Greater independence for early career academics and more transparent, predictable career paths: The University of Bern is implementing a bundle of measures aimed at achieving precisely this.
By Prof. Dr. Achim Conzelmann, Vice-Rector for Development
Key reforms entered into force in 2019, which were aimed at promoting the independence of early career academics and increasing the transparency and predictability of academic career paths. This concept for the promotion of early career academics, which can be described as groundbreaking for Switzerland, was developed by the University Executive Board in consultation with the faculties, various departments and intermediate staff.
As revealed by a survey conducted in 2018, doctoral students are generally satisfied with their doctoral studies and supervision. Nevertheless, they still see room for improvements with respect to what they consider to be an (overly) strong dependency on their supervisors. To improve the situation, a model was introduced under which doctoral students are advised by a team of at least two supervisors.
The doctoral agreement is an essential tool for preventing conflicts between doctoral students and supervisors. It enhances the transparency of the doctoral degree by defining the framework conditions and goals of both the doctorate and the student-supervisor relationship. The doctoral agreement, a template of which is provided by the Vice-Rectorate Development on its website, was optimized and supplemented with guidelines for conducting interviews with prospective doctoral candidates.
The newly created “Postdoctoral researchers” job category at the postdoc level replaces the previous teaching and research assistant position with a doctorate as well as the position of senior teaching and research assistant. The new job category guarantees protected research time of at least 50% calculated based on a full-time workload. This enables researchers to efficiently pursue their own research projects in a targeted manner and, in doing so, places greater emphasis on early career academics’ efforts to improve their own specialist qualifications. Postdoctoral researchers are only employed for a limited period, generally no more than six years. In addition, to increase transparency at this level as well, a postdoctoral agreement is now being concluded between the postdoctoral researchers and their main supervisors at the beginning of their postdoctoral studies.
"The focus is shifting increasingly to the specialist qualifications of early career academics."
Prof. Dr. Achim Conzelmann, Vice-Rector for Development
A new job category, that of “Assistant lectureship” has been introduced as an alternative, independent academic career path for early career academics who, for various reasons, are not interested in pursuing an academic career that culminates in a professorship. Assistant lectureships are geared toward honing a candidate’s specialized skills in the areas of teaching, research and services with an eye to the possibility of taking over an existing or newly created full-time lectureship. Assistant lectureships are filled exclusively using the tenure-track process.
Whenever possible, the University of Bern strives to fill open professorships with tenure-track assistant professors in order to offer long-term prospects to early career academics working toward a professorship.