Radboud University

Recognition & Rewards according to the Radboud Young Academy

Read this article in Dutch.

Recognition & Rewards (R&R) is one of the most topical themes in Dutch academia and one driven largely by young scientific staff. It has therefore been a priority of the Radboud Young Academy (RYA), which played a major role in the creation of Radboud University's R&R vision document. RYA fully and enthusiastically endorses this vision document.

From our mandate as an interfaculty think tank of young scientific staff and professionals that contributes to the academic culture of our university, we would like to highlight one point for each of the four R&R pillars that we believe deserve special attention. We are doing so for two reasons:

  • First, there is no one-size-fits-all or win-win version of R&R. Implementing the vision inevitably means making choices that work out better for some stakeholders than others. The experiences and interests of young scientific staff call for specific initiatives. The vision refers explicitly to the needs and challenges of young employees, but does not take a fundamentally new position on the existing hierarchy in Dutch academia. The same applies to the position of professionals: the vision document pays little attention to what 'quality' and 'professional development' can mean for them.
  • There tends to be a gap between the theory and practice of R&R and between vision and implementation. This makes it difficult to systematically monitor whether the implemented changes are having the desired effect. Moreover, a frequently heard concern is the risk of R&R becoming so extensive that it loses meaning and purpose. With the university having been tasked with fleshing out the R&R vision, it is important to formulate concrete priorities to complement the bigger picture. The faculties are the ones responsible for implementing this vision, which means it is important to be mindful of the unique context of each discipline and to continue to learn from each other as faculties.

The R&R discussion will continue to evolve and change. The points formulated here are intended as constructive suggestions for the current phase of the dynamic process of implementing our university's R&R vision.

Quality: Eliminate the Matthew effect - Prestigious grants for junior employees should no longer be unique windows of opportunity that largely determine the further course of their careers. The new starting and incentive grants are an important step in the right direction, but not if they are considered as inferior to the NWO and EU talent programmes. Our university should give more weight to other opportunities for promotion that are independent of external research funding. The R&R vision calls for a more nuanced understanding of quality. We argue that this should be combined with a realistic view of the current system of external research funding and its limitations.

Collaboration: Formulate concrete frameworks for team science - In the intended transition from an individualistic to a more communal way of practising science, 'team science' is the magic word. How such 'teams' are created and how they are supported is key. We believe the university can encourage team science in three ways. Internal competition should be limited and collaboration rewarded. Consultation and representation among junior scientific staff, senior scientific staff and professional staff should become the guiding principle for all collaborations, be they in committees, evaluations or research teams. In doing so, we highlight the importance of spotlighting and protecting the junior staff on a team. Finally, as the vision rightly states, open science (open access, open data, open source)  must become a spearhead of our university.

Diversity: Commit to distributed leadership - Job profiles were created to ensure that people are appropriately compensated for the work they carry out. In practice, almost everyone (and young scientific staff in particular) takes on more tasks and responsibilities than specified in their job profile. The R&R vision provides clear guidance on how to diversify career paths. Unfortunately, we see too many examples of artificial scarcity and hiding behind the job titles. Let us ensure that the tasks and responsibilities and the recognition and (financial) rewards that accompany them really do become more flexible. Leadership tasks must be distributed (and sufficiently valued) based on experience, affinity and skill rather than job profiles. Good leadership requires time investment.

Human touch: Create a safe environment for all - Young staff, both scientific staff and professional staff, are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Lack of job security, striking a healthy work-life balance while raising a family, and the desire to prove oneself are major challenges facing young professionals. Adding an unsafe work situation into the mix is untenable and unacceptable. The organisation must prioritise the creation of a safe social environment by rigorously monitoring which strategies work and which do not, without settling for vague organisation-wide plans and training options. A pleasant and healthy work environment starts with good management. The organisation should work hard to put the right people in the right positions.