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ECR Testimonials

On this page we document the experiences of early career researchers whose livelihoods and career progression are threatened by these cuts, through potential job losses and loss of research outputs.

Anonymous ECR

As an ECR, I had a contract secured until Feb 2022. Due to ODA cuts, it was abruptly terminated in April 2021 almost without notice.

In our large research team, there were rumours about cuts since March and soon we realized that in a way or another the project would have been cut. However, how these would have happened, and above all when and who would have been affected was very uncertain. These questions became clearer just in April when some difficult decisions would have been made across the project. Again, TT staff and supervisors were supportive and did their best to ensure transparency and clarity in the process even though as far as I have seen there was no clarity at all from UKRI. I was left without a job from a day to another and I was just lucky to have supervisors that granted further contract months, otherwise I would have been with no job and a rent to pay without 0 day notice.

The psychological impact has been huge, by considering the already difficult impact of the pandemic, the fact that due to pandemic all fieldworks and ECR expectations have been radically changed, and the fact that I could not see my family since last year due to travel ban.

Also, the anxiety of being forced to go back in the job market because I needed and not because I just wanted to explore opportunities, in one of the worst times to find a job, has been simply devastating on my body and my mind. 

Alba Rosa Boer Cueva, PhD Candidate & Researcher, Law & Policy Frameworks at the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub

I’m a PhD candidate researching conceptualisations of women’s empowerment and (in)security in peacebuilding processes, particularly focussing on Colombia. I was also working as a researcher on the Donor Funding and WPS Implementation project at the Hub. We’re a small team – just four of us -, looking at how donor funding affects the work that CSOs in the WPS space do in Northern Ireland, Nepal and Colombia. I joined last year in October and have been doing the research on Colombia, liaising with people there, conducting interviews, transcriptions and translations, and analysis. We’d just started our second round of analysis and the first round of drafting one of four papers when it was finally confirmed that we should stop all work immediately. 

Now, I should say that I’m in a privileged position in many ways. I live in Sydney, Australia and come from a family of academics who all understand and support my research. I have no children or dependents and my partner, thankfully, has a steady job as a carpenter. However, I’m not on a scholarship, which has meant switching to part-time study and working sometimes up to 3 different jobs at the same time to be able to finance my PhD, all of them casual positions for an average of 10 weeks (which is the teaching term at my university, UNSW). We get no sick leave or holiday pay in the best of times and since COVID hit I was doing 15 extra hours of unpaid work per week to keep up with all the new demands of teaching online and the increased care work that students required. That is, until the contracts ran out and no one could get a casual teaching job anymore. I spent 6 months unemployed (May-September 2020) without being eligible for any government payments like many other industries, doing random bits of marking for others when I could and using savings to pay our mortgage (though I know I’m lucky to even be able to have one of those). 

The job with the Hub was a lifeline. I was still a casual, but there was enough work for the next year, at least, which among other things meant I didn’t need to try and work any other jobs at the same time. The idea of having that kind of stability for the first time in my life didn’t just take a huge financial burden off my shoulders, but it gave me the breathing room I needed to start contributing to the academic community again with passion, as a peer reviewer, in conferences, and with my own research which had been sitting on the back burner for too long. After 6 years of being a part-time PhD candidate, the finish line is finally in sight as I intend to submit mid-next year. For the first time in a long time, I was hopeful about my chances of being able to get a post-doc or similar after graduation, as our Hub team intended to have a significant amount of research outputs. I declined other unpaid opportunities because for once there was enough on my plate and it was all mostly paid. But now, like many other ECRs and similar, I feel like the rug has been pulled from under me, yet again. As a PhD, I feel that the foundation I’m trying to build and desperately need to even be able to compete in the academic job race like other ECRs is already being eroded. It’s not just income now, but the withdrawal of future opportunities and a career as well. 

Finally, I did want to say something about the research project and the people who participated in it. I have to say in this case, I’m angry and embarrassed. I consider myself a decolonial feminist. I am passionate about dismantling the unequal power dynamics that dominate North-South relations, particularly when it comes to research. Through this project, I reconnected with many of the people I knew from my time living in Bogotá for my PhD research. I also met new people who in good faith donated their time thinking that something good would come of it that could benefit their organisations and the people they serve. These cuts, however, treat their stories and their time as inconsequential. It reinforces the age-old dynamic of extractivist research of the Global South, yet again. These relationships involve trust and long-term development and cannot be shut off just because the funding has, but which will nonetheless become eroded along with my ability to dedicate them the time they deserve. So, I am angry and embarrassed at being the white face they’ll remember as representing the way the cuts ignore the racialised and gendered North-South dynamics they reinforce and at how they treat those upon which we so often build our careers on. 

So, I know my experience isn’t the typical one as I didn’t leave a secure job for the Hub, and all things considered I’m very lucky in life. But I did pin my hopes and future chances on it and seem to be coming up empty-handed now.

Leah Kenny, Research Officer, GCRF Gender Justice and Security Hub, The London School of Economics and Political Science

I started working for the LSE Gender Hub over one year ago now, moving from a project based at the Department of Global Health and Development at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to a project focused on developing the Gender, Justice, Security and Health Index – to bring health and well-being into the peace and security sector. What fascinated me about the Hub project, was the chance to work within a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral, and feminist space. One that seeks to bridge the academia / activism divide, and that unapologetically recognised that research is political. While I am passionate about the topics I have researched across my career, there is an often-uncomfortable distance between where academic research sits, with who, and the impact it has on those who are involved in the research (or more often, who the research is ‘on’). 

A year later, in which there has been a pandemic and the recent, shocking ODA funding cuts, the Hub experience has not turned out to be quite what anyone was expecting. As someone who has experienced a number of existential crises about academic research and its role in society, initially, the announcement of the funding cuts brought with it renewed questioning, sadness and anger. The precariousness of the job has never been a secret, nor have the hierarchies and power imbalances. But the devaluing of the topics we cover and the work we do by the government has brought fresh waves of doubt. At some point early in your research career, you have to take the next step – do a PhD or forfeit being able to apply for grants, teach and carry out your own research projects. I am yet to make this decision and the recent ODA cuts have definitely thrown some of this into confusion. I also want to draw attention to how painful this must be for the current PhD students whose work is being impacted as a result of these cuts.

We have data to analyse, and the moral and ethical duty to ourselves and our research participants who shared their time so generously. Hopefully, we will contribute knowledge on how to better capture wellbeing in conflict-affected settings, through an intersectional and gendered lens. I am grateful to the colleagues I have met along the way and the values that underpin their work and the Hub more broadly. The questions raised and subsequent conversations have clarified that there is a need for our research. While on a personal level, I am still left questioning my role in all of this, the experience has shown me that we should continue to fight to work on projects that sit in the at-times uncomfortable, yet important, space between academia and practice. As feminist researchers and practitioners we have, after all, never accepted the status quo.

Nasser Tuqan, PhD – Research Associate, GCRF Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub, School of Engineering, Newcastle University

Photo: Sofian Qurashi/Water Management Initiative, courtesy of Nasser Tuqan

My name is Nasser Tuqan, a recently appointed research associate in water security at the UK’s Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub at Newcastle University. My role within the hub is to address and estimate the financial resources required to achieve the most critical targets of SDG6, and to find methods to optimise such costs.

I have arrived with my small family to the UK coming from Portugal a few weeks ago carrying with me a PhD in water use efficiency; a mix of 9 years of experiences in water research, project management and field civil engineering; and a lot of passion and motivation to join the UK’s remarkable efforts and leading role working on global water security issues such as clean water access for all, water-related hazards due to climate change and sanitation services access for all in the midst of a global health pandemic.

Photo: , courtesy of Nasser Tuqan

In order to get this opportunity and contribute to those noble efforts, I had to risk my permanent contract in a big-tech company, to endure a heavy relocation process, to leave a family and long-term friendships behind, to be locked up in a hotel room for 11 days upon arrival to the UK following the country’s managed quarantine regulations, and to spend an extortionate cost out of our personal savings. Those were all my personal decisions, but I took them with a big smile because I understood the suffering in places where water is scarce and that the only way forward is a universal approach.

I was born and raised in Palestine, a country where water is gold. There, a lucky household would only receive municipal water supplies once a week. I left my parents’ house 10 years ago, and until that point, my mother was still arranging the times to do basic stuff such as laundry and house cleaning according to the water calendar. Besides, I dedicated the last 5 years of my research in investigating the water use efficiency and the impact of climate change on it in water scarce regions. My research was only able to confirm what so many other researchers have already stated: the time is overdue to take wider-scale actions to achieve more sustainable water use practices in our farms and cities.  

Photo: , courtesy of Nasser Tuqan

However, I was shocked to hear in my very first working week about the ODA funds cuts. These cuts will put an end to my efforts to figure out the most viable approaches to hit SDG6, in other words, saving money while achieving water access with safe quality for all. Not only that, it will distort my perception of Great Britain as a leading power in one of the most critical fields towards achieving the world’s sustainable development goals. Make no mistake, the cuts will undermine a great deal of successful research efforts in those fields that have already made  positive impacts in several parts of the world.

As a person, who would like to see less mothers suffering from water-related complications, and as a researcher, who believes in the crucial importance of the UK’s leading efforts, I would like to ask every single leader within the UK Government to put politics aside and prioritise the global most urgent needs. Great Britain has been for centuries a global leader. Today, the citizens of this world aspire, more than any time before, for such a leader to steer the world in the more sustainable direction.

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