Identifying temporary staff representatives
UiODoc appointed two Representatives officers in 2021 to maintain close contact with the representatives of (temporary) research staff across different administrative units in UiO. The goals of this were two-fold: to better our understanding of and ability to play into the idiosyncratic working conditions of our members in different Faculties and centers in particular; and to bring relevant knowledge about UiODoc’s constituents to the attention of the representatives in general. On top of this, we aimed to make the existence and work of the representatives more visible to our members, and to facilitate a network for knowledge exchange and experience sharing between the representatives from different Faculties.
In the latter half of 2020, UiODoc started this work by setting up a general workflow to build an inventory of the contact details of current and active temporary staff representatives at the different administrative levels of UiO. This effort highlighted differences in how accessible and up to date this information is across Faculties and departments.
Given the large number of representatives at smaller administrative units and the decisive position of Faculty Boards in the realization of UiO policies, we decided to focus our initial efforts on the main and deputy representatives of temporary research staff in the UiO Faculty Boards. This resulted in a database of seventeen people (sixteen representatives in Faculty Boards and one representative in a PhD programme council) representing all eight Faculties, which were contacted in early 2021.
In light of the intermediary role played by Faculty board representatives, we used informal meetings to examine the challenges they face regarding their relation to their constituents as well as the Faculty administration. More specifically we collected accounts of the experiences of representatives across Faculty Boards, which will highlight shared and specific bottlenecks in the current realization of UiO democracy. This process indicated how UiODoc, being at the intersection of many institutions across UiO, can provide a platform for all representatives to overcome these bottlenecks. This series of meetings lead to an inter-Faculty event towards the end of the Spring semester.
The main objective of this event was to bring together as many temporary staff representatives as possible to collectively examine how to best leverage the capabilities both their and UiODoc’s institutional positions offer, with the explicit goal to improve the working conditions of PhDs and Postdocs. In particular we discussed which strategies representatives could adopt in their activities, how they could connect with our strategic activities, and how we can help each other to fulfill our common goals. The event centered around some of the main challenges faced by representatives and their constituents in their working conditions, as identified in previous meetings. We also examined possible avenues for the representatives to connect their work more systematically, and increase their visibility to PhDs and Postdocs – including what role UiODoc can play in this. This may be based on a variety of decentralized activities and communication channels, which will likely vary depending on the Faculty, but can also be rooted in UiODoc’s existing events and PR programmes. Lastly, we used this meeting to evaluate the extent to which institutions and regulations encourage the effective engagement of temporary staff employees in the Faculty’s decision-making process, and discussed how to establish working relations with key actors within the Faculty administration in order to promote the agency of representatives.
While the pandemic persisted, this meeting also provided an opportunity to exchange experiences with the specific problems that COVID-19 has caused in different corners of the University. Topics such as the gap between permanent and temporary staff, the very different situation across departments regarding extensions, and the distinct challenges faced by international staff were explored. Finally, this meeting outlined how UiODoc should support representatives in their activities. Issues such as onboarding and the coordination of systemic issues across Faculties constituted possible starting points for this discussion. UiODoc could, for example, provide a supportive role in maintaining a communication platform and coordinating meetings, if so desired. It is our hope that this strategy will lead to a more or less continuous flow of communication between the Faculty representatives and the UiODoc Board, which can mutually benefit both parties and benefit the strategic activities of UiODoc on other levels (see Section 5.2). If the first round of meetings is successful, we will reach out to the (newly elected) representatives again in the Fall to continue the dialogue. We will actively seek the help of representatives in providing introductions to their successors, with the aim to provide some stability and continuity to the work of Representatives officers for the years to come. If successful, we would like to replicate this strategy and host individual and inter-Faculty meetings twice a year, or once a semester, to stay in touch with the diverse problems and processes concerning temporary staff across UiO.
In the course of 2022, we wish to consolidate the connections of UiODoc with representatives at the faculty level in order to faithfully reflect the diversity of PhDs and Postdocs across UiO. To this end, we will use the contact list created in 2021 to initiate a first round of meetings with the main temporary staff representatives of all eight Faculty Boards, in order to examine how best to realize an effective working relationship with them.
Temporary staff representatives at the faculty level hold an intermediary position between the body of PhDs and Postdocs employed at the faculty and the administration managing the faculty. This implies two sides to a representative's position that require dedicated approaches to ensure the effective promotion of the interests of PhDs and Postdocs within the faculty's decision-making bodies.
One important goal of these meetings is to identify emerging issues at the different faculties and elaborate corresponding strategies with representatives. The hope is to evaluate the extent to which UiODoc’s own agenda can be actualised to reflect these faculty-specific issues. In doing so UiODoc may be in a better position to faithfully represent the priorities of PhDs and Postdocs as a whole.
At a more practical level these meetings will also serve the purpose of examining the agency of representatives at their respective faculties. More specifically we wish to explore ways to promote their capabilities as the voice for PhDs and Postdocs at the faculty level. This could be achieved by sharing some of the experiences we could gather from other faculties or by examining the possibilities of alliances with other stakeholders such as the permanent academic staff representative.
Another benefit we wish to get from these meetings is to collect objective elements to support the various items of the policy agenda set by UiODoc. These more concrete illustrations of our policy priorities would strengthen the credibility and impact of these policy items when raised at the various institutional hearings UiODoc is invited to contribute to.