Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Redundancy blues

As of about two weeks ago, our institute has been staring down the barrel of some mandatory staff cuts. We've been expecting these for the better part of three years - most, in fact, of the time that I've been formally employed on the "government" side of things. But the scale of the cuts are larger than I think most of us expected (and all of those who I've spoken with). Of approximately 150 staff, around 35 are expected to be lost, around about one quarter.

The actual staff lost will be determined through a ranking exercise that will see about 60 staff (40% of the total) offered redundancy, with a view to reaching the desired target of 35 without resorting to compulsory redundancy. Which seems a reasonably sensible strategy except for certain provisions in the terms of voluntary/compulsory redundancy that differ between staff hired at different times. After about 1998, staff have been hired on terms that significantly favour the acceptance of voluntary redundancy over sitting it out and being made compulsorily redundant. So those staff, myself included, that were recruited "more recently" have something of an incentive to jump before being pushed.

Whether I'm one of those caught up in the downsizing (a euphemism I've actually yet to hear used in this specific context) is yet to be clear. The ranking criteria emphasise quantitative metrics such as papers, grants and the h-index, which, on the face of it, are important aspects of the modern scientist's life. But there are subjective elements to the weighting, and there may be further fudge factors yet to reveal themselves. While my publication record is far from stellar, I think that I do OK, more so in recent years than when I was slogging it out as a post-doc programmer. My grant record, however, is bad - though in part this stems from me being pointed in other directions.

Overall, with about 40% of staff getting an invitation to consider an alternative career, and with a strong impetus to accept said invitation should it be presented to me, I'm very far from feeling safe. Either way, life in my institute is going to look and feel very different in a few months time. Those who survive seem liable to be "gifted" new tasks whose previous "owners" are no longer around. So I'll either be busy looking for a new career (and it will be a career - niches for oceanographers are too thin on the ground), or busy picking up the pieces of tasks left incomplete by the purge.

Hence the blues.

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