Comments from the 47

#1

I am disappointed!

Disappointed – that my managers should use ‘redundancies’ as a lazy and illegal route to deal with perceived performance issues. There are no redundancies in my department – quite the opposite, we are currently hiring three new staff members on T&R contracts.

Disappointed – by the irresponsible use of metrics – against all convention and international advice. This not only tarnishes our reputation, but if it is allowed to go ahead, any manager can conjure up any metric without warning to get rid of anyone they don’t like.

Disappointed – because postgraduate student research and associated income ‘does not count’.

Disappointed – because contribution to undergraduate teaching ‘does not count’.

Disappointed – because our VC should have stepped in and nipped this in the bud four weeks ago.

All of this is wrong, we should not be in this position.

#2

I am one of the 47 members of academic staff that the HLS Faculty has targeted for compulsory redundancy. When I received the email inviting me to a meeting with my Head of Institute to discuss this, it was like a kick in the teeth and I felt physically sick. Such was the shock, I didn’t feel able to tell my partner about the letter and the threat of redundancy for three days. Now, on reflection, I feel let down by an employer that I have served loyally for over 25 years.  Angry that the Faculty are portraying the 47 individuals as being underperforming – how disingenuous of them! It was with dismay that we learnt that we had been selected on very narrow and spurious research metrics and that our contributions to teaching have NOT been considered in any way shape or form. Yet, we are employed on Teaching and Research contracts?

Personally, I make a very large contribution to teaching, not just lecturing, but leading multiple modules, practical classes, academic advisor etc. etc. In a Departmental staff meeting in September 2020, staff contributions to teaching were discussed. My teaching load was the highest in the department by far. It was three times the average and more than twice that of the staff member with the next highest load. Yet this contribution has been entirely ignored in the decision-making process regarding redundancy. I know that neither my Head of Department nor the Dean of the School of Life Sciences were involved, consulted or even informed about the staff members selected for redundancy. In a PDR in 2019, with my then HoD, I was told that Project Shape would benefit academics like myself because there would be an integration of teaching and research, and that teaching contributions would be better recognised.

I am grateful that my students hold my teaching in higher regard. Several students, wrote (unsolicited) letters of support for me upon learning of the planned redundancies. These are two excerpts from the letters: “XXXX is also my academic advisor, and my tutor group feel very lucky that we have had a tutor that has supported us so well throughout our degree. He has helped us to develop into confident, young scientists through his advice and encouragement and has also supported us extremely well from a pastoral standpoint. For example, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, he would video call our group every two weeks to ensure that we were coping mentally and help calm any stresses we may have had about the change to online teaching”; “XXXX has taught many of my lectures in each year of the course, all to an excellent standard. The transition to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, and a lot to adapt to for students. consistently provides excellent resources and lectures online with aplomb. He ensures students fully understand material and this has hugely reduced my stress as a third year during these unprecedented times”

It is also clear that the selection process has not considered any mitigating or personal circumstances in coming to their decisions. During the period that the Faculty has used to “assess” us, I have experienced considerable difficulties. These include the loss of my sister, becoming a carer for elderly parents, the subsequent death of my parents, divorce and received treatment/counselling for depression. Despite these difficulties, my teaching commitments were always met, without fail and I even covered for an Honours Programme Director during their absence with illness. After one such period (in 2017) the Head of the School of Life Sciences wrote to my Head of Institute to say: “Just to thank XXXX with sincerity (and to let the Institute know), for stepping in to run the XXXX Exam Boards and dealing with other related issues over the last three weeks in  XXXX’s absence. Really grateful to XXXX, without whom we would have had a number of serious problems”. Yet my teaching contribution or personal circumstances were rendered irrelevant when selecting me for redundancy.

With my regard to my research, which has inevitably been impacted by my personal circumstances, whilst it may not have fulfilled the narrow criteria used by the Faculty, it has remained active. This includes the publication of four papers in the last 12 months in journals with impact factors ranging from 3.6 to 13.1 (not that impact factors should be used to assess performance either). Also, in the last five years, I have had MRes and PhD students successfully graduate and I have been invited to speak at international conferences including in Canada and USA.

#3

I am dedicated to providing excellent research and education.  This is my life.  As an international researcher, I publish high-quality papers, attract PhD and Masters students, and produce competitive grant applications, obtaining sufficient funds to sustain my current projects.  These are the targets set by my line-manager, targets that I have met.  Citation and grant income metrics have never been raised as targets, and it has come as a shock that these are being used to make me redundant. This certainly is neither a fair nor transparent process.

I am also recognised by colleagues and students across the University as a highly successful teacher, providing innovative and well-received “research-connected teaching”.  Over the last year, I have dedicated even more effort to ensure high-quality of learning in the new hybrid environment, while also maintaining an active research programme. After 25 years of dedication to a university that I have in the past felt proud to be part of, I now feel betrayed.  The HLS47 redundancies sends a clear message that the University of Liverpool cannot be trusted and that the working environment is toxic.  I fear for the University’s reputation and future success if this behaviour continues.

#4

I am shocked. I lost sleep. I do not understand. The threat of redundancy was totally unexpected. Obviously, the impact on my personal wellbeing and mental health is already serious. Beyond my personal situation, I am also extremely worried about the impact that my dismissal would have on numerous others including my PhD students, colleagues, XXXX and XXXX.  

I joined the University of Liverpool 20 years ago as a post-doctoral researcher. I later obtained a prestigious BBSRC Fellowship and decided to establish my independent research group at the University of Liverpool (UoL). Since then I made numerous important contributions to UoL as an outstanding teacher, internationally recognised researcher and team leader, and director of a shared research facility that supports not just my research but hundreds of users from across the faculty of Health and Life Sciences and beyond. Those contributions in all the expected aspects of the role of an academic on a teaching and research path have been rewarded by career progression from the BBSRC Fellowship to a Lecturer position and to Senior Lecturer. Although due to COVID no promotion took place in 2020, my last professional development review concluded with this comment from my line manager: “XXX has some strong elements in her case for promotion to Reader that would be further supported by research grant success as PI and additional leadership contributions of the types that we discussed”. Thus, just a few months before receiving a letter threatening me of redundancy, I was led to believe that I had a strong case for promotion. The letter does not provide any explanation that would enable me to make sense of that sudden change. 

Some key facts about my contributions to The University of Liverpool:

  • I have obtained over £12M of external funding, which includes £3.7M as Principal Investigator. 
  • I am co-director of  XXXX, which I transformed to an outstanding state-of-the-art facility supporting world-class biomedical research for the University community as well as local SMEs.
  • My work as XXXX director had a direct and profound effect across the research landscape facilitating the funding of numerous large Centres and project grants: over £23M in UoL awards mention the use of XXXX since 2015.
  • I established strong relationships with several national and multinational companies, which benefit directly the University of Liverpool.
  • I currently supervise 5 PhD students as primary supervisor and 4 as co-supervisor. Three of those nine studentships are funded or sponsored by local biomedical charities. How putting these projects at risk will help fulfil the aim of Project Shape “to improve health outcomes throughout the Liverpool City Region and beyond”?
  • I provide outstanding teaching and student experience as evidenced by multiple appraisals from students and peer reviews from colleagues (see below).
  • I organise and participate in public engagement activities to share our science and promote University of Liverpool reputation in the region.
  • I actively publish my work in international peer reviewed journals, I am invited to speak in international institutions and conferences and review grant applications for national and international funding agencies. 

Comments about me from colleagues and students:

Nomination for a ‘celebrating success’ award: “The reason for my nomination is not just how XXXX inspires members of her group and students but she is always willing to go the extra mile to support others in their career. […] she is a truly exceptional boss.”

“Dr XXXX’s method of presenting lectures was brilliant. She provided us with plenty of relevant information, whilst also drawing particular signalling pathways during the lecture to help us gain a better understanding.”

“You were a wonderful supervisor/lecturer and very generous with your time and knowledge.”

“The way XXX explained difficult concepts was logical and clear. I believe XXXX was the best lecturer in the module.

“XXXX is just lovely. Always so helpful and flexible, teaches well and is clearly interested.”

Message to Dean of School of Life Sciences (SoLS) from a student during the Covid lockdown period: “I just wanted to email you to express how grateful I am for the support we have received from SoLS at this time, particularly (but not limited to)  XXXX. XXXX has been going over and above to support us and I wanted to register that in writing.”

#5
I am deeply disappointed by the lack of interest, care, communication, between me and the people who are responsible for my well-being. I find the deafening silence really hurtful. I would have expected that XXXX tries to support us by checking in on us. Maybe it is just one of the stages of grieving but it is very powerful and makes me quite angry so that I want to actually write to XXXX and say that.

I have been an academic T&R scientist at the University of Liverpool since 2006. I have a vibrant research group with PhD students and postdocs, actively contributing to the supervision and teaching of MRes/MSc students and 3rd year Honours students. I have been a lecturer on the XXXX Programme since I arrived, contributing to teaching on a range of modules throughout all years, as well as organising and managing the local Honours project provision.

I have held grant income as PI and/or Co-I since the beginning including UKRI funding. I am collaborating widely with colleagues within my department, institute and across faculty, as well as other Universities, successfully bringing in funding on the back of these collaborations.

I have contributed to the functioning of the institute and faculty through my contribution on the then ITM Research and Development Committee (more than 5 years) and ITM Athena Swan Committee (more than 5 years), as well as the Faculty (FHLS) XXXX and Ethical Review Board (more than 5 years), which is a faculty-wide internal review board. As Athena Swan team member, I implemented a career coaching scheme for early career researchers and professional services staff in my institute. Recognising the need for such a scheme, the Academy has now taken over and runs career coaching as a University-wide scheme.

I am primary supervisor of 7 PhD students, 1 who is in the final stages of writing their thesis and 6 students who are performing experiments in the lab to collect data for their theses and publications. All lab-bound students depend on me to complete their PhD. This also applies to 6 students where I am co-supervisor.

I have represented the University of Liverpool and Faculty of Health and Life Sciences nationally and internationally as the co-chair of the XXXX and as co-organiser of XXXX. I have been invited speaker at conferences and summer schools nationally and internationally, and am regularly reviewing manuscript for a range of international journals. I have considered my career as being on the right track, having just in January 2021 submitted an MRC project grant application, and planning to submit 2-3 other grant applications to both UKRI council and charities. Feedback from my PDRs indicated that I should consider applying for promotion as soon as grant funding is boosted and on the back of my current successful grant funding.

This is why the letter from Faculty indicating that I would be considered for redundancy comes as a complete shock and surprise. Going by the feedback I have received for my work over the last years and my success in bringing in funding, I would not have expected such a step. It is completely unclear, how the proposed metrics have been applied to me, and I am utterly devastated by the consideration by the Faculty.

#6

Even if one accepted the need to improve research performance for UoL [University of Liverpool], and one could accept an initial / preliminary screen based only on 1. Grant income & 2. SCOPUS / SciVal FWCI [field-weighted citation index], there would be a heavy responsibility to ensure that these were accurately determined and the outcome of this screen was very sensitively handled.

These conditions have not been met.

  • There are concrete cases where it has now been admitted that grant income has been hugely mis-estimated by IRIS data, and the decisions consequently reversed.
  • SCOPUS / SciVal are evidently not fit for this purpose or indeed designed for this purpose.  For example, they specifically exclude authorship of high impact but large collaboratives, can shift hugely if a year is added or removed, and can shift significantly if ones academic field is changed to one more appropriate.
  • There has been inadequate measurement or audit for either metric –instead there has been a blind acceptance of these data, unquestioningly implemented to assemble a list for redundancy interviews. This has been implemented by seasoned research academics who should know much better.
  • Sending senior academics notice of redundancy has caused a great deal of trauma, huge anxiety and sleepless nights- not only amongst those receiving the letters but in their family and close colleagues. The trauma has been exacerbated by the current pandemic, very poor academic job market and it is galling to say the least for those who have made a huge extra effort to maintain their research and teaching through a year of extensive mitigations.
  • The relationship between the senior academics involved and the University has been permanently eroded, in some cases, needlessly. It is impossible to regain the situation before the letter is sent, even if it is retracted.
  • It would be self-evident that any academic shortlisted by even accurate metrics should have their case considered (‘sense checked’) by HoD [Head of Department] or HoI [Head of Institute] very carefully, at the very least, before sending any notice of potential redundancy.

#7

I am deeply saddened that a bunch of ignorant bureaucrats decided to knowingly breach the employment law and every possible academic ethical principle in order to manipulate numbers at “5 min to” the REF. It is not just unfair and unlawful; it is absolutely disgraceful; it is one of the darkest lines in the history of this Institution.

This is not just about 47 people losing their jobs; In fact, I just got offered a new position elsewhere and I am sure that most of the 47 will easily find a job as we are not so useless as higher management thinks. This is an emblematic struggle against a very ugly turn that UK higher education has got into in the last 10 years, with managers and accountants transforming Academia to crude business. Departments and Schools are understaffed and staff are hugely overloaded.  This University demands 4* papers providing hardly 2* support. It is ironic.

#8

I was shocked to hear that I was one of the 47 colleagues considered for redundancy as part of Project Shape 2. I came to Liverpool University to join a vibrant research community in a brilliant department that is passionate about Research and Teaching. In my time here I have built an internationally recognised research career and led on some of the most highly scored publications in each of the research excellence assessment cycles. I have published my research with PhD and Master’s students and sometimes even undergraduate students as co-authors and I think teaching does not get more research-led than this. That is why I reluctantly bought into project Shape, despite some concerns about the future of non-health research related departments. I believed the message that Research would be finally reconnected with Teaching also in the way our performance would be evaluated. How foolish I was.

I have supported some of my students through their research projects while they lost a close relative in their household to the pandemic. I have mentored local students, some of them the first in their family to go to University, through Master’s and PhD degrees. I have reached out to local schools to enthuse them with my science. I have taken on extra teaching to support colleagues during the pandemic and been praised by my students for my initiatives in remote learning. And at the same time, I have published top-scoring research articles for the Research Excellence Framework. Now learning that all that time people in our upper management have secretly plotted away, apparently at least as early as last summer, by pushing numbers to design an algorithm to single out 47 colleagues for redundancy, without this being necessary due to a drop in student numbers and the money they bring in, makes me very angry and very sad.

To be told my efforts are not deemed good enough is devastating. Students and staff in the department cannot believe this and even my Head of Department seemed surprised that I was selected for redundancy. How can an upper management that uses research metrics so irresponsibly and cruelly on their own staff ever be trusted to act compassionately and responsibly in addressing inequalities in health outcomes of the people of Liverpool?

As part of our submission for the Research Excellence Framework, we have to describe our approach to important aspects of our science community such as the integrity, repeatability and openness of science. How can anyone take seriously the hard work that has gone into our submission when they see the secretive, untransparent and seemingly arbitrary use of research metrics by our upper management that wholly discredits our efforts for a healthy research culture?

I am too young for even early retirement and I am too old for finding an equivalent job in the uncertainties of the pandemic and post-pandemic world. I have not told my child of this yet, who is thankfully studying somewhere else. I would have never thought that I would not be able to recommend my child to study at my own University, where it seems that lecturers on Teaching and Research contracts are solely valued based on untransparent research metrics, where teaching quality does not count, and where anyone can be made redundant at any time.

#9

I am one of the HLS47 targeted for compulsory redundancy. Unless directly experienced, it is almost impossible to comprehend the massive impact that this has on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Immediate shock, disbelief, insomnia, followed by continual scrutiny of all aspects of one’s professional life in an attempt to understand an underlying reason for being selected; it is a daily struggle not to descend into serious self-doubt and negativity. The stress that this places on a family is tangible, exacerbated at a time when children are already coping with the effects of prolonged isolation – I worry about the impact on my children’s futures and whether we will now have to sell our house, having planned mortgage payments to end at predicted retirement age.

I am internationally recognised in my field, participating in national and international society committees, and have made significant discoveries with direct relevance to local health problems and inequalities. I am invited to give expert opinion. Over decades I have dedicated my life to research and teaching at UoL, always working in a professional, collegiate and positive manner, and am considered a highly productive and valued collaborator both internally and externally. There have never been any performance issues raised at PDRs; the latest described my excellent teaching, and enumerated multiple REF returnable publications, including 4* judged by the internal reading panel, and significant past/current grant income. This does not happen by accident but is the fruit of very hard work, ability, dedication and experience acquired over many years. It is also dependent on substantial extra time, willingly devoted at evenings and weekends, to the detriment of family and social life.

Consequently it is shocking to now suddenly face the prospect that my career may be terminated abruptly in such an undignified manner. Is this the appropriate reward for years of loyal and untarnished service at UoL? I am so deeply disappointed and saddened by this FHLS initiative that will devastate the lives of many individuals and their families; these are clever, dedicated, hardworking colleagues, not faceless statistics. It has shocked many inside and outside of UoL. The current purge will permanently alter the way in which academic careers are considered and cause irreparable reputational damage to the University of Liverpool – something I never thought I would witness within my “tenure”.

#10

This has caused me and my family so much anguish and despair over the last few weeks. I don’t think I have ever felt so let down by my employers and senior colleagues. Having spent the last year working day and night to support my family, students, research team and colleagues in all their endeavours while they too were struggling due to Covid-19, the lack of support from management and threat of redundancy that came out of the blue were truly shocking. What are the leadership thinking? How could this possibly be a responsible way to treat your staff?

Putting aside my own personal circumstances and how this would leave me unemployed without means to support my family or pay my mortgage, effectively ending my hard-earned career by casting aside years of ongoing research in academia, there are so many things wrong with the proposals. I could tell you about all my accomplishments and plaudits from staff and students, as well as how my research has consistently been judged to be internationally excellent or world leading. I could tell you that I have secured well over £1M in directly attributable income over the last 5 years, and that 2/3rd of my current salary is covered by external income that I alone have generated. But, as one of my former senior colleagues said, looking on in horror from another University, “they” (the senior leadership) probably don’t care.

I very much hope that my colleague is wrong. However, on the current evidence I am not encouraged. After all, the senior leadership signed up to DORA, they wrote in their recent Athena Swan application that no redundancies were planned as part of Project Shape, and they said in the concordat to support the career development of researchers (necessary for NIHR BRC funding) “We agree to work collectively and engage with initiatives to address systemic challenges in progressing towards a UK research system where researchers work in healthy and supportive environments. We agree that researchers should be recognised and valued for their contributions in research and beyond, supported in their professional and career development…”. Was this all merely lip service and lies – all utterly meaningless? As meaningless as their own guidelines that they aren’t following and the metrics, including FWCI, which even Elsevier have said can’t be used for the purpose that management intends. Colleagues have described this as standing on the precipice. They are right in more ways than one, because if the senior management ignore their pledges to uphold a raft of standards in public life, they will cause irreparable damage to the reputation and morale of the University. No one will want to work here. This upsets me deeply because this is my University (at least for now) as much as it is theirs.

I am forever thankful to those people who have stood up in opposition to these ill-conceived, unethical and flawed proposals. But as someone who feels like they have been cast aside on a whim, I am left with an overwhelming sense of depression, anger and trepidation about the future.

#11

I was hired because of my advanced stats and to try to get more publishable research from clinical trainees so that more research could be submitted to the REF. So far, I’ve had a dozen trainees complete w/ 3 papers published with them. We’re about to submit 4 more, and 2 are in the pipeline. I’ve more than fulfilled the expectations of my contract, with submission of three 3* papers and 1 paper rated as 4*.

I would say I spend a lot of time teaching and mentoring to bring all DClin trainees to a good level of writing and stats. I won a Learning and Teaching and Student Experience prize in 2019 for my writing workshops for post-grads and they’ve been adopted by other departments across the university.

I’ve been crying every day with the anger and sadness I feel. It’s such a betrayal when I was first told in 2016 that I would be supported to get grants… that soon I’d be promoted. Also, in taking this job, which I thought would support me better than my old one, where I experienced bullying despite also being promoted, I had to leave my family. My child stayed with dad when I moved and I was devastated. But again, I thought I was doing the right thing for the longevity of my career. I had to travel each weekend 6 hours to see my child but at least I loved my job.

But now I feel exploited. I’ve gotten no support. Managers won’t even broach my workload because they know I’m over the hours that I should be on teaching.

This is from my PDR from 2017:

“She has a very heavy teaching load, in part due to (temporary) staff shortages”

This was not a temporary shortage. It would go on and on as another person left our small team and still hasn’t been replaced after 2 years. Of course, I’ve taken on the extra workload.

It’s insulting be told that I’m underperforming. It’s exploitative to take the work I’ve been doing for decolonising research and for equality and diversity and widening participation in our institute. I helped bring in £70K for an EDI post. And getting papers out. I’ve published 30 papers since joining UoL.

I used to think impostor syndrome was real, but now I know it’s a lie. I care about making research accessible to everyone. I care about mentoring the next generation of researchers. I care about improving the local communities. For example, The Cradle to Career initiative on the Wirral, which I Chair, has yielded policy changes across the local authority, police, housing as well as in education, where we have made significant gains in child literacy. This £4,000,000 investment is one that I help guide to improve the lives of children, young people, and families who have experienced significant disadvantage. If I’m made redundant for doing this work, then it’s not me who should feel inadequate. It’s the university who don’t share my values. That’s on them.