Elisabet Garcia Gonzalez
Candidate for the University Board among the fixed-term employees with teaching and research positions
- Ingeborg Sophie Bjønness Ribu, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, Faculty of Humanities
- Pernille Hansen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan MultiLing, Faculty of Humanities
- Yes Sevinc, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan MultiLing, Faculty of Humanities
- Ingvild Badhwar Valen-Sendstad, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan MultiLing, Faculty of Humanities
- Junyi Yang, Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Education, Faculty of Educational Sciences
- Natalia Karushina, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences
- Liquan Liu, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan MultiLing, Faculty of Humanities)
- Jorunn Simonsen Thingnes, Doctoral Research Fellow, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan MultiLing, Faculty of Humanities
I am running to represent fixed-term employees at the University Board because I believe there is an urgent need to integrate the demands of international and local researchers. Fixed-term employees are one of the most vulnerable groups in our university because of the uncertainty of their future careers and the limited time to carry out their work. In addition to that, many with an international background often lack a support network and are still inexperienced in how to navigate the world of academia. For these reasons, we are often hit the hardest in crises like the one we are currently experiencing.
We are facing the most challenging situation of our generation, and for better or worse, change is the only constant we can now be sure of. I am confident that this is going to be a learning experience and that positive change will emerge at the individual and societal level. However, we cannot ignore the risks and uncertainty ahead of us and we must now work together to make sure we will be protected. Many of us are scared of how our current situation is affecting our research plans, because we are running against the clock. While the university has voiced the intention to granting extensions for temporary employees, nothing concrete has been settled yet, and it is unsure whether both PhD and post-doctoral fellows will have the possibility of extensions of their contracts., and under what conditions. This is not a battle that we can fight alone. The University of Oslo needs to voice our concerns at a national level and in consonance with the other Norwegian universities. As a candidate for representative of fixed-term employees at the university board, this is an issue I am determined to fight for. More than ever, it is of vital importance that our voices are heard and our rights are assured, for we are the backbone of this university.
1. Interdisciplinarity and employablility
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. While the planned educational program might work for some, it hinders the development of skills for candidates in interdisciplinary fields. The University of Oslo is aware of these issues and we must work together to achieve administrative flexibility. In a research community that continues to get more competitive and expect further innovation from grant applicants, our universities must comply with such expectations.
Now more than ever, fixed-term employees face uncertainty in their research career post-COVID-19. We might experience grater scarcity of funding opportunities and more competition than ever before. It is important that we be well equipped to adapt to whatever the future might offer us, whether that is in academia or in the private sector. This can be achieved through diverse forms of training. On one hand, we must work on expanding the academic expertise of our researchers to guarantee a more adaptable employment profile. Interdisciplinary collaboration during PhD education and temporary employment is key to meet that goal. On the other hand, it is important to maintain an open mentality towards collaboration with external institutions outside academia so our fellows can gain experience and awareness of the opportunities beyond the academic world. Many researchers who have never worked outside the context of academia cannot identify the various skills that they can offer as employees in other sectors. It is important that we train our employees to think outside the box, not only within their research projects, but especially in regards to their ability to create change an innovation in any sector.
2. Diversity, cross-cultural collaboration and support for new employees
International employees represent a major percentage of the fixed-term employees at our university. These individuals are essential in keeping our university visible and connected, as they are sources of broad international networks, present and future collaborations and often external sources of funding. In addition to an already demanding workload, international researchers face the burden of learning and adapting to life in a new country and research community.It is important that the university assumes responsibility for a successful transition.
The university must assure a smooth transition of international temporary workers. This can easily be implemented by designating an administrative contact or mentor that can support the new employee. While some departments have such policies or traditions, it is something that should be implemented across the university. Furthermore, if I am elected representative at the board, I would like to advocate for means by which fixed-term employees can be granted financial support when moving to Norway. This is especially critical and necessary for PhD candidates who in most cases are students prior to being employed and have very little to no resources with which to facilitate their move to an extremely expensive country like Norway. At the moment, only permanent employees are offered this financial support. I believe that if the university wishes to acquire international talent, they too ought to assume this social responsibility.
3. A bilingual university
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. 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, to 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.
While many departments throughout the university offer Norwegian language courses to their employees, fixed-term employees do not necessarily have the time or energy to invest in learning a new language alongside learning the ropes of the new job and adapting to their new host country and culture.
It is therefore crucial to follow a bilingual 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 English, or in two languages. 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 bilingual mentality when communicating with their staff.
4. Mental well-being
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. Even though different faculties have different requirements on teaching load, both PhD and post-doctoral fellows often juggle very demanding research and teaching obligations.
It is important that employees not only have access to professional mental support in Norwegian and English, but that we also encourage safe spaces to talk to among our equals. I would like to propose the creating of support systems where employees can speak freely and warmly if they wish to do so.
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, and what the possibilities of data-sharing and collaboration are. Furthermore, the university TSD system has proven to not work fully effectively, which ultimately is causing delays in the research progress of our employees. Those in fixed-term contracts whose research requires the collection of sensitive data are also the most highly affected.
- Ethical research: Every discipline understands ethics in a different way. 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’.
- 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. Furthermore, the language barrier can once again become an impediment in the collection of data. Often international researchers need additional help to assure data is not compromised during data collection from having a mediator who can speak Norwegian during data collection to assistance in analysis or set up of studies, fellows can benefit from the aide of additional resources. Finally, 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.