Saturday, 8 October 2011

Careering out of control

Another re-post I'm afraid (I promise a proper new post will appear soon...) - whether you're in favour or against fracking, wouldn't it be great if we could ensure that there were plenty of scientists around to evaluate the risks and benefits. That would of course mean that we need to sort out the careers structure available for young scientists in this country: 

For the record, I'm currently starting a 3 year position as a research fellow. I was pretty fortunate to get this position, success rates for applicants is something like 10-15%. At the end of 3 years, I'll have to re-apply for a new position. I'll almost certainly have to move to a new university. And if I'm not successful, I'll have nothing to fall back on but the dole queue. Which would seem like a waste of 8 years of undergraduate, masters and PhD training. I know many of my colleagues who are in similar situations - coming to the end of their PhDs and unable to find postdoc positions, or scrabbling about for 3 months of funding at £11 an hour (typically given to summer interns, but I know people who are in fairly desperate straits and will take anything to keep them going for a few more months, giving themselves a bit more time to find a proper postdoc position).

So it'd be nice if we encouraged young people with PhDs to take up a career in science, rather than subjecting them to a string of short-term contracts with zero job security, few opportunities of permanent positions, and a requirement to constantly move across the country for each position: It's pretty much an unwritten rule that, as a young scientist, you won't get funding for a postdoc position if you stay in the same place for more than about 3 years.

I suppose I can't really complain: I did choose this career path after all, and if job security and higher pay were my main objectives, I could have been working for Shell or BP for 6 years or so by now. But the fracking issue highlights the importance of scientists to keep our increasingly technological society functioning. Fracking in particular highlights the need to have scientists around who aren't funded by industry, and therefore can give a more impartial view......

It'd be nice if our career structure reflected this. Just sayin' is all......