From authoring grant applications to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the lab, Academic Researchers are key to UC’s almost $6 billion in annual research revenue. Over the course of a career, just one AR is responsible for bringing in millions of dollars in research funding. But as a Project Scientist in Cognitive Science at UCSD for over 10 years, one of the most important issues I, and other researchers face is the job insecurity and unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles that result from arbitrary and inequitable UC administrative policy.
ARs positions are almost always funded from multiple grants, and there is no university stopgap for periods when funding for one (or more) of those grants runs dry. As a result, we are forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time applying for new funding while working under constant threat of losing a significant portion of our salary, as well as eligibility for benefits. And in cases where ARs are applying for our own funding, most campuses require an additional step of acquiring sign-off from a tenured faculty member, which only further compromises our ability to focus on research.
Another challenge is the the higher percentage of salary some campuses charge grants for ARs versus that of faculty. For example at UCLA the composite benefit rate is 31.8% for Faculty and 44.4% for ARs. This puts an extreme financial burden on ARs and on our supervisors, and furthers the already significant pressure to prioritize grant applications over research. Additionally, though ARs are often the de facto advisors/supervisors in the lab, we are not allowed to serve on committees and so receive neither academic nor financial acknowledgement for the mentorship role we provide.
Gap funding for periods where ARs are in between grants is an obvious solution. Other universities have implemented this method of institutional support, which greatly mitigates the need to be constantly looking for the next funding source. Further, UC could eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic inequities such as requiring faculty sign-off for an ARs own grant application and refusing to recognize the mentoring role we play for many junior members of the lab. These policies do not reflect the key role ARs play in powering the university’s research engine. These are just a few examples of ways UC could demonstrate its commitment to ARs.
Yet the university has shown little interest in supporting AR careers, which is why it is imperative that we unionize. By unionizing, ARs can exercise our collective strength to negotiate for more power and say in the manner in which UC administers grants, as well as facilitate UC supporting Academic Researchers commensurate with our value to the university. ARs believe deeply in the cutting edge research we perform. We are also committed to ensuring that we are properly supported in a manner commensurate with our value to the university; by forming Academic Researchers United and joining together as academic employees, we can empower ourselves to make certain that is the case.