Yesterday on Twitter, concerns were raised about a research assistant post that was being advertised with the University of Birmingham. Several academics on Twitter, including myself drew attention to the post because it was being offered on a voluntary basis and was consequently intended to be unpaid. The research assistant was expected to provide work for two days as well as the use of their own car (petrol paid).
In particular, the notion that it was an ‘honorary’ position seemed to jar with several of us. Great to get the ‘honour’ of working two days a week for free to gain research experience, when you have just completed your undergraduate degree that should have done this anyway huh?! Another concern was about the wealth of the person who could actually do this kind of post. I know I certainly couldn’t afford to work for two days on a voluntary basis for this kind of work when I had just graduated from university. I have also been paid for this kind of work so why should any other post of this nature be any different? During the Twitter debate it was pointed out that these kinds of internships have had wider effects elsewhere, affecting access to certain professions by groups of different economic standing.
Today there has been good news. The post has now been withdrawn. The UCU (University and College Union) have seen the post and have argued that it is discriminatory to not pay researchers. A more senior academic has also called it fundamentally exploitative. Their response to the job advert can be read here.
An article outlining these events has also been published by the Times Higher Education.
So there you have it. A bit of Twitter activism and critique of a position deemed fundamentally inappropriate and far from honorary has been withdrawn. Unfortunately these kinds of posts have been available for far longer. Hopefully this has opened up much more awareness of these kinds of positions and will provide opportunities to challenge them.