Science Careers: final call for evidence

Following the meeting with Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, about the failing state of science careers in the UK, we want to solicit your feedback for the report he requested from us.

There are three things you can do (by 30th September 2011 please):

  1. leave a comment using this form (your response will not be made public):

    (or, if you prefer, send an email to jenny at scienceisvital.org.uk)

  2. rank the following issues in order of importance to you (use your mouse to drag the items into the order you want):
    (Please refresh your browser if nothing appears.)
  3. spread the word by linking to this page using email, twitter (using the #SciCareers hashtag) and other social media.

Background

Fancy a career in science?

If you are looking for a career in science, it’s probably worth thinking twice about it, or at least three times, because the path from a science degree to a fully fledged investigator can be a difficult one.

The first step into a PhD is relatively straightforward but after that the road seems less clear. A common route is to gain further experience as a postdoctoral researcher as part of the quest for a permanent position as an independent investigator in a university, research institute or industrial laboratory.

Being a postdoc is a potentially exciting time, offering opportunities to work in different labs, at home or abroad, to deepen and broaden one’s experience of working in research. But it also has many pitfalls. The project may not work out as intended or the relationship with the supervisor may be strained. Added to that, people usually start their first postdoc in their mid-twenties, at a time in their lives when they are starting to look for some stability, perhaps getting married, perhaps seeking to start a family. And then there is the long-standing problem that many more PhDs and postdocs are trained than there are lab-head or other permanent research positions.

For many people, it is during their time as a postdoc that their aspirations for a long-term career as a working scientist start to unravel. The system seems to be stacked against them. Almost always on short-term contracts, it can feel like a very precarious existence. Their dedication to the lab is vital for the scientific enterprise — but is it being properly rewarded?

Discussion at the Royal Institution

As UK science funding enters a period of slow decline, the long-standing problems of promoting the careers in science are being brought into sharper relief. These problems were discussed at the Royal Institution on 24th May 2011 by a panel chaired by Dr Evan Harris in front of a large audience mostly comprised of young scientists. On the panel were Dr Jenny Rohn (SiV Chair), Professor Dame Athene Donald, FRS, and the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science. You can listen to a podcast of the lively discussion. The items in our poll above summarize the main issues raised at the meeting.

The Next Steps

Where do we go from here? It is clear that the only people who are going to solve this problem are scientists themselves — we have to take the lead and take the argument to government, funders and employers.

At the end of the meeting the Minister stated that he would welcome a document from Science is Vital summarizing the main points of contention coming from the scientific community. We have already started on compiling this document, using points raised at the meeting and comments that have been received in the meantime. However, we want to gather opinions and idea on these from wide and far across the UK to ensure that the views put across are representative of as much of the community as possible.

We have therefore issued a call to the scientific community to tell us about your concerns about career development in science. We are also interested to hear suggestions for how the nurturing of young scientists can be done better.

Your contribution doesn’t have to be very long – just a brief description of a particular problem that has affected your experience of the career structure. Perhaps you’ve been stuck in a long series of short-term contracts, or are considering going abroad to carry on in science. Maybe you’re a group leader troubled by the failure of your talented protégés to secure a permanent position, or a postdoc struggling to combine a family with the long hours demanded by the job.

Example:

I have been forced to leave science. My lab took a big bit when its rolling grant was scaled back considerably a few months ago, and was not able to continue employing all of its postdocs on this research project. I and two colleagues have been made redundant. I’ve tried really hard to find another postdoc but positions are few and far between. I felt that I’d tried as hard as I reasonably could to find another research position, and needed to cut my loses. I’ve had to take the difficult decision to leave research for the time being. I’m lucky to have found continued employment, but it’s not what I really what to be doing, and it does feel as though years of hard slog through PhD and my first postdoc have now been wasted. I hope to get back into science in a year or two, but to be honest I fear that it’ll be even harder after a break outside academia.

– Anonymous, London

If you care about this issue, please do try to send us your views. If we want to show government, funders and employers that the present system is unsustainable, we need to make a convincing case.

PLEASE NOTE: anything you write in the comments below will be public. Anything entered into the form above will remain private.

Categories: Careers

27 Responses to Science Careers

  1. Anon,Cardiff says:

    The situation for me is awful. For personal reasons I cannot move from Cardiff and this leaves me with less than few options. The department (Chemistry) that I work in does not have a career development system. Post-docs are not treated as staff we are treated as skilled technicians. There is no provision to enhance qualifications further such as allowing us to take lectures and training for this in the form of PCUTL. Most permanent positions require experience in teaching and this results in a disadvantage for us from the start.
    When there is any recruitment for permanent positions, internal candidates are always over-looked with the powers that be keeping the REF exercise in mind. To date this attitude has not worked for our department. I think the reason behind this is the recurrent grant system.
    Departments are forced to be the best, academically, and this invariably discourages early career researchers and the appointment of them. There should be a provision that forces departments to have people under a certain age in the form of funding penalties. The system is inherently ageist in the opposite way to most other jobs.
    I am nearing the end of my contract and due to the inclement nature of the funding system at the moment it is most likely that I will be unemployed. After committing the last fifteen years of my life to this career path it now becomes my biggest regret and I wholeheartedly discourage anyone from pursuing it. I wish I had done medicine.

  2. Dr Richard Bates says:

    If we wish for scientists to make an impact in wealth creation then support from funding councils and universities are required. I know that I can build the ATLAS experiment. I think that I have ideas that can start up companies and make money, but I need to leave my job to do this. The companies might fail. Why would I risk my career when it will be almost impossible to return to my previous research field. This is not the same for other professions where jobs are plentiful (e.g. accountancy, IT) but for mine there is very little chance of getting my old, or similar, job back. A guarantee of 2-3 years to keep the post open would make a huge difference. This would result in a massive increase in innovation and wealth creation in the private sector, which would drive a new high-tech recovery for the UK.

  3. I am very committed to my career in science and believe I have done everything to secure a position at Newcastle University. However, as yet I have been unable to secure a lectureship even though I have over 10 years post-doctoral experience, 20 plus years in science, published several articles and gained funding (both as co-applicant and principle investigator when allowed to be) for my research and my salary since 1996.
    To put my personal situation into context, I did my PhD later than most (in my mid 30’s) during which I had my second child and so took 6-months maternity break. In spite of this I submitted my PhD early (in pro-rata terms) and was awarded it in 2000. Since then I have been on a series of short term contracts ranging from weeks to a 2 years. I have spent a total of 9 months away from my family to improve my CV working with collaborators in Linkoping University, Sweden, something I arranged myself. I have continued with this collaboration since then. I have been invited to speak several times overseas on my area of expertise and am recognised outside of Newcastle as a valuable contributor to the field.
    However, I believe as I am unable to move to a post elsewhere in the country as I have children and my husband has a business, this has been detrimental to my career progression. I would dearly like to secure a lectureship in Newcastle, however no positions have been advertised in my area of expertise and taking into consideration people who have been appointed it appears that the university nearly always appoints an external candidate, not all of whom live up to expectations. Consequently, I spend more than 25% of my supposed research time writing grants for my own salary which is getting more and more difficult to secure. A clear example of this is that recently I had to cut the time down that I wanted to apply for from 3 to 2 years and half the number of experiments as I would like as my salary took me over the limit of funding available. The research councils, although say that the salary is not a problem, the number of grants being awarded is falling due to lack of resources and so are much more competitive than in the past so we have to apply to charities in addition to the research councils to try to get some funding.
    Just because I am older and had to work part-time for some years it does not mean I have nor had a part-time attitude to my work. Many of us who have worked in the same institution have an extensive knowledge of the infrastructure of the institution which means if I were to get a position I would be able to publish faster and be much more efficient than external candidates.
    Sadly my situation and others like me is being seen by many of the PhD students, mine and others, as a typical example of the poor career structure for science graduates and post-docs in the UK and as a result have decided that a permanent career in science in the UK (or at all) is not for them. This will be a disaster in the long term for the UK as we are constantly loosing the best and the brightest.
    If the career path is not sorted out, either by reducing the number of PhD’s or equipping them better for life outside academia things are only going to get worse. The education sector has to recognise this and also has, like the private sector, value more experienced staff and not assume that once over 30 one’s innovation is lost. The most highly cited works are produced by the over 50’s (FASEB, 2008). If the government is truly going to invest in the future we have to see the colour of their money!

  4. I am an NHS doctor, currently doing a PhD, and very much hoping to be able to have the benefit of postdoc training. I love science and I know that I get the best ideas and understand what really matters because of my clinical work. Alas, there few pathways that allow me to keep the security of my clinical job and do research at the same time and I feel I will soon be forced to choose one of the two. The problem is especially prominent at the transition between PhD training and postdoc positions. The pressure is even greater, since I have a family. Training me for research and medicine has cost a lot of money to the taxpayer. Shouldn’t there be more imaginative and flexible pathways that would allow me to make full use of my skills for the benefit of the public?

  5. Patricia Brekke says:

    The problems I have most often faced while trying to pursue an academic career have been the lack of long-term positions and uncertainty of when the next job will come up and where in the world it will be.

    Not only personally, but also work-wise. How to take on PhD students when I only have a 2 year contract and cannot fully commit to being there throughout?

    It has also made me question how to advance in science when I want to have a family, travelling will be much more difficult and not having a reliable income put much more pressure on myself and family.

  6. Dan Bolser says:

    Why bother developing the career of young scientists?

    Group leaders have no interest in anything other than their own career, which can be equally well served by protecting their job as it can by developing their field.

    A constant stream of enthusiastic graduates can be used as (morally) cheap labour, being tossed aside by the system that ill prepares them for a career in science.

    Only the most dedicated postdocs, those who sacrifice family, leisure time, home, and happiness will learn how to progress in the sportsman-like competitive arena.

    Who cares that this is a morally bankrupt system that feeds on the hopes, ideology, and aspirations of young scientists?

    http://www.fasebj.org/content/12/3/255.full

  7. Agnes Noy says:

    I am really near to leave science. After obtaining an EMBO fellowship in my postdoc, having 7 publications as a 1st author and 205 citations, I can’t find another position. My “problem” also is that I was “unconscious” enough to become a mother during my postdoc. I’ve tried among other schemes the Dorothy Hodgins Royal Society fellowship but the ratio of acceptance is only about 5%. In addition, I tried to convince the tutorial system from Oxford that I couldn’t burden a full research position and at the same time a college lecturership to gain teaching experience although I could spare them in time, but it didn’t work. In my opinion, to not lose people with familiar responsabilities is crucial to prime quality over quantity. Thus, I suggest to include some index reflecting the amount of citations per year in the application schemes.

  8. Qihe Xu says:

    Thanks! This is a very important effort!

  9. Henry Disney says:

    Areas of science that are less fashionable, even though the expertise involved is of applied importance, are poorly funded compared with more fashionable science that is of interest but not of practical relevance! Thus I existed on short term grants from private trusts since 1984 until retirement. In my ‘retirement’ I continue my research on minute grants from non-governmental sources. Research Council applications over 20 years were routinely rejected on the grounds that despite being ‘highly regarded’ by the review panel they were considered to be waffle waffle (meaning my field was not fashionable!).

  10. Henry Disney says:

    Many available grants are age restricted. I am now too old to qualify for many such.

  11. Edward Bailey says:

    After science funding increased a few years ago new labs and facilities opened, with the increase in people required. More people were encouraged to start a career in science. These people are now being abandoned, their poorly-paid efforts regarded as surplus to requirements. Their prospects outside of science are also curtailed, as many employers will not hire academics.

  12. Simon Dixon says:

    I believe the fundamental issues in science funding and judgement of worth in society are at the root of many of the problems facing early career scientists. The worth of science is judged too much on obvious applications at grant and publication stage, this leads to a situation where research is focused on trying to answer engineering-related problems, or obvious socio-environmental problems. Less weight is given to posing and researching the underpinning questions of nature. Such short-termism confuses inventing and wealth creation with valuable science.

    The knock-on effect of this is that early career researchers are not seen as an asset which needs to be invested in and nurtured in the hope that one day such people will be teaching future generations or making world-changing discoveries. Instead such researchers are asked to prove their worth in monetary terms and are often seen as more of a burden, the wider societal perception is of “boffins in labs” out of touch with the “real world” as they are not making more efficient vacuum cleaners or smart phones. As a result researchers are expected to be content with scrambling for fewer jobs, on frighteningly short-term contracts and to be extremely mobile, relocating every six months or year.

    Not only does this make it hard for anyone to forge a career in science, but it makes it nearly impossible for older, early career researchers who have to try and juggle moving from one part of the country to another chasing short-term jobs, but have to relocate employed spouses/partners and their children as well. The result is less diversity in scientific researchers.

  13. Sam says:

    Having completed an MSc at distinction level at one of the UKs top 5 universities a few years ago I have been struggling to find my feet. I had to do some demoralising office temping, bar work and anything else I can find to raise funds to support a voluntary position abroad. Luckily this led to a short term paid contract. In the meantime I have written a PhD proposal with a potential supervisor, only to find that 2/4 funding avenues had been dropped this year. I am waiting to find out about the outcome of a different PhD application, but I am wondering where getting a PhD will lead me in the current climate. It seems that more and more universities are coming up with money-making MSc courses and willing to take on cheap PhD students (compared to the cost of post-docs), but then what? Abandoned. I feel that universities should stop throwing out MSc graduates and PhDs if there are no further opportunities. And all these internships are all very well, but they are full-time jobs specifically targetting graduates, who mosty likely have spent an arm and a leg funding studies, so please, tell me how are we to find funds for accommodation and food (let alone have a bit of extra cash for having a life) whilst doing an internship? Like many others, I have had to make numerous personal and financial sacrifices over the past few years just to give myself even the smallest chance of having a career as a scientist. I am seriously considering a change of career if the latest PhD doesn’t pull through, if I do, sadly I might look back and consider it a lucky escape. If I do get the PhD then fingers crossed attitudes to science careers changes over the next 3 years, but honestly, I can’t bear to think that far ahead right now so I’ll just stick my head in the sand and enjoy the PhD.

  14. Megan Cully says:

    The fundamental problem is sample size. The best researchers should get the best positions. But since a paper takes so long to publish, luck plays an enormous role in a young scientist’s CV. I blogged on this about a month ago and it’s been one of my most popular posts. Here’s an excerpt:

    Let’s say a person can get an academic job if she publishes in one Holy Trinity journal (Cell, Science, Nature- make sure to cross yourself as you say these) during her PhD/post-doc. If a young scientist publishes a total of 4 first author papers during this time, she’s done well. The papers that make it into the Holy Trinity are there because they’re interesting. And they’re interesting because they’ve asked timely questions and gotten useful and sometimes unexpected results. Some of this comes down to outstanding experimental design and skillful execution, but in equal measures it comes down to luck. Even outstanding scientists don’t publish exclusively in the Holy Trinity. Some great ideas simply don’t pan out, or the answer to a key question was “no” rather than “yes”. Biology can’t be bent to the experimenter’s desires. The answer doesn’t change the quality of the work, but it changes the interest factor and therefore the impact factor of the resulting paper. That “yes” or “no” answer often comes at the end of a body of work, when the scientist has already invested 2-3 years in the project, is running out of time and money and needs to publish or perish. Out of 10 great ideas, perhaps 1 or 2 will result in a Holy Trinity paper. Ensuring that 1 in 4 early-career papers gets into a Holy Trinity journal is as much luck as it is skill. In order to gauge scientific ability instead of luckiness scientists need to have more iterations before having their CVs scrutinized. If a paper took 6 months of full-time work, an early-stage scientist could put out at least 10 before applying for independent funding. Three-month projects would give her 20. Then there would be enough data points to assess the quality of the candidate. The more data points there are, factors such as luck will play a smaller and smaller role. As scientists and statisticians, we should know this better than anyone.

    Unfortunately, I can’t imagine science moving in that direction. Today’s papers have much more information in them than papers from 10 years ago. A knock-out mouse model used to be a paper in itself; now it’s Figure 1a. The amount of time it takes to do the experiments, however, has remained unchanged. A PhD still produces 1-2 papers, same for a post-doc. Time seems to be constant.

    Read more at http://recoveringscientist.blogspot.com/2011/08/why-science-careers-suck-problem-of.html

  15. Anon says:

    In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “career” in science for early-stage researchers now. We get employed on short-term contracts (3 yrs, if we’re lucky), and are considered as natural wastage when the funding expires. This effectively means we’re expensive PhD students, but with more responsibility/pressure/demands on time. Career development is almost non-existent, as most established academics (and schools) don’t have the time to nuture young researchers because they are too busy fighting the demands on their own positions. Getting 1st author papers as a postdoc is almost impossible because supervisors need them to include in their own REF return. There are limited funding opportunities for postdocs to apply for in their own right, which means it is difficult to display your financial independence.
    It is almost impossible to gain promotion to lecturer within your own institute because you aren’t “bringing anything new” – but moving cities/ countries is not a viable option for people with families (especially if the partner has a secure job, which is most likely better paid). Scientists are often required to make huge personal sacrifices – and those that aren’t prepared to make them will be the ones who leave science. After specialising for many years in one area you may then find yourself “unemployable” outside academia because you cannot display a wide range of skills.
    I am completely disillusioned by academic science at this point, and would strongly discourage others from pursuing it as a career. Unless you are prepared to sacrifice personal relationships and are Nobel-prize brilliant, you are unlikley to succeed.

  16. I would like to remain anon thankyou says:

    3 of the top 4 responses in your poll are strongly linked. Short term contracts lead to a need to move around leads to a negative impact on your personal life. The fourth, poor pay compared to expertise hardly helps with your personal life given pressure to pay the rent or mortgage and the expenses of travelling across the country to see loved ones at the weekend etc. etc.

  17. Gaz says:

    I am dumb-founded to see science still being pushed as a viable career choice to the children of the UK with not one hint about the extremely difficult and seemingly impassable route ahead of them. We are in the middle of a recession, fees are due to go up to £12,000 per year minimum – it is a flat-out disgrace that a ‘science career’ is still being foisted on the youth of the UK as if it holds a future for more than a tiny percentage after such a long investment.Your organisation needs to think long and hard about whether it is moral to continue plugging this line given the unreliable nature of this career. One can only assume that the strategy has been formulated by people who either have never worked in science or who have left science for more obvious reasons. At the very least, it should be a minimal moral requirement that school kids be made aware that there is no career structure or likely future in science after some 12+ years of study. Then, with all the information in hand, by all means they may pursue such a career in blind hope or for the ‘enjoyment, respect or honour’ of it (as it is often condescendingly sold – like making a living, planning a life, buying a house or starting a family was a trivial matter that could rest on endless financial insecurity).

    Let me state this clearly: there is no direct and clear route to a permanent job through science in 2011, particularly in academia, unless one is EXTREMELY lucky or EXTREMELY dishonest.Universities have hacked away at academic staff numbers, the reduced staff numbers have been seen to be viable, so this will not change soon. Industry, which was the traditional escape clause for an unsuccessful publishing track record, is no better considering the general trend of downsizing research labs in Pfizer and all the other major research companies. There is no indication that this will change either in the foreseeable future.

    In my own experience, I have spent the last 17 years of my adult life in college, graduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral study. I have worked very hard, been routinely stressed and have published reasonably well. I still do not know from one year to the next whether I will have a pay check in a year’s time. Many people I know have left science and gone back to college to start studying again after taking out second loans. I can count on one hand the number of people who have achieved some semblance of stability out of the hundreds of scientists that have crossed my path. And even those lucky few still work off three year grants that are getting harder and harder to get. How can this be fair? It’s not, then again no one owes anyone a living. However, young people are owed honesty by adults who know better.

    Solutions? Well, state investment in stable career post-doc positions which at least covers half the number of graduates, even a 50:50 chance of a careers is better than the current staus quo. This works to a certain extent in American universities where offering people a viable future for their educational investment is more important than in the UK and tenure is a realistic possibility for graduates who work hard.

    Yes, science is vital, but so is being honest to young people about where best to invest their future.

    • rpg says:

      Gaz, I think that if you look at what we’re doing, it’s trying to improve the situation you bemoan. We are all acutely aware of the problems in building a career in science and that’s what we hope to move towards fixing with this current campaign. It’s not that we don’t know what is wrong with science; rather the government doesn’t understand the pressures and difficulties we face.

      You will note that we’re NOT “plugging” any line about science as a career. Indeed, some of us have been very vocal about the need to educate young people as to the true nature of the beast. If you look on our ‘About’ page you will see that we are indeed a mixing of practising, ex- and non-scientists.

      The broader aim of SiV is to protect (and increase) science funding in the UK, because of the demonstrated ability of an investment in basic science to return dividends (as well as being a mark of a civilized society). Nothing we are doing here is contrary to that aim, and indeed this current effort is a logical extension of that.

      • Gaz says:

        Re. rpgs reply. Fair point, I misunderstood the agenda, my comments would be more appropriately targeted towards organisations which continue to hold ‘Science is wonderful with bells on’ days to get kids into science degrees instead of holding ‘Science is indeed wonderful but here are the serious concerns if you want to do it’ days. Only with a drop of university applications or schoolkids/parents telling the government why they’d never apply to science courses will the government start to address the issue. Remember: Recession = this is a very low priority for any government as it stands. If there is still an excessive flow of science graduates then as far as any government is concerned there is no problem. It’s a serious blind spot with a continuous flow of young, white coated lemmings lining up to see what up the top of the steep hill.

  18. TravellingsWomanScientist says:

    “women in Science” is a serious problem in the UK. Abroad you find more women, precise policies to support women, quotas for women in university academic positions.
    For the few positions I applied in the UK, the evaluation commission was formed by only locals, males, some of them without kids or with no-working-vives or at most with wives doing small jobs over the Internet: they are clearly biased by their personal experience. It is an appalling situation.
    Abroad it is easier for women: Germany, Austria, France, Spain, for my personal perspective, are the most advanced in this sense, and UK is laying behind most of the latin countries.

  19. Another anon says:

    Because competition for money is so intense the current system is dominated by sociopaths who only care about their own research empires. Grants are awarded to the friends of people on the review panels and most permanent positions are created for known individuals who will improve REF ratings. Sadly the only way to survive in such a system is to make sure you are meaner than the next guy. I don’t like the person I am becoming…

  20. Anon says:

    I am an early career researcher and after thoroughly enjoying my PhD I have become increasingly disheartened about aiming for an academic career in science. In my (albeit limited) experience, post-docs are often treated as technicians and are often given very few opportunities, if any, for career development. Often because of short term contracts, career progression seems almost static and alot of PIs and Research Fellows are often only interested in their own careers. The opportunity to lead offshoots of a research project, manage projects with students or prepare and give lectures or tutorials would surely be invaluable for those aiming for an academic career. Sadly these opportunites often do not exist. My partner who is at the same stage of his career as me but is working in industry has had many more opportunities for career development and has been given much more responsibility and ability to contribute intellectually to research projects and their management.

    I feel like the primary reason that in the ends makes people leave science is a lack of stability. Short term contracts mean that every 1-2 years (or less) you are looking for new employment and the recent economic conditions make this very difficult. It is not unreasonable I think to want to settle in one place especially if you have family and cannot uproot them each time. Short term contracts mean regular disruption to partners and family and also make it very difficult financially. I am particularly worried about being ableto obtain a mortgage when I will not be able to guarentee my income for more than 1-2 years at a time. I am sure the banks will not be happy to lend me money if this is the case. It does feel that pursuing a career in science does not offer many benefits or incentives.

  21. Disgruntled says:

    Pursuing a career in science within academia seems to require the complete sacrifice of ones life. As listed above there is little or no stability for the majority, and certainly the financial rewards are incredibly slim compared to other sectors for the amount of hours and the travel and dedication needed. Compared to my peers who got jobs in industry straight after university I am by far the most poorly paid even though my post-doc salary is considered a good one within academia, and I work some of the longest hours. Despite me being on a good income for a post-doc, I still cannot afford a pension plan, am renting a home, have no savings and frequently wear clothes with holes in them as I cannot afford to buy new ones (I am still trying to pay off my undergraduate student loans and the credit card bills accrued during a gap in post-doc employment). On top of this I frequently pay for my own conference travel in order to further my career, plus when I travel for work I am only allowed to claim back the travel costs, and get nothing towards the daily living expenses such as food. I ask myself frequently why I am doing this to myself, and spend time researching possible careers outside of academia as I know I may be forced to leave as there are not enough permanent jobs. Friends and colleagues are leaving in droves and lately I think they have the right idea. I recently met a man who was a big name in my field, and after doing “too many postdocs” he was unable to secure a permanent position and was forced to leave science (he was also trying to look after elderly parents so couldn’t move). Now in his 50s he is trying to scrape a living together any way he can and faces an uncertain old age. Is this what is to become of me?

  22. Dr Rosa Manzanilla says:

    Ongoing redundancies in several research institutes (including mine) will force many highly qualified scientists to abandon science. Full time or permanent jobs are scarce. Many areas of science can only fluorish when the state (goverment) sponsors them. The private sector can not absorb scientists in the numbers of other professions.
    To train a scientist can take up to 20 years. What is the future then?

  23. D W Lawlor says:

    As along-retired plant scientist I look back to the start of the process of degrading scientists and destroying scientific careers as a bad dream. It was so obvious that the current miserable situation must arise. I was lucky and managed to keep an active career to the official retirement date! Much of the blame should be laid at the door of those politically active scientists who benefited from fitting in with government attitudes. This reinforced the views of those such as William Walgegrove (Minister responsible for science in the Thatcher government) who thought that Britain was not a country which should waste its resources on science and technology, as its expertise was in money making in the City of London (from a speech by him at the German Embassy – personal recollection).

  24. Clare says:

    3 years ago when I was applying for PhD positions I spoke to researchers at my university and made the difficult decision to accept a position abroad, in the Netherlands. I had always planned to return to the UK for post-doctoral research, but that does not seem to be a realistic option looking at the state of the system currently. If I want a career in research I will almost certainly stay on the continent, where there is better pay, easy access to grants and good career structure. It makes me very sad to realise this, and I am lucky enough that I do not have any personal ties preventing me from doing this. I only hope that the UK system can be reformed in some way to make it more accessible for the people still in it as well as the future generations, otherwise I fear for the future of scientific research in the UK.

  25. Ruth says:

    It wasn’t until I was into my second postdoc (around 2001) that I worked out how the system worked. Until then I had followed my interests but unfortunately by then I had few publications and had made a home.
    My PhD supervisor gave me no advice on what to look for in a first postdoc and did not publish any of my work. I did not push for this as I did not know I could and most of my finding were “negative”, which journals are not interested in publishing.
    I rushed into deciding on a postdoc position as I panicked about not having an income and took the first job I was offered. Apart from a small amount of good fortune that I had to be offered a better postdoc through contacts I made whilst there, this job was a waste of my two years.
    My second postdoc was more successful however there was no funding for further work and I had been forced to live away from home for the duration.
    My final postdoc involved me being the only staff member in the lab to a dwindling number of mostly clinical students. There was no critical mass to drive publications that were non-clinical. Despite being short listed for funding 2 years running we were unsuccessful and the university provided no support – they had also had a culture of not promoting current staff members.
    I taught A levels for a short while but never enjoyed it and now work as a support technician in a university. Of the support staff (non-research) half of us have PhDs, and the person who does the most basic work (washing up etc) has an MSc.
    None of us are doing this as a career but because their are no other options open. We are too expensive or our skills are too old or over qualified to get research positions in academia or industry, and business does not understand academia (despite all the talk about transferable skills or whatever they have been rebranded as).

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