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):
- 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)
- 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.)
- spread the word by linking to this page using email, twitter (using the #SciCareers hashtag) and other social media.
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.
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.