Review: Are science careers in crisis?

This week Astronomy Twitter Journal Club moved away from science topics and onto a more fundamental issue for scientists – the problems with the current career structure for academics, inspired by the report “Careering Out of Control: A Crisis in the UK Science Profession?” from the lobby group Science is Vital.

There’s some background to the topic in our preview post and you can also read the full tweet transcript of the meeting. Peter Coles has also written a good blog post about these issues, which is attracting some interesting comments.

Do we all agree that there’s a problem?

There’s a massive bottleneck between postgrad and permanent jobs, which seems to be there partly by design – @dh4gan

Situation not good 4 #STFC postdoc funding, & perh worst round in a decade now: @e_astronomer reviewed it at

definite prob w/ structure, but also the seemingly disregard from Govt re: benefits science brings for the economy – @dellybean

structure seems v daunting to me. i.e. don’t see how i can attain permanent post w/o murdering sum1 – @evanocathain

System works well when funding plentiful and permanent posts available frequently. That used to be true, and momentum carries on – @dh4gan

I think there are two issues. The dire level of STFC funding for postdocs (which is v bad) and separately the career structure – @tharries

I think postdocs who aren’t great but are good are sometimes allowed through the system by faculty who find them useful… – @brucesibthorpe

So in other words the system allows them to be strung along until they’re no longer useful/too expensive – @astronomyjc

Any decent boss should mentor their PDRAs, not string them along – that’s in no-one’s interest. – @StephenSerjeant

I agree, but I’ve seen it happen quite often, especially with PDs being used for technical roles. – @brucesibthorpe

Which of the report’s recommendations are the most important?

if i could, i wouldn’t mind to be a postdoc forever. but with the current system u are *forced* to climb the career ladder… – @antisophista

Completely agree, and this was one of the recommendations of the @ScienceisVital report – @astronomyjc

I would vote for permanent research staff positions and postdocs to apply for project grants. Also help research be more flexible – @Dr_Whatson

The retirement ‘problem’

Surely we should be aiming for some kind of quasi-steady state … – @wikimir

Like imposing a ‘1 phd student in, 1 aged prof out’ rule?! – @astronomyjc

Yes, the relevant cycle depends on whether we’re talking permanent or PDRA jobs. – @StephenSerjeant

if that’s true, the system requires much more careful design to be able to respond correctly to changes – @dh4gan

I don’t mean one-in one-out. Not all PhDs get postdocs. Not all postdocs get permannt positions, but a bett. und. of the strctre. – @wikimir

one of my supervisors is 45yrs old and is still only project funded (3 years) not a life i am looking for… this is not really what i would call “stability” – @antisophista

All industries would like a steady state but sectors expand & contract. HE in UK about to hit v turbulent waters. – @StephenSerjeant

The impact of short-term contracts

Exactly. 2+1 years leaves very little time for settling down / buying a house / having kids etc – @astronomyjc

i have 2+1, not been here long, already writing next job app. sigh. why must science and having a normal life be mutually exclusiv? – @evanocathain

AFAIK impact on fam life was in our report;discussd women having to risk career to have babies & moving family w/ job – @dellybean

Ending on the positive

The #astrojc tweets are depressing me. Realising I’m a v. simple person who wants a stable life & that that is unlikely in science. 😦 – @evanocathain

To end, how about we all tweet one positive thing about science careers? (if there is one) – @astronomyjc

Many positives about a career in science. Rewarding, fascinating, etc. Problem is structure, not the career itself. – @wikimir

i got one. when you work out your £/hr you prob. just about earn more than min. wage! – @evanocathain

Oh I know, we get to find out new things about the Universe. That helps a bit. – @astronomyjc

Nothing beats the feeling of actually finding out something new about the universe no one thought of before – @Dr_Whatson

Very few careers give you flexibility to organise own time & be creative, & do something fundamental & important. Research is a thing you fall in love with. – @StephenSerjeant

And finally…

…a piece of wisdom:

Get your face known, cultivate mentors & advocates, look internationally if you can, and of course do great stuff! – @StephenSerjeant

and a plea:

cheeky i know but does anybody reading these #astrojc tweets want to hire me for a permanent astro job in UK?i’m really nice & work hard! 😀 – @evanocathain

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2 Responses to Review: Are science careers in crisis?

  1. Pingback: Science career structure | To the left of centre

  2. Pingback: Science Jobs | TagHall

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