The Helsinki University Association of Researchers and Teachers (HUART) recently carried out an extensive survey among the University’s grant-funded researchers. 258 respondents answered questions about their wishes and needs. One of the biggest problems that was mentioned by most of the researchers is a lack of communication from the university. In this blog post, we reflect on this issue and suggest ways on how communication can be improved.
Inclusion in university correspondence
Grant researchers at the university are eligible for any mailing lists, so technically they receive the same emails and advertisements as employees. However, according to the report results, this information is often irrelevant or ambiguous.
The first problem a grant researcher faces is a need to specifically subscribe to relevant mailing lists, unlike the employed researchers, who are added to the lists automatically. Searching for relevant lists takes quite a lot of effort since there is no clear list of all university’s channels. Let alone the fact that many grant researchers are not even informed of this possibility.
“…Quite a lot is our own responsibility to be in all relevant information channels. Employed I have noticed that I have been automatically added to all kinds of stuff…”
Another problem is a clear division between “staff” and “others”. This emphasis is particularly disturbing when a large part of the work community is not employed, but in many emails, only “staff” is addressed. As a result, grant researchers know about all the possibilities they are missing out on. It’s devastating to know about all the health benefits, training lessons and teaching offers when you know you can’t receive or apply for them.
“…it is annoying to know about the services for which I am not eligible, such as the influenza vaccine just announced last week…”
Nobody informs us how grant positions work
Although communication about the university events is at least accessible, information about the rights and responsibilities of grant-funded researchers does not reach them at all. Respondents identified that there’s no clear correspondence from the university’s side about how grant-funded position works and what’s on your to-do list when you receive a grant.
It’s especially difficult for those coming from abroad. Foreign grant researchers are very poorly informed on legal, financial, and bureaucratic matters. The university seems to be leaving those communication responsibilities to funding agencies and authorities. There’s no unified place where all the necessary things are stated clearly, therefore, researchers have to always be on their own when searching for information. Moreover, much of this information is only available in Finnish and on many occasions, there are no English-speaking employees to answer the questions.
“…For instance, some of the tax-related issues came to me as a surprise in the middle of the year…”
“…I found a website describing the rights of the University of Helsinki grant researchers about six months after I had signed the grant researcher contract…”
“…I didn’t even know that I was entitled to the office until half a year after the grant application…”
When it comes to where to search for the practicalities info, it’s shocking to see that the most reliable source is another grant researcher. Many respondents mention confusion and long phone conversations with MELA and the tax office, but the matter remains unresolved until they get advice from their colleagues. Mainly those are Finnish peers, who are also on a grant, and they already know how things work.
“…You have to dig yourself up and talk to others. The most important thing is good contacts with others and sharing information…”
“…Over the years, information has been obtained mostly informally, by chatting to other colleagues…”
This is especially alarming in times of pandemic. Since grant researchers are somewhat excluded from the academic community, it is difficult to find colleagues to talk with about these issues. If it is a problem even for someone who’s been in Finland for a while, how can new incoming grant researchers ask for help? Moreover, how can they get relevant answers if they don’t yet know what to ask?
Lack of communication reveals common misconceptions
According to our survey, many grant researchers do not even know what benefits and resources they can and cannot claim, because nobody explained to them what to do. When you need to dig the information yourself, many things can be left out. For example, some respondents said they are not eligible for a KELA card, or that they cannot get an influenza vaccine if they are working under a grant. This is surely not the case. Unfortunately, a lack of proper guidelines for grantees results in fragmental awareness, which leads to false beliefs.
“…I am not eligible for a Kela card…”
“…I can’t even get an influenza vaccine like other fellow doctoral students who get University salaries…”
“…Grant funded researchers can not get resources like laptops or such materials like other peers who get salary…”
“…Scholarship researchers are not allowed to belong to just about any mailing list….”
What can the university do to better communicate with grant researchers?
Without a doubt, grant researchers promote the university by publishing under the university’s affiliation, and their publications certainly affect the university’s reputation and rankings. From this perspective, there is no reason whatsoever to make such a large distinction between grant-funded and salaried researchers. If the university provides extensive instructions for the latter group, it is indeed the university’s responsibility to create vast guidelines for researchers working on a grant.
- There should be a unified guide of what to do if you received a grant. This information needs to be integrated and available in a single place, in three languages. This guide should be open to all researchers before they start their work, to have realistic information about the conditions.
- Grant researchers need to have a space in Flamma or elsewhere, where they could ask each other questions and get answers on relevant matters.
- Ideally, there should be a person whom the grantees could contact on any practicalities regarding their contract.
Department of Languages / University of Helsinki
& Grant researchers’ working group HUART