British PhD-qualified scientists are amongst the most productive in the world, so why are so many being forced out of scientific research by an unstable career structure?
What you want, baby I got it.
UK researchers produce more output (citations, articles etc.) for less money (GERD) than anyone else. Source: BIS Report.
What you need – you know that I’ve got it.
With 1% of world population, we kick scientific butt all over the world. It would be like Team GB getting 14% of the gold medals at the Olympics. Every time. Source: Royal Society.
All I’m asking for, is a little respect.
Only around 20% of those involved in generating this international success can look forward to a long-term career in scientific research, and only 3.5% will remain in academia. All the others work on a series of short-term contracts until they either leave research altogether (~80%) or move into industry (~17%). That curvy “Dad’s Army” style arrow is a particular concern – people leaving science altogether after often extended and productive postdoctoral careers. There’s nowhere else for them to go. Source: Royal Society.
The vast majority of the UK’s highly productive PhD-qualified scientists are working on short-term contracts and will ultimately leave scientific research. Being employed on a succession of short-term contracts makes it difficult to establish a settled family life and often requires scientists to relocate or emigrate. Only a very small proportion of PhD-qualified scientists ever find stable long-term employment in research (about 17% in industry, and around 3.5% in academia according to the Royal Society).
This is a problem. Each year, experienced, capable productive people are driven out of science by the pressures that result from career instability. Highly specialised skills, developed over many years are lost to the research community while new researchers are constantly being trained to fill their shoes. Meanwhile over half of newly qualified PhDs leave science immediately. It is a crazy and wasteful way to fund science, and all we’re asking for is a little respect: better careers advice for junior scientists, better targetting of PhD funding, and a more balanced career-structure with more stable mid-career positions so that productive scientists aren’t forced out of the lab and have the solid foundations they need to establish families and live settled lives by their 30s and 40s.
“Researchers should be able to have useful and fulfilling academic careers without becoming professors, as well as careers beyond academia. That is why I recognise the issue of – shall we say – a pyramid in HE with a very broad base and a very narrow tip.” David Willetts.
Amen to that. Sometimes people moan about others with a “sense of entitlement”. We all know – respect has to be earned. But, as the BIS report shows, we are earning it, right now we’re just not getting it.
If you are interested in this post, you may also like to read Ben Goldacre’s response and related earlier posts by Grant Jacobs, Athene Donald, Anthony Finkelstein. Please feel free to comment below (whether you agree or disagree).