Lonely Hearts

An academic dating service has been launched by 32 of the UK's leading research universities to bring together grant holders and postdocs in (hopefully fruitful) union. CVs.ac.uk allows researchers who are nearing the end of a contract to tout their skills and experience to principal investigators at all the new service's member universities.

The idea for CVs.ac.uk grew out of the Concordat and Research Careers Initiative and was established by personnel staff from eight universities who "felt that a CV service for research staff would help develop their career opportunities," explains marketing and development manager Allan Kerr. Having built the site, the original group recruited a further tranch of universities to join them, and would like to extend the service throughout the academic sector. CVs has been up-and-running since September and so far 600 people have registered. Universities pay a subscription to join the scheme and registration is free to contract research staff (CRS) employed at the member universities.

Whether anyone has actually landed a job through the site yet is difficult to tell, regrets Kerr. Just like the lonely hearts ads in a newspaper, once contact is made the medium is out of the picture and it's up to the would-be employer and potential employee to build their relationship independently. CVs are posted on the site anonymously. PIs with grants search through them to find the skills they want and then e-mail the postdocs 'box'. It's up to the postdoc to decide whether they want to take things further.

This anonymity is appealing to cancer cell biology postdoc Doug Elder. Because the ball is in the still-unknown postdoc's court, "you're not going to ruffle anyone's feathers" by not wanting to work with them, he suggests. However, he's unsure how anonymity can be maintained. Listing publications and experience would go a long way to identifying you, particularly to someone working in the same field. Nonetheless, using the site is "certainly something I'd consider" when it comes to looking for his next job. Now on his third contract at the University of Bristol, Elder would like his next move to be into a fellowship or lectureship, rather than just another postdoc, and would be most keen if it would be possible to specify this when uploading his CV.

Amanda Baker also welcomes the Web site. "It's a long overdue service," says the Cardiff University astronomer, pointing out that applying for jobs involves a huge investment of time. But whilst it "should cut down hugely on the amount of work people have to do," she is skeptical that anyone in her field will actually be hired through it, at least in the short term. It might take 10 or 20 years before those holding the astrophysics purse-strings wake up to the benefits, she suggests, as they are rather set in their ways. Besides, she points out, the CV is only a minimal part of a job application. Particularly for lectureships, what counts is the research proposal, which "has to be individually crafted for each job."

Although at the moment CVs can only be accessed by academic employers, one of the ways the service would like to develop is by bringing on board employers in the commercial research sector, says Kerr. Traditionally these employers have been more geared up to recruiting graduates and new PhDs, he admits, but with postdocs growing increasingly innovation and enterprise aware, they are becoming more attractive to industry, he believes. But the universities behind CVs.ac.uk are wary of widening the net too far. "They don't want their best scientists being squeezed out," but want to keep their talents in academia, so expanding will be "a fairly controlled process," he says.

So, what does CVs.ac.uk provide that the long-established jobs.ac.uk does not? It's a question of focus, says Kerr. Whereas jobs.ac.uk advertises the full range of jobs available within universities, from professorships to secretarial appointments, CVs.ac.uk "is directed entirely within the research community," he explains. Ultimately its founders want the site to be more than a brokering service by "trying to help people develop their own thoughts about where their careers might go," and "networking some of the very good sites already in the research environment" which support CRS, suggests Kerr.

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