Friday, 26 June 2015

Science Careers

A recent survey by the European Science Foundation (ESF) on the status of European doctoral graduates sheds light on a pretty serious mismatch between graduate expectations and actual jobs (Pain, 2015).

The role of choice for Science PhDs is an academic post, yet, according to the ESF report, the US PhD graduate numbers are steadily increasing, as tenured positions are declining. 
The survey identified respondents as being 88% academic researchers with majority being in temporary roles and lacking job security. 57% were on temporary and 36% on permanent contracts. Half these respondents were doing a postdoc with another 14% on a research fellowship. At the other end of the career ladder, 5% were associate professors or readers, and 5% were full professors or department heads. This latter 5% includes former researchers who have moved into leadership roles.

So here we are with 88% at one end, insecure and unable to get permanent work: and at the other end, the 5%+ who have made it and are unlikely to retire.

Elizabeth discusses the lack of tenure as being a key issue, with researchers feeling forced to 'cash in' on their research early in order to get next-round funding, which impedes discover and quality of thinking. She also details that graduates need to network and create links into consultancy firms, private research organisations, government roles, advisory and watchdog organisations as well as academia.

I wonder though, if in some ways that ESF have hold of the wrong end of the stick? The report says that Europe and the US experience “is one of ever-increasing numbers of doctorate holders seeking employment in a sector that is already oversupplied”.

But job numbers in science research have fallen steadily worldwide, with nearly all funding now being contestable. We have fewer academics than ever, doing more; and fewer scientists, doing more. MOOCs will also put more pressure on the few positions available, and are likely

Not good for science. But perhaps I shouldn't worry. 60% of the science PhDs graduating now are graduating in China. THAT is going to be a game changer.

Perhaps those European PhDs should be learning Mandarin.


Reference: Pain, Elisabeth (2015). Aligning career expectations with academic reality. Retrieved 16 June 2015 from

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