Academic career maps in Europe

The career maps below have been developed by LERU in collaboration with numerous academic and management staff members at LERU universities. The maps show the different research positions available in an institution, the levels of responsibility, how they are funded at each stage and how a researcher may progress from one level to the next. Red indicates positions which are funded by stipend rather than as salaried employment. Green marks positions supported by fixed-term grants. Blue indicates academic positions supported by core university funding. Orange indicates researchers with positions funded by external sponsors (either by research councils or industrial partners), although they carry out their research within the university. The charts show the key promotion phases or enforced exit points and the main bottlenecks in academic career paths and help to demonstrate how research positions fit together and into the university structure. The career maps have proved useful to individual universities in depicting the current situation, in offering a means of comparison and in considering alternatives, as universities adapt their career pathways to better suit long-term needs. Some universities have posted their institutional maps online to help researchers better understand career options.

The maps reveal clear differences in the way LERU universities structure academic careers and career expectations. In some systems, short-term contracts are only used at the beginning of a researcher’s career, with researchers ‘working their way up’ to more stable employment. However, some universities also face difficulties arising from the award of permanent employment at a very early stage in a researcher’s career (e.g. France, Italy, Sweden), and other universities face a different set of issues arising from the employment of senior researchers under temporary, “serial contracts” (e.g.Switzerland, United Kingdom).

Research quality is the obvious key to career progression at all LERU universities, but there are considerable differences in the amount of “openness” in our systems (the recruitment/promotion balance, indicated with “progression” arrows on the maps). The most interesting innovations (and debates) surround ‘transition points’, particularly the “gateway” to the full professorship. The key pressure point is often mid-career, when people “fail” to achieve a professorship, and other career options close off, which can result in a difficult career reorientation at a late stage.

The career maps have allowed a broad mapping of equivalencies between the various systems, but the detail still demonstrates extraordinary diversity. Although such a varied research career landscape provides many opportunities, for researchers, there is a serious need for increased transparency and better articulation of research positions, both within and between universities.

Academic career maps