Universiteit Leiden

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Postdocs unite in representative body

Young academics often face uncertainties in their academic careers. It is for precisely this reason that Leiden postdocs recently united in a representative body. The Leiden University Postdoc Assembly (LUPA) wants to be a positive force for change, says Eduard Fosch-Villaronga.

Why has LUPA been set up?

‘I was approached by Rector Carel Stolker and Dean Joanne van der Leun. Research shows that young researchers regularly have to deal with all kinds of uncertainties in their careers, so they thought it would be a good idea for postdocs to unite. This would give them a platform to discuss these uncertainties. I was keen to be part of that, so I started looking for postdocs who are in the same boat.’

What uncertainties do young academics face?

‘Postdocs tend to have temporary contracts. For example, I started out on an eleven-month contract at the University of Twente, followed by an appointment in London, and have been in Leiden on a Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant for the past two years. As soon as you arrive somewhere, you have to start writing a new grant application for your next appointment. It feels like you can never really unpack your suitcase and settle down because chances are you won’t be staying for long.

‘On top of that you have to deal with the constant pressures of the academic world. You have to publish in leading journals, attend conferences and gain teaching experience. That’s the only way you’ll stand a chance of getting another position. That can be incredibly stressful, and can sometimes lead to burnout or other mental problems.’

How has this affected your life?

‘The system forces you to move for work, and having to constantly relocate disrupts your social life. It’s impossible to establish lasting ties with your city and the people around you. It has also cost me a relationship with someone I loved very much.’

How can LUPA improve postdocs’ position?

‘We want to transform our uncertainties and concerns into positive change. To do so, we are setting up a platform where postdocs can meet and share their experiences. And we want to share these experiences with other stakeholders, such as the Executive Board. They recognise the precarious situation in which postdocs find themselves, but the challenge now is to look for feasible solutions.’

Can you give any examples?

‘Some faculties require postdocs to spend time abroad, but many already come from abroad. That makes it even more difficult for them to settle in Leiden. Could there be another way?’

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