Science is Vital delivered a report at the request of the UK parliament regarding the state of scientific careers in the UK. It's not optimistic or surprising:
Science is vital for the UK economy. A healthy scientific career structure, in turn, is crucial to maintain our strong research base, especially in a time of public austerity. Science is Vital, a grassroots campaigning group with the aim of protecting and championing science in the UK, recently conducted a consultation amongst a wide range of scientists in the UK to explore their views on the career structure of the profession.
Nearly 700 respondents, distributed across the spectrum of the scientific career, submitted written evidence – from students and postdocs to principal investigators, department heads, emeritus professors and Fellows of the Royal Society, representing more than 160 institutions across all four nations of the United Kingdom. We found that the top concern of these scientists was the career instability caused by successive fixed-term contracts and the shortage of permanent research positions. Other problems included issues of pay, mobility, balancing work with having a family or relationship, pressure to assess impact, and the fact that in many cases younger scientists are not allowed to facilitate their careers by applying for their own grants.
This exercise uncovered the widespread view that the scientific career structure in the UK is not fit for purpose. If the situation is not improved, we risk seriously undermining our research base and, in turn, imperilling the economy. Clearly, increasing funding for science in the next budget would significantly help ease the pressure. In the meantime, however, drawing from our respondents’ ideas, we have proposed a number of solutions that we would like to see discussed among government, scientists, funding bodies and universities, including:
(h/t to Andy Neal)
- The creation of more permanent research staff positions that are not principal investigators/lab heads
- More funding earmarked to help bridge the transition from postdoc to independent position
- More independent fellowships, and the abolition of eligibility criteria that effectively discriminate against older postdocs or those who have followed a non-traditional career path
- Increased opportunities for postdocs to apply for project grants as the named investigator in their own right
- The inclusion of early and mid-career researchers in ongoing discussions about the scientific career structure and funding issues
- Private sector contributions to scientific training
- Improved career advice for PhD students and postdocs