News from the MCAA - STAIRCASE Survey: Improving working conditions in Academia

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Your voice is crucial for improving the working conditions of academics! Discover how you can shape the future of academic working conditions by participating in the STAIRCASE Survey, a vital action of the Researcher Mental Health Observatory (ReMO).

Bionote:

Mathias Schroijen is a member of the Postgraduate Office of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). As project leader, he is responsible for developing transferable skills training programs and career development services for researchers. Mathias has a research background in healthcare (KU Leuven) and, at the same time, focused on setting up support services for the training and professional development of researchers at the local (PhD Society at KU Leuven) and institutional level (project manager MSCACofund IF@ULB), as well as the representation of early-career researchers at European level.

Mathias Schroijen
Mathias Schroijen

In the backdrop of an emerging mental health crisis in academia, particularly affecting junior researchers, the STAIRCASE Survey stands as a vital instrument within the Researcher Mental Health Observatory (ReMO). ReMO is an EU-funded COST Action Network, representing researchers from around 49 (mostly) European countries, and is committed to improving working conditions and mental well-being in academia (see ReMO manifesto). The first crucial step driving such a change is an evidence-based understanding of the current situation across countries and institutional contexts.

As of January 2022, a dynamic group of over 30 active researchers, including mental health professionals, psychologists, data scientists, and organisational experts, came together to tackle this highly ambitious challenge. Ranging from early-career researchers to professors, our group spans across academic disciplines, hierarchies, and national boundaries, united by a common goal: evidencing recommendations towards concrete policy changes aimed at meaningfully and sustainably improving and nourishing researcher's mental health.

Survey Development and Launch

Coordinated by TIB – Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology, a dedicated special interest group of volunteer European researchers has meticulously collated key measures of researcher mental health and a range of indicators of working conditions (relating to, amongst others, precarity and various work demands and resources).

We obtained the necessary ethical approval and developed a data protection plan combined with a robust technical infrastructure that will enable (vetted) researchers to access the complete data securely, including all the demographic variables. In addition, we have conducted a first pilot study in Montenegro, providing valuable insights into effective survey outreach strategies.

Since 2022, the special interest group has been joined by approximately 60 team members, working on a comprehensive outreach strategy. Employing both “bottom-up” and “top-down” approaches, they engage with stakeholders, develop social media strategies and seek institutional support to maximise the survey’s reach.

Sustainable working conditions in academia survey
Figure 1: Sustainable working conditions in academia survey

We officially launched the survey on September 15, 2023 (see STAIRCASE Launch event). This final survey investigates how organisational differences might influence individual mental health, encompassing both positive indicators, such as work engagement and job satisfaction, as well as negative indicators, such as work addiction, depression, and burnout. The survey also explores contextual factors within departments, institutions, and countries that may impact mental health indicators.

Target population and Key Outcomes

The STAIRCASE survey, crafted by researchers for researchers, targets researchers from doctoral to leadership levels in university and non-university research institutions, excluding non-scientific staff, industry researchers, and people who have left academia. While the primary focus is on the 49 countries represented in ReMO, efforts extend globally.

With the survey, we collect data from individual researchers on mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety, burnout, work engagement), work context (e.g., organisational, climate, harassment, job demands & resources), demographic characteristics, and employment situation, and (insofar as respondents opt-in to volunteering such information) social media handles & ORCID IDs.

What can MCAA members do?

We invite MCAA members to participate, ensuring a comprehensive representation of their institutions and countries. The involvement of MCAA will enhance our capacity to craft tailored recommendations suited to its members' unique situations and the MSCA at large. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the working conditions and well-being of researchers.

When and How tow Participate?

The STAIRCASE survey will remain open for data collection until March 15, 2024. Click here to participate in the survey, which should take approximately 15 minutes to complete.

To learn more about the survey, please visit the dedicated STAIRCASE survey website, where you will find introductory videos, information on Ethics, data, and GDPR compliance, and an FAQ.

Closing - We Count on You!

Your contribution is instrumental to the success of this endeavor. Be a part of the change and help us create healthy academic working conditions!

We would be extremely grateful if you could (a) fill out the survey and (b) help us distribute the invitation within your networks!

Acknowledgements: Mathias thanks Brian Cahill, Inge van der Weijden, and Stefan Mol for their support.

Mathias Schroijen
Université libre de Bruxelles

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