Academic Archaeology Jobs in UK- 4REF is King/Queen

Posted on June 19, 2013

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I have been seeing a very disturbing (in my opinion) trend in job postings for Archaeology Academic jobs in the UK. Here is a new job posting (warning, link my not work when job closes) and the first requirement under essential criteria:

‘PhD in Archaeology or cognate discipline at the time of application’

OK not disturbing but number 2 requirement is:

‘Publication record of at least four REF-returnable outputs since 2008, or equivalent commensurate with stage of career.’

This requirement has been popping up more and more in academic job postings for archaeologists. For those unaware the REF is a programme undertaken every five years in the UK to “measure” research impact. As if some how one could measure the impact research has now and into the future (a debate for another day).

Why do I find this trend disturbing? For one, it sets the minimum bar of four publications (this what is meant by four REF returnable outputs) for anyone attempting to get an academic job. Not an impossible range BUT it depends on who you are and who you work with. Some PhD students are told by their advisers to concentrate on their PhD and not to focus on publications. Many PhD students will get their degree without any publications under their belt or only one or two. This means they need to either get a post-doc or find something else to do while they get four publications together, submitted and published (all within the cycle of the REF, after 2014 the clock is reset). Now this pressure may only come around every 3-4 years leading up to the REF but there is the problem that a temporary requirement becomes the defacto standard.

The second problem I have, and arguably the greater problem, is the misconception academics have about what a ‘REF-returnable output’ is. Many think that this means a publication in a “top tier journal”, IT DOES NOT. In fact, the REF grading is NOT suppose to take into account where the article is published. Do academic know this, NO. Over the last few years I have had over a dozen conversations with staff explaining that they are not suppose to take publication venue into account, just the work. If the majority of staff at one university believe that the publication venue matters than chances are that staff at other universities believe the same(edit- it appears widespread).

Thus, it’s not just four publications but four publications in the “right” journals, even though this is not the intent of the REF. I am guessing none of those “right” journals are Open Access and in fact are arbitrary. What I considered the “right” journal (Open Access venue) may not be what a hiring board believes is the “right” journal (actually, guaranteed they do not have the same as me and my Open Access) . In essence, you now need at least four publications AND hope they are in the “right” journals if you want an academic job in archaeology in the UK.

Best of luck to you.