it really needs to soon for me to be happy) then my boss reckons he can get hold of about three month’s salary for me, and it also gives me three months on the redeployment register, so if both the first two options falls through.

Being on the redeployment register means that I will be given the opportunity to apply for jobs I am qualified for before they are advertised externally. If I apply for a job and I meet the essential criteria then I am guaranteed shortlisting for interview. It’s a pretty good system, but does have its flaws. There is no guarantee for example that I would stay at the same level of responsibility and salary than I am now. There are also some organisational politics often at work, where such and such in the sociology department doesn’t want to employ the internal candidate from the business school, but rather wants an external sociology candidate, and writes the job description accordingly.

The other fact is I don’t particularly want to move away from my current team. I like it. Sure I don’t want to stay in the business school for ever, but if I could stay on for 3 – 6 months and write a load of papers out of my current work and perhaps collaborate with them in a major funding bid then those would be significant feathers in my cap, and would give me intellectual closure on the project – which is going to overrun whether I am still employed on it or not.

The other reason I am not *too* stressed out (and I place those aserisks there to tell you that this is still a rather nasty situation to be in) is that I have been having these conversations with my line manager for some time. I have made sure, despite all our busy schedules, that he is behind me, that he knows what he is required to do in terms of the official procedure, and that he is doing it. I guess I really am getting used to the whole ‘managing up’ thing. But seriously, when it comes to termaination of contract, you need to make sure you are receving this support, because the great big organisational wheels turn slowly and without a senior member of staff helping to push them along for you, they will grind to a halt.

The very most important thing I have learnt from experience though is make sure that you own this procedure yourself. Make sure you know all your rights. Make sure you are in conversation with HR if you have any issues, and even get an employment rep in if you don’t feel like you are getting the kind of support from management or from the wider organisation that you require.

I have not owned this process in the past. I’ve been guilty of denial with contractural processes and allowed the wheels to turn all by themselves and it has worked out badly for me. One time I had been working on a project, which had been extended, and then we had been given a bit of extra work by the PI from their own personal research account. However, I made the mistake of not ensuring I was given an extension of contract, but rather a new contract was made and so officially I had my contract terminated – even though I started a new one the same day. As far as the organisation was concerned I was then a new member of staff, not an existing member with 18 months service.  Most universities allow for temporary contracts to become permanent after 4 years service – so that’s pretty much your pot of gold as a contract researcher –  and so not taking ownership of this process put me back to the beginning of that chase.

You are always aware that a contract is going to end. Do not let this draw you into fatalism or denial. Make sure you have a plan of action and that you have the right people behind you to make it happen.


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