Elisabet Garcia Gonzalez
Candidate for the University Board among the fixed-term employees with teaching and research positions.
Elisabet Garcia Gonzalez, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, Faculty of Humanities.
- Yesim Sevinc, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, HF
- Armine Bagiyan, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, SV
- Ane Theimann, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, HF
- Jake Eli Blake Gordin, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Physics, MN
- Ingvild Badhwar Valen-Sendstad, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, HF
- Jessica Pedersen Belisle Hansen, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, HF
- Jenny Gudmundsen, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, HF
- Ingeborg Sophie Bjønness Ribu, Researcher, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan, HF
As the current first deputy representative for fixed-term employees at the University Board, I am running for re-election. Last year, I urged the need to have representation of temporary staff with international backgrounds in the various decision-making bodies of the university. To my knowledge, the presence of international researchers who do not speak Norwegian is practically non-existent, in spite of the value that researchers with a great degree of mobility can bring to these boards.
Last February 2021, I was able to be present as a representative at the board, making history as the first non-Norwegian speaker to sit during a University Board meeting in the University of Oslo. This event was possible thanks to simultaneous interpretation during the meeting. While significant progress with my presence and participation has been made, there is yet a long path to walk. The representation of non-Norwegian temporary staff in managerial and leadership roles is anecdotal at best, and there is still not a clear message nor regulations on what international temporary employees who do not speak Norwegian should or should not do.
In a time where foreign temporary staff are most vulnerable than ever, with the added burden of having been stranded from the support network that are our friends and family abroad, it is not a time to simply survive and be content, but to voice our needs and wishes for a better academic and professional experience.
We are still facing the most challenging situation of our generation, and for better or worse, change is the only constant we can now be sure of. Temporary staff have done incredible work and sacrifices this year, with no assurance that their projects will come to a happy end. Despite the faculties’ granting of extensions on a one to one case, many are still left in the shadow with no knowledge what they can or should do. There are currently a number of actions initiated by representatives across Norwegian institutions, as well as the Young Academy of Norway, to assure a systematic protocol for contract extensions for all temporary scientific employees. If I am elected representative, this will be one of my priorities.
1) Interdisciplinarity: from plan to action
One of the goals of the university future strategy is interdisciplinary work. Cross-discipline collaboration is key in an ever-growing research community. It is no longer valid to focus only on specialization; innovation and partnership is key. As an interdisciplinary PhD candidate myself, I know how important it is to establish communication between differently trained researchers but also how difficult this can actually be in practice.
The university must assure not only an intention to engage in collaborative research, but a viable way in which to do so. There exist eight PhD programs at the university, yet it is extremely difficult for candidates to build their ‘educational component’ outside their respective programs.
This past year, I have actively voiced my concerns about the rigidity of the PhD programs. For instance, having a supervisor from another department or faculty within UiO (necessary for multidisciplinary projects) is overly complicated. While regulations exist to allocate teaching resources within the faculties permanent employees are hired in, we must assure flexibility for temporary and permanent staff so that interdisciplinary research can actually take place.
Furthermore, the current PhD programs in some of the faculties are quite restrictive when it comes to the thesis regulations and educational component. There is great variability across faculties in terms of what a PhD candidate must achieve within 3 or 4 years (like the number of articles, teaching obligations and requirements for co- or single-authorship). However, those candidates who are carrying out highly interdisciplinary research often have to abide to their faculty’s regulations. While exceptions are sometimes made, very few candidates actually know that their case can be assessed individually, and how to start that process. I have actively engaged in communicating those concerns within the Faculty of Humanities in the past year, but we must assure there exists flexibility in PhD programs across the university.
2) Diversity, cross-cultural collaboration and support for new employees
The data from the last years clearly shows that foreign temporary employees are on the rise in Norwegian institutions. Uniform recently reported that there are 2119 scientific employees at UiO registered with a nationality other than Norwegian. While permanent staff are required to learn the language within a period of 3 years, the same requirement is not asked of temporary employees. In the past, I have suggested that learning a new language in a period of 3 years (which is about the time most doctoral and postdoctoral contracts lasts) is quite a big ask, especially if combined with a highly demanding job like a doctoral degree, in addition to getting settled in a new country. Fortunately, temporary employees are not required to learn Norwegian within that very short span. However, most temporary staff suffer the consequence of not being a speaker of the language; whether that is having to follow department seminars, read important emails, information regarding teaching and, ultimately, being excluded from leadership positions or serving in the several decision-making bodies of the university.
This is not to discourage neither temporary nor permanent employees to learn Norwegian. There are great initiatives in different faculties and departments that support employees financially to follow Norwegian courses, and such initiatives should stay in place – if not further implemented; for instance, by offering courses of Norwegian for specific purposes like teaching, leadership, management, and the like. However, we can encourage learning Norwegian among international staff while being empathetic and understanding that each individual carries its own weight on demands, work load, individual experiences and necessities, and both personal and professional priorities and ambitions. In order to work together, we must try to understand the complexity of these issues.
In the past year, we have accomplished visibility and some level of representation of international employees. My presence in the University Board has set a precedent that non-Norwegian speaking international employees can be part of the decision-making process of the university if we are all willing to find a point of compromise. Last February, I was able to participate in the University Board’s meeting thanks to the presence of two talented interpreters, although the preparatory documentation is still solely provided in Norwegian. While the rector has expressed that serving in any Board would be “challenging” if one does not speak Norwegian, the University Director said they will adapt to the circumstances when interpretation and translation is needed. While I understand the very challenging and “new” situation the rector and director find themselves in, I do not think that this is a matter of how “challenging” something can be for someone who does not fit the norm, but what we are willing to do to assure the situation does not become “challenging” in the first place, but is inclusive for all. For this is the backbone of democracy.
The University of Oslo is a highly prestigious institution that benefits greatly from hiring foreign talent (as we could see this year when Norway received more than half of Europe’s Marie Curie fellowships) However, employing foreign talent is not enough if we are not willing to welcome foreign talent. In the past months, I have been committed to the Action Plan for Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the Faculty of Humanities to create a more welcoming environment for temporary employees coming from abroad and /or with diverse backgrounds. Among other things, a fellow colleague and I have recently received 81.000 kr from the Faculty of Humanities’ diversity fund to organize an event on “Intersectional Experiences in Academia” which aims to bring together different voices into a workshop with the end goal to design a mentorship/ buddy program for employees. I consider these strategies crucial, and plan to fight for them at the university level.
3) A multilingual university
My position on this matter has not changed since I ran for election last year, but I have now personal experience that multilingualism is possible in this university if we make it a priority.
The number one concern of employees with an international background is a constant feeling of getting “lost in translation”, or simply not getting any translation at all. As a linguist, I understand and advocate for the use and protection of national and regional languages and the fear of losing one’s linguistic identity, an issue I have dedicated my research career to (from encouraging the use of minority languages in multilingual families, to frequent public dissemination). As a researcher and international employee, I have come to terms with the fact that English is the language of research. The use of a common language has helped me, and thousands of scholars, complete their education and assume positions in multiple countries throughout their lives. The University of Oslo is one of the leading universities in the world and it attracts researchers from all corners of the globe. In order to claim such status and achieve our research strategies we must assure that international scholars can carry out their duties and become active members of the university without the impediment of a language barrier.
It is therefore crucial to follow a multilingual policy where all major communications are carried out both in Norwegian and English. This will consolidate the transparency and governance of the university administration processes as well as will evidence the university's social responsibility. Seminars on transferrable skills and transversal issues such as diversity, equality, harassment, social security, taxes, career planning, etc. should be held in Norwegian and English. This should also be a point of consideration to every individual at the university who has leading, coordinating or supervising responsibilities over any number (however small) of international staff. They too should assure a multilingual mentality when communicating with their staff.
4) Mental well-being
I do not know a single person (researcher or not) who has not felt at the verge of exhaustion, depression, apathy, burnt out and unbearable solitude in the past year. The University of Oslo does a very good job in encouraging physical activity and well-being among its employees, but we must extend our efforts to match an equal mental fitness. It is no news that academia is one of the environments where employees experience the most difficulties to maintain mental health. Once again, this is even more severe for fixed-term employees. Fellows often experience feelings of unworthiness and fear, impostor syndrome and exhaustion. These have only skyrocketed during the pandemic. Yet, most PhD fellows and postdocs do not know where to seek help, and advisors do not where to seek support for the fellows either. UiO Doc has highlighted this problem in numerous occasions, and is currently trying to shed light on this issue.
In the past months, I, and other faculty board representatives, have been in active communication with UiO Doc about this issue and others that affect fellows’ well-being, like the lack of systematic extensions for PhDs and, again, inclusion of foreign employees. We are trying to establish communication channels to assure that the different PhD fellows across faculties are aware of their rights to seek mental health, contact their department or faculty representatives when needed, and know their rights to participate in the politics of the university. If I am elected, close communication with UiO Doc and faculty representatives will be one of my priorities.
5) Data management, ethical research and research resources
Fixed-term employees are in most cases in the early stages of their careers and are expected to learn and acquire a variety of methodologies and skills that will later on shape their careers. This is especially true for PhD candidates and post-doctoral fellows, whose profile needs to be both broad and specific at the same time to succeed in the labor market. There are three specific aspects which I think we can improve to carry out research successfully:
- Data sharing and data management: the way in which data is collected and preserved has changed immensely. The University of Oslo has done a good job at implementing the GDPR regulations at an institutional level, but there is a need to assure every faculty and department enforces those policies and trains their employees regardless of the discipline. The PhD ‘educational component’ is, in many cases, outdated, and should be adapted to the new times and necessities of research. I believe fellows are owed in-depth training on what they can and cannot do with their data, what the possibilities of data-sharing and collaboration are, and what happens to the data once their contract with UiO comes to an end. Furthermore, the university TSD system has proven inefficient to work with, which ultimately is causing delays in the research progress of our fixed-term employees.
- Ethical research: Every discipline faces different ethical concerns. While it is true that different research fields face their own ethical challenges, there is a commonality on the ethics of the research method per se. Beyond plagiarism or what to do and not to do when dealing with human subjects, we must assure that we stay truthful to the research process. Pre-registration of studies and registered reports prior to data collection are key to assure reliability in science. I believe early-career researchers must be trained on these procedures and encouraged to use them, and it too should be part of their ‘educational component’. In order to move towards Open and FAIR science, we must provide sufficient training to the early career researchers that will shape our future scientific practices and outsomes.
- Allocation of resources for fixed-term employees to perform research duties. They say that where there is a will there is a way. However, fixed-term employees are running against the clock, and often data collection is a breaking point, especially for those collecting data from human subjects. Often researchers are faced with the dilemma of concluding data collection despite the fact the numbers are problematic to perform a reliable statistical analysis. This point is very much connected to the previous one on how to do research ethically. If we assure that our fellows have the possibility of additional funds for the hiring of research assistants, we will assure better research output and publication rate. This would not only be beneficial for those collecting quantitative data, but also for those researchers with a qualitative approach. This type of data often requires hundreds of hours to code, transcribe and analyze, which also compromises the researchers’ limited timeline. Ultimately, the allocation of additional funds for research and research assistants contributes to the investment in mentoring and training of students who might eventually become the workforce of the university.